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Jessica Soto: Growing and Advancing Through Education

When Jessica Soto started classes in Tennessee Wesleyan’s management excellence program, she wasn’t sure if she would be able to complete her degree. She was working up to 50 hours a week and was busy with her family and her involvement in church. Eighteen months later, she walked across the stage at Wesleyan’s December 2012 commencement, bachelor’s degree in hand.

“Being able to go back to school and complete my degree is something I never thought I would be able to do working like I was, 40-50 hours a week,” Soto said. “Being able to go back and complete a degree, not just any degree but a bachelor degree, just seemed out of reach, and like I missed my opportunity. The ME program made it possible for me to manage that without losing any income. It was very busy, and it was very hard, but it was doable.”

The management excellence program, designed to help working adults earn a bachelor’s degree, appealed to Soto both because of the convenience of TWU’s location and the convenience of the evening program, with classes only one or two nights a week.

“I would still be able to have my full time job during the day and go to school in the evenings,” she said. “It wasn’t going to be every evening, so I would still have time to spend with my family. I’d just be able to go one or two times in the evening, and then I could finish in 18 months.”

Soto credits her bachelor’s degree with a salary increase at work. She works as a human resources network specialist at Scripps Networks Interactive in Knoxville, assisting around 2,000 employees with any and all human resources questions. After earning her bachelor’s degree through the ME program, Soto’s salary tripled.

“Since getting my bachelor degree, I’ve been able to triple my income,” Soto said. “Of course I wanted to better myself, but anyone going to school, that’s their main goal, not just to better themselves but also their income so they can have a better life for them and their families. I do not think I would be where I am today without that.”

The cohort-style program allowed Soto to build relationships with her classmates, learning about their lives and learning from their experiences. She connected with her classmates, forming friendships and business relationships that have lasted past graduation.

“The most memorable part was being able to be part of a core group and have the same students in the classes with you from start to finish,” Soto said. “In the first class you don’t know anyone, but by the end of the program you’ve made some good relationships, connected with some good people and made some good connections, not just personally, but in business and for jobs as well. When you finish you are very comfortable reaching out to people that were in your class, maybe asking about career opportunities where they work or thinking of them whenever something comes up where you work.”

Though Soto doesn’t describe her experience in the ME program as easy, she says her family as well as her faith helped her stay focused. She turned to Philippians 4:13, which says ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me’ for guidance and strength. Though the program was challenging, she completed her degree and also inspired her husband to complete the ME program as well.

“I inspired my husband, getting my degree,” Soto said. “He was a graduate from the ME program as well. He was also a working adult who did not think it was possible. He had a desire to have his bachelor’s degree. He believed it would help him with future opportunities, but he did not believe it was possible, and after he saw it was doable and I was able to do it, he jumped in, and we were able to walk across the stage together.”

Soto and her husband both graduated from the management excellence program, something Soto’s three stepchildren think is exciting.

“They think that it is the coolest thing that their stepmom and their dad graduated from the same school, so they think that’s pretty cool,” Soto said. “We’re very incentivizing, we’re like you know you get a discount if you go there, so we’re encouraging them to [look at TWU] when they graduate, which is coming up pretty soon. Hopefully we’ll be an inspiration and be a TWC family.”