Blazing a Career Path with UIC Liautaud

Liautaud AdThe business world is changing. UIC MBA alum, Megan Sparks, changed with it.

Megan Sparks is one of the faces of the UIC Liautaud Graduate School of Business’ newest advertising campaigns. Sparks, a 2011 MBA alumna from the University of Illinois at Chicago, was heavily involved with all aspects of her graduate experience and, her modesty aside, is the perfect face to promote the UIC Liautaud brand. With a focus on international business and marketing while in the program, Sparks embodied all the characteristics of an exemplary Liautaud student: hardworking, intelligent, passionate, and ambitious.

Jumpstarting the MBA Program

Sparks decided to go back to school for her MBA to be sure that every door to advancement was opened in her professional landscape. With an undergrad degree in Finance from Eastern Illinois University, she knew the next logical step was applying to an MBA program to strengthen her skill set and increase her overall competitive edge in a very candidate-saturated marketplace. When it came to choosing a graduate school, Sparks says her decision to apply to UIC Liautaud was relatively simple.

“I chose UIC because of the intimacy of the program. Every professor knows you by name, which allows you to have the opportunity to individually excel. I felt this was a place that would challenge me and provide me with a solid framework to enter the workforce and be able to contribute immediately,” she says.

Sparks also participated in the year-long Interdisciplinary Product Development (IPD) program as part of her studies, which offers a unique learning environment in which students in business, design and engineering partner with corporate sponsors to generate new product innovation for the partner and a real-world educational experience for students. Through cross-functional teaming, conducting and applying customer research, and developing a product from concept to first-stage prototyping, students replicate the early stages of developing a new product in an organizational environment. Sparks found the IPD coursework particularly rewarding.

“Going into my MBA, I knew I wanted to focus on consumer products but didn’t have a lot experience in the industry,” she says. “The IPD course was an amazing program providing both theory and hands-on experience revolving around product innovation.  Having the ability to experience the process from ideation to innovation allowed me to gain critical insight into all areas of the consumer marketing experience.”

Around the World with UIC Liautaud

In today's global business environment, international experience is crucial for a successful career. The UIC Liautaud MBA program offers students two study abroad programs – a four-week course in Europe and a two-week course in Brazil – to gain firsthand knowledge about foreign business systems and cultures. Students develop an understanding of a culturally unique business environment while sharpening their global business and language skills, and hopefully opening the door to future employment in the international market.

Sparks eagerly took advantage of both study abroad opportunities as part of the MBA coursework and says the adventures were not only new experiences geographically, but they taught her an abundance about different cultures and the challenges faced when conducting business internationally.

“The Know Europe program provided an amazing opportunity to travel throughout Europe, while developing an international marketing plan around a domestic product. We were faced with the challenges of market research, developing a budget, executing promotional strategies and organizing the logistics of product introduction. After participating in this program, I was able to gain invaluable experience in the consumer packaged goods industry which eventually led to me to pursue a career at the Kellogg Company,” she says.

UIC Liautaud’s Doing Business in Brazil program provided Sparks a foundation of foreign political structure, as well as an emphasis on the economic importance Brazil currently possesses in the world. While on the trip, Sparks was able to tour Brazilian businesses and speak with influential executives highly regarded in the Brazilian financial industry.

The study abroad programs truly shaped Sparks’ career goal plans. When she first entered the MBA program, she was undecided as to which industry she wanted to pursue in her career. She found the answers she was looking for while involved in the Know Europe and Doing Business in Brazil programs.

“These trips were great resume builders. I walked away from both experiences able to fill up an entire resume with professional projects that I have been able to speak to in interviews. I can’t recommend these programs enough to any marketing majors!” Sparks said.

Making the Mark with GMARK

The UIC Liautaud experience also encompasses the ability to network with your fellow students and, for those who are highly motivated, start their own student organizations which interest them. Sparks co-founded the UIC Graduate Marketing Association (GMARK), a student organization dedicated to developing the skills and knowledge of marketing students through professional networking, industry connections and events.

“Being able to organize panels with Chicago marketing executives allowed me not only to expand my personal network but also gain the valuable insight each executive offered. I was able to shape my desired career path and was put in touch with people who could help accomplish my goal,” she says.

A Lasting Network

Looking back in her experience, she has some insights for current students or for those interested in pursuing an MBA at UIC Liautaud.

“Take the time to get to know your classmates and take full advantage of the numerous resources that UIC has to offer,” Sparks advises, “Build up your network, challenge yourself in every class and make a difference in the time you are there. Not only will you walk away with a valuable degree, you will become a part of the UIC family and make lifelong friends.”

As for being one of the faces for UIC Liautaud’s marketing campaigns, Sparks takes her newfound familiarity modestly and is not exactly ready to sign autographs.

“I get asked all the time if I am the girl in the Liautaud ads around town. I just laugh and tell them no, but I get that a lot!” Sparks jokes.

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Megan Sparks is 2011 UIC Liautaud MBA alumna and works as a Specialty Channel Marketing Associate at The Kellogg Company. Connect with Megan on LinkedIn.