Youngstown native Ricardo Cruz had spent more than 23 years as a General Motors employee when he found out that the plant where he worked was closing.
“I was caught in a decision of whether or not to transfer, follow GM to another plant and uproot my family,” he said. “I didn’t want to do that, so I started looking at my options.”
Thirteen months later, Cruz graduated from the Master of Business Administration – General online program at Youngstown State University with a 4.0 GPA in May 2020.
“I wanted to build on my bachelor’s degree, so I made an appointment and went to YSU,” he said. “After talking with [MBA Program Director] Monique Bradford, it seemed like the right fit. The rest is history.”
Now, Cruz is the branch manager of Farmers National Bank of Canfield, Ohio, after starting a new career path as a banker in September of last year.
“Banking fell onto my plate,” he said. “Coming from a manufacturing background, I was looking at something more like a factory management role. For months, I had never thought of it. Toward the end of my job search, it became a viable option. I’m happy I did it. It’s been great.”
The online format helped Cruz earn a degree while working full time and learning a new industry. He and his wife, Courtney, have two children, Dominic (14) and Olivia (12).
“I don’t know if I could have even managed a hybrid program with starting a new job and taking on a new role,” he said. “The fact that it was an online program and manageable was huge. I needed that flexibility.
He credits YSU’s instructors with helping every student feel included in the virtual discussion boards.
“The professors made it effective and convenient. Given my situation, it was great,” he said.
Cruz moved to Canfield when he was 8 years old. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from YSU in 2004. By that time, he already had eight years of experience at GM in Lordstown, Ohio, so he stuck with it.
“The biggest draw to the MBA program right off the bat was that business was something I always wanted to explore,” he said. “My wife works in the YSU School of Education as an instructor, which was also a plus. I had also already gone to school there, so it seemed very attractive.”
OMBA 6944: Operations & Supply Chain Management, taught by Dr. Birsen Karpak, and OMBA 6923: Corporate Financial Management, taught by adjunct professor James Senary, were Cruz’s two favorite courses in the online MBA in Leadership program curriculum.
“Dr. Karpak was excellent,” he said. “She did a good job of making the class great. I liked the material. This was the first time I had experienced online courses. It was a huge adjustment at first. You have to be on your toes.”
Cruz said the faculty and staff at YSU helped make sure that he was set up for success in the return to his alma mater for a master’s degree.
“I loved the MBA program,” he said. “The way that YSU faculty and staff runs it is so great, from Dean Betty Jo Licata to the professors who were good about guiding me and giving me open access to themselves. It worked out well. I was able to get the degree done in a little more than a year. That helped me, big time.”
Since graduating, Cruz has earned a Project Management Professional and Lean Six Sigma Green Belt certifications to add some diversity to his skill set as he builds on his new career.
“Both of those certifications are playing into a role that I might be going into soon,” he said. “Within the next six months to a year, I could get another opportunity to move up and do some project management at the bank. I have already been using everything that I learned in the program at my job.”
Cruz also has a combined four years of volunteer experience at his church and with a youth nonprofit called Junior Achievement. He also plays drums and guitar during his free time.
“I haven’t been able to give as much time to [music] as I’d like, but I would love to get back to it,” he said. “I used to be in bands and play in clubs back in the day. My main outlet now is playing in church.”
Speaking from experience, Cruz said one of the most important things he learned in the MBA program was to make the most of the available resources as an online student.
“It’s important to take time to learn the different industries,” he said. “Talk to people who work in those industries and find out what they do on the job. Get some advice and network like crazy. Network, network, network.”
Cruz has gone from unemployed to running a bank with a graduate degree, and he credits his family for helping him stay the course and make it all happen.
“I had a lot of support and a lot of enthusiasm,” he said. “I couldn’t have done it without them. It was a good experience for the kids to see us go through adversity and come out on the other end better than where we started.”
Learn more about YSU’s MBA – General online program.