Elyse Ford had never heard of Southeastern Oklahoma State University (SOSU) a couple of years ago. She's still never stepped foot in SOSU's campus in Durant, Oklahoma. But the York, South Carolina, resident made a Savage Storm of an impression in a short amount of time.
Ford was named SOSU's John Massey School of Business Outstanding Master of Business Administration student before graduating from the MBA with an emphasis in Entrepreneurship online program in May 2019.
"That was super awesome," she said. "I honestly had no idea about the award until I received it in the mail. It was such a huge honor. I had to reach out and contact my professors. You put in some effort, and it's nice for the faculty to go out of their way to recognize students. It was super appreciated."
Unfortunately, Ford did not attend the commencement ceremony to be recognized in front of her classmates because she and her husband, Stephen, bought a house and moved in the same day as graduation. The couple is also in the process of launching a firearm restoration and customization business called Southern Color Customs.
"We got a business plan together, drafted it and created an LLC with a total of four members," she said. "I am the managing member. We are working on picking a building and are cruising along. The MBA has been a huge help with getting my own business started. It's such an overwhelming experience."
Dr. Martin Bressler, the John Massey endowed chair in entrepreneurship, has been a tremendous help to Ford as she gets her business off the ground.
"He has been open to me sending him emails and getting input and general updates," Ford said. "That's also been a huge benefit. We kind of reflect on it, saying that about a year-and-a-half ago, I started this plan to start a business."
The online MBA with an emphasis in Entrepreneurship program has also been beneficial for Ford in her full-time job as an applications expert at Sealed Air Corporation in Charlotte, North Carolina.
"It's been a huge help seeing management's thought process and things I didn't really notice about how everything comes together in a business," she said. "This was my first experience with online education. It was a good one. I was very pleased."
Ford grew up in Mesa, Arizona, and enlisted in the United States Army after high school. She left the service as a sergeant after four years. During her time in the Army, she met Stephen, who is originally from Georgia and also served in the military.
With an initial plan to become a veterinarian, Ford graduated from the University of Georgia with a bachelor's degree in animal science with an emphasis on production and management in 2012 and a Master of Science in beef nutrition & meat science two years later.
"I started and then I had chemistry courses and decided, 'That's probably not where I want to go,'" she said. "I enjoy the animal aspect, so I went into the meat science and beef nutrition side, where I could work with cattle and be in the outside environment. I loved it."
Bubble Wrap is Sealed Air Corporation's signature brand, and the company's food care division packages protein and actively recruits meat scientists. She started there in January 2016. Sealed Air Corporation also offers tuition assistance to employees.
"I still had the school bug for some reason," Ford said. "I had been going my entire life, but I felt like there was more out there for me. I thought the MBA was something that could help with the business.
"If not, an MBA is something that can always be used in the corporate world. It was a win-win situation. I thought of it as a bonus from work. There was really no deterrent — it's just effort."
Ford ran across the MBA programs at SOSU while doing research. She created a spreadsheet with all of the different benefits to different schools.
"I had no idea what I wanted to do, but I knew I wanted the knowledge and education from a good, accredited university that would let me do 100% online," she said. "I looked at tuition cost, additional testing needed and broke it down to what would be reasonable and manageable for me."
SOSU's MBA program met key criteria for Ford, who found that the online format worked out even better than she could have imagined. She was able to balance a full-time job and getting a business off the ground, while also taking a semester off to relocate.
"It is such a relief to have a 100% online program," she said. "It's completely up to my schedule, which was good because I had a lot of hectic days traveling for work, but I was able to juggle it.
"It came down to time management. At the beginning of every semester, I made a to-do list of all of the due dates and worked through it. The flexibility was one of the main things I was looking for in an MBA program."
Ford and her husband are excited to see what the future holds for Southern Color Customs. The business idea originated from Stephen's love of the military and firearm worlds.
"He did some traditional schooling and pursued a route for a machinery degree and drafting, but it wasn't quite the avenue he wanted to do," she said. "He wanted to pursue a business."
The two entrepreneurship emphasis courses — ENTR 5303: Marketing for New Ventures and ENTR 5103: Entrepreneurship & New Venture Management — were especially beneficial for Ford's new adventure.
"Those courses were a godsend for me," she said. "They were both really enjoyable. You enjoy what is applicable to you. I also liked some of the management courses and understanding people, but the entrepreneurship courses were what I needed in my life."
Now that Ford has a second master's degree, an Outstanding MBA student award and a new house, she is ready to roll.
"Once we get settled in the new house, I am ready to go for it with the business," she said. "We're ready to get that going and do some work. The MBA program was a challenge, but I am so glad that I did it.
"I would tell anybody considering the program, 'Don't be afraid to go for it. You can do it. It just requires time management and dedication. If it's something that is important to you and your life, it will be worth it.'"
Learn more about the SOSU online MBA with an emphasis in Entrepreneurship program.
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