By the time Renee Pizarro earned her bachelor’s degree from Northeastern University, she had already been an employee at Hewlett-Packard for several years.

“I’m a second-generation HP employee,” she says. “My mother worked there when I was growing up in Puerto Rico. In fact, I like to joke that my first job with HP was when I was 9 years old when my mother would bring home dot matrix printouts and have me highlight in yellow the accounts that were 90 days past due.”

Today Pizarro is the director of the HP Enterprise North American Channel Development and Sales Division, and she credits part of her success to having followed up her bachelor’s degree with a master’s and soon-to-be Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) at Capella. With her doctorate in hand, she’s looking forward to starting her own business with her husband.

Flexibility for Education

“My career at HP was just taking off when I graduated from Northeastern,” Pizarro says. “I wanted to do a master’s, but I was traveling so much. It was a worldwide job. I’d spend two weeks in Singapore and then go to India. It was pretty hard to imagine doing a traditional master’s degree that way.”

So, she began researching online universities. Her husband was pursuing his own advanced degree through Capella, and he suggested she check it out. “I loved the learning environment,” she says. “To be able to work on a master’s degree at that stage on my life—we moved to Costa Rica for the second half of my master’s, I was still traveling, and we had a three-year-old child. I could not have done that master’s if not for being able to do it online.”

Directly Applicable to Her Work

Pizarro found that what she was learning was relevant and usable in her day-to-day work. “In one of my leadership classes, we read the book Resonant Leadership,” she says. “I used that book and that course to develop my own staff. I really learned how to understand and reflect on my employees’ leadership styles.”

Initially she didn’t think she’d go on to a doctoral program as she watched her husband work through a difficult PhD program. But four years after earning her master’s, she got an email from Capella about the DBA program, and her interest was piqued. “I knew I didn’t want a PhD, but the DBA appealed to me,” she explains. “I wanted credentials that were mine, not a title bestowed by a company that could take it away. I wasn’t interested in teaching, but I loved the idea of taking advanced research and applying it to the work world.”

In 2017, Pizarro enrolled in the DBA program, and as with her master’s, she found that her coursework was immediately applicable to her career. “I’ve had classes where I took the discussions back to my employees,” she says. “I even bought one of our textbooks for all my direct reports so we could read it together, discuss it, and implement marketing strategies into our plans.”

Flexibility for Life

Soon after beginning her DBA, which she hoped to complete within three years, her mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and Pizarro had to take a quarter off. “Life happens. Things don’t go the way you plan,” she says. “I had to learn to think about it in terms of perseverance. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. My dissertation mentor at the time really helped me. I think I would have quit if I hadn’t been talked down from the ledge. She said, ‘You haven’t built a 20-year career by being a quitter.’”

Planning for the Future

Pizarro plans to complete her degree in late 2020, barring any other life events. Then she and her husband, who has completed his PhD, want to dive into a consulting business that they’ve already set up. She feels that the combination of PhD and DBA will give them a diverse foundation for the business and make the company especially strong.

In the meantime, she’s focused on completing her DBA, managing the coffee and tea retail business she owns, spending time with her family, and still enjoying her work life at HP Enterprise. She’s also thrilled with how her advanced education has panned out. “It has really opened doors,” she says. “My salary went from mid-five figures to a very healthy six figures, and that’s absolutely linked to what I gained from Capella’s education and resources.”

As for advice she’d give to students contemplating advanced degrees, she points to her statement about approaching it like a marathon, not a sprint. And she adds: “The Capella library is amazing. The amount of research, scholarly and otherwise, is staggering. It’s so much more than a library. It’s a giant resource hub for anyone who really wants to learn, and everyone should take advantage of it.”

Learn more about Capella University’s online Doctor of Business Administration program.

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