Photo credit: Patrick Stutz
What makes a gifted pianist switch careers and become a marketer? We asked concert pianist Qinghua Lao, who is currently completing her Bachelor of Science in Business Administration (BSBA) through the UW Flexible Option, to share her journey from musician to business executive.
Blending a Passion for Piano with Business Strategy
As a child, Qinghua devoted countless hours to her piano lessons, becoming an accomplished pianist and winning first place in state and national performances including the Fort Collins Concerto Competition and the Jefferson Symphony Orchestra Young Artist Competition. Her passion for piano took her to the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, where she studied with distinguished professors while earning her Bachelor of Music in Piano Performance.
With her immeasurable talent and passion for performing, Qinghua discovered that the classical music field is a rewarding experience, but a highly competitive one in a shrinking market. Needing to pay the bills while she pursued her love for music, Qinghua took a job in the Madison, Wisconsin area. There, she got her first taste of marketing while working as a retention specialist at West Corporation, providing business and communications solutions to global companies.
“West serves a lot of Fortune 100 clients, including American Express, so I gained exposure to the financial market,” said Qinghua. “The experience opened my eyes to all the possibilities in business! Our team worked closely with the American Express marketing team and that got me interested in marketing strategy.”
Soon after she started in a marketing role, Qinghua earned a promotion to a supervisory role. At that time, she knew she needed a stronger foundation in business to grow her career and to help other musicians grow theirs. She realized that professional musicians need more than talent to make it in the music business: they need savvy marketing skills.
Get a UW Flexible Option Degree Guide
Download an introductory guide (PDF) to the self-paced, competency-based UW Flexible Option programs, including details about costs, admission requirements, and more.
Pitch Perfect: A Flexible Way to Earn Her Business Degree
Qinghua explored many business degree programs before discovering the UW Flexible Option.
“I considered returning to Indiana University to attend the Kelley School of Business, but the thought of uprooting my family didn’t seem like a realistic option. I looked at online options, too, such as the one offered by Penn State’s World Campus.
“Then I came across the UW Flexible Option. The competency-based model made the decision an easy one.”
With competency-based education, students work at their own pace, on their own schedule. It’s designed for self-motivated students who want to learn when and where they choose. The University of Wisconsin-Parkside grants the Bachelor of Science in Business Administration degree. The curriculum is developed in partnership with expert faculty from across the UW System, who draw upon the latest standards in business and industry to identify the competencies that define the degree.
“So in September 2016, I contacted the UW Flexible Option staff, only to learn that the new BSBA program was coming soon but not yet taking admissions. Then in December, I got a call saying that I could start the admissions process for a February 2017 start date. Everything happened really fast after that. I got admitted and was able to enroll in my first subscription period! Plus, I transferred in with half of my degree completed given my B.S. from Indiana, and I was able to take competencies in business immediately. I plan to finish in May 2019.”
The UW Flexible Option Bachelor of Science in Business Administration curriculum is project based. The projects incorporate 20 competency areas integral to business administration practices including economics, IT, communication and supply chain management.
“A lot of the projects are centered around the application of the business knowledge I learned in the textbooks and materials, whereas in a traditional, on-campus program, students might not get the opportunity to apply what they’ve learned to a realistic situation.”
UW Flexible Option students make progress by completing projects related to a competency area and demonstrating mastery, not by accumulating credit hours in the classroom. Upon successful completion of a project, students earn a mark—similar to a grade—of mastered or mastered with distinction.
“I really like the mastery marks, because I think that approach is a much better indicator of my skill level in financial accounting, for example, than a grade of A, B, or C. It would be difficult for an employer to know who really has the right skills based on GPA alone. It’s more challenging to decipher the implication of GPA vs. a specific competency area where I’ve demonstrated mastery, or even better, mastery with distinction.”
Getting in Tune While Going Back to School
Qinghua chooses to take five projects per subscription period.
“Yes, I do dedicate a lot of time to my studies. I would say I’m almost a full-time student! I balance my studies with my marketing internship at Engaging Results Communications. It’s a 40-hour a week position, but fortunately it’s virtual, so I don’t have to commute to an office, giving me more time and flexibility.”
Qinghua says going back to school takes a lot of dedication, but her previous career helped prepare her for success in her education.
“The work ethic and self-discipline that I’ve developed through years of studying music have led to my success in the UW Flexible Option. You have to be self-motivated to be sure you read the materials, take initiative to find answers when you’re stuck, and keep pace to meet the goals you set for yourself.”
With the UW Flexible Option, Qinghua isn’t on her own. An Academic Success Coach (ASC) is available to guide her every step of the way whenever Qinghua wants. Ariel Powers-Schaub is Qinghua’s dedicated ASC. Ariel works to understand Qinghua’s goals, personalize her learning plans, and direct her to the learning resources she needs to complete the Business Administration program.
“Ariel is extremely helpful. She gives me insights on course load before I register and advice on what projects I should take and when. She is truly like a concierge. The ASC is very important. I recommend newcomers build a great relationship with their ASC.”
Marrying Music with Marketing
Qinghua’s life experience has taught her that business skills are needed for classical musicians to sustain themselves. She hopes to eventually return to her roots but in a new capacity by marketing classical music.
“For now, I will continue to practice my music, and I hope to teach my daughter a love for music. I strongly believe that having a musical education, whether as a hobby or for serious pursuits, is essential to the development of a child’s character.”
Find out how UW Flexible Option can help you pursue your passion. Call or email us today at 1-877-895-3276 or firstname.lastname@example.org to get started.