From Pandemic Layoff to New Position at UEI College

Marlena Meza felt she was heading in a pretty good direction in her career. She’d worked her way up in the administrative field and had earned a position as a human resources (HR) assistant, a field within which she had aspirations to grow.

All that came to a halt, however, when she was suddenly laid off due to pandemic-related cutbacks.

“When I was laid off, I just took it as a time to stay home with my kids,” said Marlena, who’s a mother of five. “But then, toward the following year, I decided to do something I could fall back on. That’s when I decided to go the UEI.”

Marlena enrolled in the Business Office Administration Program at UEI College in Garden Grove. Her goal, she said, was to develop the skills she’d need to jump back into the current from which she was pulled.

“I wanted to advance in the career I’d left. I wanted to become an HR manager,” she said. “In order to do that, I thought I’d have to take some courses. I had the admin part down, but I needed other skills like accounting, business ethics, etc., to help me advance toward where I wanted to go.”

Marlena cruised through the program, earning straight-A’s, graduating in nine months’ time, and seemingly heading in the direction she’d planned. But then, UEI College threw her a curveball: they offered her a job.

Today, she is an Associate Career Service Specialist at UEI’s Garden Grove campus. She helps students develop the skills to successfully earn job offers once they graduate. And, she loves it.

Building on Both Experience and Education

Marlena first dipped her toe into the world of business when she was 17 years old. Her brother-in-law owned a tile supply company, and he hired Marlena to work as a front-end receptionist.

The job proved to not only be a learning experience for the teen, but it also taught her some skills that evolved into a longer-term interest in business, customer service and human resources.

“I was working in the front office, tending to customers, doing deposits, a little bit of paperwork … stuff like that,” she said. “That gave me experience just being in an office, being around people, learning new things for myself… It helped me in my future because it helped me realize there were things out there I could advance in.”

Becoming a mom at the age of 20 further motivated Marlena to take classes and further develop her administrative skills. She started a medical billing program but had to drop out because of a difficult pregnancy. Then in 2006, she earned a dental front office certificate.

This all served as building blocks that led her toward HR and, ultimately, toward UEI College.

“When I enrolled at UEI, I was very excited to start my education toward my career,” Marlena said. “I already know what my long-term goal was, so I was happy to start school and start to learn the skills I needed.”

Like her school-ages kids before her, Marlena had to become accustomed to online classes due to pandemic-related safety precautions. As she was doing so, she said instructor Serj Gholian taught classes with the ideal temperament.

“He was very helpful, every understanding and very patient,” she said. “I was a type of student to just observe and take everything in, but every time I had a question or issue, he was there to help.”

The admiration was mutual.

“Marlena was a pleasure to teach,” Serj said. “She was determined, focused, patient, responsible, a team player and passionate. It is no surprise to me that she is succeeding, and her future will be bright, no doubt.”

Making it a Career at UEI College

As Marlena was close to finishing the Business Office Administration program and had started working with Career Services on job placement, she said she was approached with something interesting.

“They saw my experience, and it just kind of went from there,” Marlena said. “[UEI] approached  me about a job, and as I thought about it, I became more into it and was kind of happy at the same time. I would kind of be doing what I wanted to do [like] help people look for jobs, help with resumes, mock interviews… It was kind of what I was doing before.”

Nicole Tenace, Director of Career Services at the Garden Grove campus, set up an interview with Marlena and was ultimately instrumental in her hiring at the school.

Marlena said it felt great for the school to have recognized value in both the hard work she put into the program as well as the work experience she’d built up prior to enrollment. And, to earn a position in Career Services allows her to help people who came from a background similar to hers.

“I lost my mom when I was 9, and my dad didn’t have a lot of money to give us, so I was always independent and did what I had to do to get an education and earn a living,” she said. “I enjoy that I came from that background because it helps me understand how some students are feeling. I know what it’s like to feel like giving up, and I see that in some of them. Here, I’m in a positon to help them succeed and hopefully help them find jobs.”

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