It’s a long way between Panama City, Panama and Lafayette, Louisiana. Except, of course, in Nadine Prendergast’s heart. She moved from the former to the latter to attend the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. She quickly fell in love.
“It’s crazy to think it’s been less than eight years,” she said. “We were just in Panama in December. I remember thinking, ‘Wow, this used to be all I knew. Now, it’s not even what I call home.’ Lafayette is definitely the place to be. It’s such a welcoming city, and it’s growing. The university has so many resources it is willing to invest in you and wants you to have a good experience. You can’t take that for granted.”
In addition to a new home in a new country, Prendergast gained two degrees and a career as manager of the B. I. Moody III College of Business Administration’s Office of Information Systems & Multimedia Labs at UL Lafayette. She earned a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration in 2013, followed by a Master of Business Administration in December 2015. When she was in graduate school, she met her future husband, Jack.
“I work in the same office where I was a graduate assistant,” she said. “It’s really cool to be on the other side and figure out ways to try to make it better, to create systems for the faculty so they don’t have to worry about little things.”
North to Lafayette
Once Prendergast was ready to attend college after she graduated from Colegio Episcopal de Panama, her mother helped her decide to take the leap and go to school abroad.
“They had a nice website,” Prendergast said of UL Lafayette. “They also had good scholarships, and I had a good SAT score. I applied and they gave me in-state tuition. I thought, ‘Why not?’ Then, I got here and absolutely loved the city, the people and the food. I made really good friends.”
After she completed the bachelor’s degree program, Prendergast knew she was going to stay put.
“When I graduated from undergrad, I had a 4.0 and a pretty decent GRE score,” she said. “My parents told me I could go to grad school anywhere, but I knew I had to stay in Lafayette. I absolutely love UL Lafayette and the people I’ve met. It’s where I want to stay for the next few years. I didn’t really care that I could go somewhere else.”
Prendergast initially started graduate school in the Organizational Communication program to become a better business manager.
“I know undergraduate degrees are becoming more and more common, so I needed something slightly higher,” she said. “I knew that I had good grades in undergrad and had a good chance of getting a graduate assistantship. I got in there and realized every paper I wanted to write was about business. They finally told me that I should probably go into the College of Business to write about business, so I applied for the MBA program.”
She met Jack in graduate school, and they were married in March 2016. Two months later, she landed the full-time job at UL Lafayette. She also completed the MBA program as the College’s Outstanding Graduate.
“Part of the benefit of the program is that it is smaller and people know your name,” Prendergast said. “When people know your name, you want to do well because you don’t want to let them down. You don’t want to let your parents down. You don’t want to let yourself down.
“You think, ‘What is so-and-so going to think if I get a really bad grade? He’s going to be so sad.’ So, you’re going to work harder. I had some really good peers in the MBA program. That was really nice. I don’t know where I would have been without them.”
Right on Target
Prendergast said she benefited greatly from two graduate assistantships — one in her current office for two years and another in the Office of International Affairs for five months.
“Not everyone has an assistantship,” she said. “For those who do, I definitely see the value in taking it seriously as a job. You hear that you can’t get a job if you don’t have experience; a graduate assistantship is a great way to bypass that if you take it seriously. My boss gave me plenty of room to grow and a lot of opportunities to manage the department when he wasn’t there. I was able to translate that into a very tangible skill set.”
She said that experience also helped her connect with a job at Target while she was still enrolled in school.
“I had about five different interviews,” Prendergast said. “It was cool to be able to pull different stories from a job I didn’t necessarily have to take seriously but did, and to be able to say I was running a store full of people with no retail experience. The graduate assistantship really is an opportunity to get job experience and a real job after.”
Meanwhile, she also gained knowledge and other valuable skills in the classroom. One of her favorite courses in the MBA curriculum was International Business Law.
“Panama has the canal, so growing up I had people from all over in my classroom,” Prendergast said. “Anything international, by default, is really interesting to me. I think Mr. [Robert] Viguerie did a really good job of explaining the background of law, [the progression of] how we got to where we are, and relationships between countries. I just thought it was really interesting.”
She also thoroughly enjoyed the Internet Marketing course, taught by Dr. Ram Thakur.
“It was awesome,” Prendergast said. “He talked about Amazon reviews and how people reach out on social media. The faculty members here really do care. Especially since I had an assistantship on campus, they were all right here. I could go ask questions. They were always welcoming and wanted to help.”
Never Stop Learning
Prendergast said the MBA program at UL Lafayette is a worthwhile option for anybody who wants to lay the foundation for success.
“If you are even remotely considering it, you should just apply and take the plunge,” she said. “If you’re not and you think that it’s not something you really need, even if professionally you somehow think it wouldn’t help, it really does teach you how to work with people and how to become more business-minded. You also get to develop relationships with people who are already in the workforce and with your professors. There’s no time like the present.”
Now that Prendergast, an only child, has been out of school for a couple of years, she has the urge to return for a doctorate.
“I don’t want my brain to fall asleep,” she deadpanned.
For the moment, though, she’s going to enjoy married life, volunteer work, rock climbing, trips to Panama and other locales with her husband, and the good life as an official Ragin’ Cajun 1,675 miles north of home.
“My parents really like Lafayette, too,” she said. “Every time they come, they realize a little bit more why we want to live here.”
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