The path Timothy Varner took to a career in human resources was paved by his fluency in Spanish and wound through Chile. Now, the Knoxville resident is riding the information superhighway via Fitchburg State University to take his career to the next level.
"My undergraduate degree was in Spanish with a minor in Portuguese and global studies," he said. "I didn't get a job doing what my degree applied to, so I went to a temp agency. After working at a factory for a couple of months, the temp agency called me and asked, 'Would you like to be a bilingual recruiter?' I got really lucky to fall into the career that I did."
Varner began work as a recruiter for Custom Foods of America in his hometown. After a couple of years there, he changed companies, but stuck with HR. Four months into his new human resources job at Bitmain, he graduated from Fitchburg State's Master of Business Administration in Human Resources Management online program in December 2018.
"I did about two weeks of research on schools where I could earn an MBA online," he said. "Fitchburg State kept popping up at the top of the list of all of the reviews I saw about cost of tuition and time to completion. That was good to see. It was the right fit for me. I loved the online experience."
The online format was the only way that Varner could fit school in with a full-time job and a family. He and his wife, Victoria, have two children, Camden (1) and Emma (4 months). He enrolled in the online MBA in HR Management program in July 2017.
"Being flexible and doing schoolwork whenever I could do it was huge," Varner said. "When I started the program, my son was less than a year old. Shortly after I started, we got pregnant again. That's been tough for my wife. I work a full-time job and she stays at home with the kids. She wants a break sometimes, but I get home and have to work on a paper. She's super supportive."
Varner's detour through South America came when he studied for a semester at Pontificia Universidad Católica de Valparaíso, in Chile, while earning his bachelor's degree at Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU).
"That was a great opportunity," he said. "I would tell anybody who has an opportunity to study abroad to make sure that they do it. I loved it. I tell my wife all of the time, 'If you would pick up and move right now, I would move to Chile. I'm not even joking.'"
Soaring to New Heights
Benefiting from the real-world knowledge of the faculty is an element of the online MBA in HR Management program that Varner thoroughly enjoyed.
"The professors I've had for the core classes are professionals and know what they're doing," he said. "They're HR people who are teaching classes. Being able to talk to them and ask questions to clarify things has helped a lot. The fact that they aren't just professors and they have tons of experience doing it is big."
The curriculum is especially applicable to Varner's new job, which he landed because he was nearing completion of the online MBA program.
"Custom Foods was a small place," he said. "It had 500 employees, but it was a mom and pop business. Here at Bitmain, it's more global. It's headquartered in China. We have locations all over the place. I'm able to use a lot of the information from the program here. When I saw this job required a master's degree, I said, 'Hey, I only have one more course. Can you work with that?' They said, 'Yeah.'"
MGMT 9070: Legal Issues in Human Resources Management was Varner's favorite course in the online MBA in HR Management concentration.
"It's not that I necessarily learned new things in that course, but it gave me a chance to dive deeper into some things that I already knew," he said. "I learned how to break down judgements of court cases and litigations. That was awesome."
The transition to a fully online format was fairly seamless for Varner after he took online courses during his undergraduate work at MTSU. His original major was in the department of recording industry, which meshed with his avid love of music.
"Before I was married, I did music all of the time," he said. "I changed majors because you can go to school and get a recording industry degree or you can go make connections. I think one is just as good as the other."
In addition to pursuing his passion for music, Varner is whetting his appetite for entrepreneurship -- he started a small business selling items on Amazon.
"I've just finished a marketing class; it was my last course," he said. "I was so excited to do it because I got to take the proper steps creating a business. With starting a business, the ultimate goal is to be able to work from home which will allow me to spend more time with my family. E-commerce is what I'm starting with. If it goes well, I can branch out. Other than my own business dreams, staying in HR, I would like to move up and be an HR director of a company someday."
Varner wasn't able to attend his graduation ceremony, but is pleased with his decision to enroll in the Fitchburg State online program. He became the first person in his family to earn a master's degree and only the second one with any college degree. With so much online education available, Varner believes that by the time his kids finish high school, their higher education options will be limitless.
"Education is super important," he said. "Skill trades are important, as well. If my kids want to work in the trades instead, I'll support them. If they want a desk job and to do something not as hard on their body, I'll say, 'Go to school and get a degree.'"
If they go the college route, Varner will no doubt extol the advantages of the online format to them.
"I got great value out of the program -- 100 percent," he said. "If you're going to get a degree, save as much money as you can. As long as it's an accredited degree, that's the most important thing. Just do it. You can have a life at Fitchburg State taking the courses one at a time. I'm married, have a full-time job and kids, I took two classes at a time and still had enough time to get it done."
Viva, Fitchburg State.
Learn more about Fitchburg State's online MBA in HR Management program.
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