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Mari Espinoza, B.B.A. Human Resource Management, 2023

by Monica Smith

Sep 30, 2022, 11:00 AM.

A single mom of four children discusses her decision to finish the degree she started more than a decade ago.
Mari Espinoza
Mari Espinoza

Working full-time as an Echelon fitness instructor, Mari Espinoza, mother of four, recently decided to level up her career with a B.B.A. in Human Resource Management. It had been more than a decade since she started college, but she was ready to finish what she started. 

Straight out of high school in 2001, Espinoza made it to her junior year as a mechanical engineer, got married, had kids, moved out of state—and life happened. School took a backseat. Then Espinoza became a single mom. At that time, she threw herself into caring for her children and being a fitness instructor.

Pivot in studies

“I found my passion. It was my calling,” she says. “But I knew that I still wanted to finish my degree.”

Well implanted within the fitness industry, Espinoza wanted to complete her degree, but in something that would complement her fitness career. She pivoted. Seeing the grave need in her industry, she decided her last semesters of college would be devoted to human resource management, 100 percent online. The BBA in Human Resource Management, she sees, will help her move into an administrative capacity where she could work for larger chains of fitness companies, scout for talent and build new locations.


With four children between the ages of 9 and 16, a full-time job, and going to school full-time, Espinoza knew it would be a busy season of her life, but she remains determined to be “aggressive” with her studies so she can graduate in the spring of 2023. She recounts her first semesters as challenging, but doable.

“I had no expectations,” she recalls of her online coursework, “I had been away from school for more than a decade, my major was changing, but I knew that no matter what, I would earn my degree—I would have to go with it.”

Valuable tools

Study times can be stressful and overwhelming and sometimes Espinoza feels like she’s “cramming,” but she is gaining valuable tools within her major, like with her Organization and Management class.

“It was my favorite class; the one that stood out,” she affirms. “The thoughtfulness and the real-world application that the professor wanted us to consider when we did our assignments helped me see beyond what I was doing at the moment.”

Another class, Human Resource Management, taught her how to communicate effectively for business and she asserts that the skills she’s learned have been immediately useful in her current job, such as when speaking with a supervisor.

“That has been helpful with regard to the back side of being in the fitness industry—it’s made me a better professional,” states Espinoza.

Strength through education

Within the fitness industry, certain business skills are not always taught, and employees end up having to learn the hard way—through mistakes, discusses Espinoza who admits she would have benefited early on in her fitness career if she had instruction on people skills, public speaking and how to engage with non-fitness people—all things she’s learned through her program.

Now into her senior year with FIU, Espinoza is grateful for the convenience of online learning as she adjusts her schedule around her family’s needs.

“I love what I’m learning. It’s more applicable the higher up you go,” she offers. “We all need skills and tools and a degree is one more thing you can add to better yourself.”

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