From ESL to MBA, Guatemalan-style

Above: An educational journey that started in a rural village in Guatemala is about to end for Brenda Landau, as she crosses the stage at Commencement to mark the completion of her MBA from FDU. (Photo by Roy Groething)

By W. Scott Giglio

The difference between an elementary school education and a master’s degree can be as small as one generation.  When Brenda Landau walks across the stage at Commencement, the Saturday MBA student will surely be thinking of her mother who never finished second grade and never learned to read or write. 

“My mom never knew her father and when she was in second grade, her mother died,” says Landau. “After that, my mom had to leave school to take care of her siblings so she never finished.” 

While Landau still has her parents, her childhood was not markedly easier than her mother’s. Growing up in the small rural town of Salama, in the mountainous heart of Guatemala, life was difficult and the basics were not always guaranteed. “I am the fifth of nine children and that’s a lot of kids to feed. As a child, I knew what it meant to be hungry,” says Landau. “Some nights, the only food we had was tomatoes. Some nights, not even that.

“My parents had to work very hard to support us. I didn’t have toys growing up. My dolls were flowers from the garden,” continues Landau. 

Living in that world of want and need, Landau clung to a dream of education, hoping that through learning, she could escape her situation. “I wanted to come to the U.S. and learn English. That’s something I always wanted since I was a little girl,” she says.

Like one of author Horatio Alger’s “rags to riches” stories, Landau began to realize her dream in 2002, when she came to the U.S. to study English. After three years of ESL classes, she enrolled in Union County College to pursue an associate’s degree in business, which she completed in 2008. Not finished yet, Landau went on to get a bachelor’s degree in accounting at Kean University, graduating from there in 2011. 

Still hungry for more education, Landau began her graduate studies at FDU, enrolling in the inaugural class of the new Saturday MBA, a program that blends online and Saturday classes together, allowing students to complete their MBA in less than 21 months. 

“As an ESL student, I knew people who went to FDU and I always heard them saying how it was a very good school and I made it my goal that one day, I was going to go to school there,” says Landau. “I didn’t know how it was going to happen, but I felt that God would make it happen somehow and He did.” 

The program turned out to be a perfect fit for Landau, both in terms of the scheduling and the faculty. “I had just gotten married and I was working full time. I really didn’t want to go to a classroom every night after work. The Saturday and online classes with this program fit my schedule very well,” says Landau. “Also, my professors all had very good experience in industry which they shared with us in the classroom. I loved the epiphany moments I had in class where I would suddenly understand, ‘Oh, that’s how that works!’”

She was able to put what she learned in the program to use this spring, when a professor gave her class an assignment to play the Business Strategy Game, an online management and marketing simulation.  

Landau’s FDU experience ended on a high note when at the conclusion of the spring semester, when she and her class partner won the Business Strategy Game. Their performance in the game was good enough not only to best their classmates, but also to place them in the top 100 teams worldwide. 

“We finished the Business Strategy Game far ahead of what I thought I could do, but it’s an example of what I tell my siblings,” she says. “If you challenge yourself, you will be amazed at what you can do. If you push yourself, you can accomplish great things.

Right: Landau (left) and her youngest sister, Julieta Rodriguez, in Guatemala on the day Rodriquez graduated from high school (November 2013). “One of the reasons I’ve pursued an advanced education is to inspire my siblings,” says Landau. “It’s exciting to see them achieve as well.” (Photo courtesy of Landau)

“My father inspired me and part of the reason I have worked so hard at my education is to inspire my brothers and sisters,” continues Landau. “I remember my father taking classes to finish high school while I was a child. I always wanted to make my father proud of me and one of the things I knew would make him proud was graduating high school, so I did. Despite being the fifth child born, I was the first to graduate high school. 

“I want my siblings to see that I haven’t accomplished what I have because I am a genius,” says Landau, “but because I have worked for it and prepared myself for the opportunities I’ve been given.” 

As she gets ready to walk across the stage at the IZOD Center on May 20, Landau will think of her parents and her family. “My father worked so hard for me to have a chance and this is how I can honor him.”

Feature Story from the FDU Newsroom

FDU Office of Public Relations

   (Metropolitan Campus Office)
Dickinson Hall, Room 3365, H-DH3-14, Teaneck, NJ 07666

Dina Schipper,
Director of Public Relations
Fax: 201-692-7019

Kenna Caprio,
Communications Writer
Fax: 201-692-7019

Helen Grill,
Senior General Clerk
Fax: 201-692-7019

FDU Office of Public Relations

   (College at Florham Office)
Public Relations Building, M-PR1-01, Madison, NJ 08450

Scott Giglio,
Assistant Director of Public Relations
Fax: 973-443-8671

Daniel Landau,
Public Relations Assistant
Fax: 973-443-8671