MS in Commerce Blog

Alumni Spotlight: Jena Al-Barzinji

UVA's M.S. in Commerce helped Al-Barzinji to develop a strong business acumen and challenged her to think in new ways.

Jena Al-Barzinji

Jena Al-Barzinji

Jena Al-Barzinji
M.S. in Commerce 2019, Marketing & Management Track
Undergrad: B.A. in Economics and Middle Eastern Languages and Literature 2018, UVA
Current role: Oracle, Business Development Consultant, Reston, VA

Why did you decide to pursue an M.S. in Commerce?
I studied Economics and Interdisciplinary Studies with a focus on the Middle East, which combined courses in literature, languages, politics, history, film, and economics. I had a strong liberal arts background but didn’t feel prepared for the corporate world. So, completing the M.S. in Commerce helped me develop a strong business acumen and challenged me to think in new ways. It gave me an entirely new skill set that I could immediately use when entering the workforce.

How was graduate business school different from undergrad?
Graduate school was like entering a whole new world. The M.S. in Commerce is only 10 months, so the workload is completely different. It was definitely heavier than undergrad and also involved a lot more group work. I went from writing 10- to 15-page papers to writing shorter, memo-like papers and group assignments. The group projects were great, though, because I was exposed to different perspectives. All of my classes were at McIntire, so I spent a lot of time at the School, which allowed me to bond with my classmates from the beginning.

What was your most compelling class?
I definitely liked Professor Peter Maillet’s Foundations of Global Commerce. I think that was one of the most interesting courses I’ve ever taken at UVA, in both undergrad and grad school. He emphasized the importance of current events, and I enjoyed learning about different countries; economic, social and political environments; and how they impact global business.

The final project of his class was also extremely thought provoking. It challenged me to think about the future of technology in different ways. He taught us that business is a global phenomenon, and his curriculum is based on making it relevant to today.

How did the M.S. in Commerce prepare you for your job?
I’m in sales so am constantly interacting with people by phone and Zoom. The presentations I gave throughout the program helped me build my confidence and develop better communication skills. I also work a lot with different email campaigns targeted to different clients around the country, and the Marketing courses I took have been a great help. It’s important to understand how to create an effective message and write concisely.

Did you utilize Commerce Career Services (CCS) in your job search?
McIntire’s career fair at the beginning of the year is definitely a great way to network and learn about different career options. CCS also held a marketing career forum in the fall, and I was able to explore what I wanted to do. That’s where I learned about different roles like sales and digital marketing. CCS also helped me with honing my interview skills, and I also utilized networking events like coffee chats with employers.

What’s your favorite and least favorite part of your job?
Because I work in the public sector, I like learning about technology and current industry trends of state and local governments. These were subject areas that I had a very surface-level understanding of when I first started my job with Oracle, but I have learned a lot more within the past few months. The company’s training program is really strong, and everyone in the office is really kind and always willing to help me out.

What I’ve found challenging is that it can be intimidating to talk to strangers. I’m constantly cold calling and reaching out to people I don’t know, even though they’re one of my accounts, but at the same time, it’s helped me come out of my comfort zone and given me the confidence to speak to anyone.

Do you have any advice for potential or future M.S. in Commerce students who may be interested in a job like yours?
If you have a competitive spirit and an interest in technology and enjoy constantly interacting with people, this could definitely be the job for you. I recommend conducting informational interviews with alumni who are currently in tech sales to see if it’s a good fit. Approach interviews with confidence. You don’t need to know about technology going into a tech sales position, but it helps to have at least a base-level understanding of what’s going on in the tech world.

Where did you go for the Global Immersion Experience (GIE), and what was your favorite company visit?
I went to Southeast Asia. The most memorable company visit was to a manufacturing plant in Vietnam that produced jeans and other clothing items. It was interesting to learn about their mission and values around sustainable manufacturing. I also liked learning about their operations during the plant tour and getting to see firsthand how something as simple as a pair of jeans is made.

It also made me realize how impactful marketing and brand management truly are when managing a product, because the jeans were being made for different brands but in the same facility using the same materials. The only thing that differentiated them was the labels that were added in the process.

Any advice for someone starting the M.S. in Commerce?
Use the summer before the program to keep yourself up to date on current business trends. Otherwise, make the best use of your time. Pay attention, because every class is useful. You’ll be surprised by how much you learn in one year. McIntire gives students all the support to find success while you’re in the program and after graduation!

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