Christine Zenteno

BBA in International Business, Class of 2009
Administrative Assistant – Agency Operator, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality

Why did you choose to major in International Business?

When I began my first semester at SEU, my declared major was Biology with the intention of being Pre-Med. I had taken Health Science Technology classes in high school, volunteered with area hospitals and even passed the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board on the first try. You could say that I felt certain I had chosen my best career path.

Then, I took a required composition course in rhetoric, and it was suggested that I choose NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement) as a controversial topic for a paper. That one topic opened up a new avenue to me that I had never previously considered. I started exploring the topic in-depth independently and discovered that I was more fascinated by how businesses from different countries interact than how mitochondria power the cell. I changed my major to International Business, started volunteering and seeking internships in that field, and felt confident that this new career path was right for me.

What did you enjoy about your coursework?

When focusing on my business classes, my best experiences involved classroom projects with real-world perspective. Many of my professors gave the class opportunities to work with real area organizations. It went beyond just classroom learning – the ideas that we generated could actually be used by the organization we were working with! One of my most enjoyable experiences was working with KLRU to establish a plan for increasing their viewership. There were many face-to-face meetings and e-mails to discuss their vision and how our group could develop a plan to help KLRU reach their goal.

Beyond major-specific classes, the cultural foundation classes and a few others (Rhetoric and Composition in particular) really went beyond the scope of forming competent business professionals. They taught me to think outside the box and look at things from a different perspective. A popular theme from my time at St. Edward’s was “learn to think,” and I stand by that statement. St. Edward’s taught me so much more than standard business administrative practices. I learned to ask questions and take a more active role in my community.

What are some lessons you learned from professors or mentors in the business school that you’ve used in your current role?

I learned that my contributions at work, even those which seemed inconsequential, could impact the big picture and propel my career. By consistently building upon my skills, I became flexible enough to adapt to constant change. The skills I learned in one particular area could help me be more successful in a different area later on.

Did you participate in any extracurricular activities during your time at SEU?

During most of my time at St. Edward’s, I worked in management and leadership roles at H-E-B. At first, I accepted in-store leadership roles and then progressed into titled management positions. After working over a year as a department manager in customer service, I decided to make some lateral moves to gain leadership experience in other departments. I applied for the Management Internship program and worked with store department managers and regional managers to create and implement a strategic plan to meet a specific goal.

While attending school and working at H-E-B, I decided I wanted to do more to give back to the community. I saw a bulletin posting for HOSTS (Help One Student to Succeed), seeking tutors for a local elementary. They had plenty of English-speaking tutors but were in desperate need of Spanish speakers. I had only completed a few semesters of Spanish but saw it as an opportunity to help children with reading comprehension while perfecting my own use of the language.

This seemingly irrelevant activity came in handy when I decided to volunteer with the Mexican Consulate General in Austin, where normal business was handled entirely in Spanish. My role at the Consulate was a major factor in securing a paid internship position in the Office of the Governor’s International Business section. I was determined to not to be the intern that only copied spreadsheets, so I requested to become more involved in day-to-day operations. Because of this, I was afforded the opportunity to really see how state and local agencies interact to bring foreign business and jobs to Texas. By taking this initiative, I was successful in having the internship extended to a second term in the same section.

How did these experiences prepare you for your current role?

This clustering of opportunities has helped me to understand how my current agency works. Government agencies have a different business model than private organizations, but that does not make them any less important. They are interconnected, and I would go as far say they are also interdependent. It helps me to see the value in what I do from my current role within the TCEQ and its impact on our community.

Those opportunities have also taught me to take each phase in life as a stepping stone. No part is insignificant – take what you can from each position and frame it to help you get to the next step. Potential – with a strong work history to back up the claim – can be attractive to prospective employers. My current role is helping me to gain a broad understanding of what TCEQ does and gives me exposure to many different departments that I would not get in roles with more department-specific duties.

What aspects of your current job responsibilities excite you?

I am often the first point of contact that the public has with my organization. The TCEQ is the second largest environmental agency in the United States, with about 3,000 employees. It has 16 regional offices throughout the state that support our “campus” in Austin, which boasts 6 buildings. How I answer the phone and help people forms that first impression with the public. I enjoy connecting people with the resources that they need. I listen to what the customers are experiencing or what they think they may need and get them to best place to help them reach their goal.

In addition, I have been working with my manager to take on a few extra duties, and I am very excited about my newest role as a point of contact between the TCEQ and another state agency, performing specific duties within the Human Resources and Staff Services division. The ability to work with several different areas and create a harmonious working relationship between the groups is what makes me tick. I enjoy that I can utilize some of my strengths in my current role and continue taking the initiative to develop new skills that will help me along my career path.

What advice do you have for current SEU business students?

Networking is extremely important – not merely for making connections to get a job, but to also continue developing. From my own experience, I tapped into my network to gain an understanding of certain fields I was interested in, and even to scope out workplace cultures, before applying to certain organizations. I also used my network resources to solicit advice on strengthening my resume and interview skills. The great thing about networking is that you can start anywhere. With your professor, with a fellow classmate, volunteer organizations, or even church. The opportunity is always there. It is up to you to take the initiative. Keep in mind that you are part of the network. Use it to your advantage, but also remember to give back to the network.

Remember that success is not linear and is driven by your actions. The journey can be a very confusing tangle that feels repetitive, stuck, or even as if it is moving backward. Success comes right after the last failure. With that in mind, failure is experience. Do not take failure as your signal to quit; use it as an important step in the learning process. To make this work, you need to believe in yourself.

Develop resilience and learn to look at things from a different perspective. You made it this far – the only person who can take you to the next step is you. That next step does not necessarily mean the next promotion or pay raise. You may decide something with less responsibility or a different path altogether means success to you. That is okay. The most important part is that you feel successful in whatever you do, and find something meaningful in all the steps along the way.