Meet Andrea Pender, a 2004 Purdue English Language and Literature graduate, who now works as Director of Business Development with RLG Consulting Engineers in Dallas, Texas.
She might not work in a typical liberal arts field, but Andrea puts her CLA degree to use on a daily basis in the business world. What she has learned is that even engineering firms need workers who can communicate effectively.
In this Q&A, she explains how her English degree successfully led her down the professional path she has chosen.
Q: You’ve worked in a few different fields. How did you arrive at business development as a career?
A: I started off my career as a seventh-grade English teacher. I really loved working with the students, but I always had a passion for photography. I decided to start my own photography business specializing in outdoor family portraits and professional headshots and I did that for over 10 years. At that time, I realized I wanted to interact with people more and spend less time behind my computer, which landed me in business development. Owning my company was all about business development, with a side of photography. I would attend many networking meetings each week with other small business owners. Then I would meet with the business owners to explain more about what I do (and learn more about what they do), ultimately to grow our list of connections and tell our contacts about one another to bring in more business.
Q: What is your average day like in your job?
A: An average day for me typically starts with a meeting with my engineers and/or marketing team to discuss meetings with clients and upcoming activities/events going on in the industry. I typically have two or more client meetings each day. These normally take place during lunch and an afternoon meeting at a coffee shop. I spend that time really getting to know them as a person to start building their trust in order to do business together in the future. In between meetings I spend quite a bit of time looking at new project opportunities, emailing clients to follow up with them about upcoming projects, and planning future meetings. A few times a month, in the evening, there are also happy hour events to attend that I have arranged to bring our clients and engineers face-to-face in an environment for them to learn more about one another. On top of that, there are several conferences that I attend each year through SMPS (Society of Marketing Professional Services) that are multiple days, packed with great speakers, and an opportunity for continuing education.
Q: What do you enjoy about the work?
A: I love getting to know people and building relationships. I am a naturally inquisitive person so this works hand-in-hand with my job. I am able to use my strengths to become a trusted consultant in the industry. I always say, “You do business with people you know, like, and trust.”
Q: How does your background in English and liberal arts help you complete particular tasks in your job?
A: My job involves interacting with clients in many different formats: in person, via email, and on the phone. With an English degree, I am confident in my writing ability and I know the emails I am sending out will be interpreted correctly. Writing is second nature to me and composing emails comes easy to me. Having engaging conversations is also a skill. English gave me the skill set to be a well-spoken and engaging individual, with a talent for writing and problem solving.
Q: Are there other ways that studying English in college prepared you for the working world?
A: I feel like I am a very well-rounded person. With other degrees, a student may only do one specific task for years, but with an English degree, we are able to touch on several different things that are very important: speech classes, the arts, foreign language, literature, and writing, just to name a few.
Q: If you weren’t employed in business development now, what do think you’d be doing professionally?
A: Honestly, being the Director of Business Development at RLG Consulting Engineers is the perfect fit. I really love the AEC (Architecture/Engineering/Construction) industry. If I didn’t officially have the title of Business Development, the career would have some sort of business development attached. I have almost completed my 500-hour yoga teacher certification, so I could do more plant-based wellness coaching or own a yoga studio, but I would be building relationships so the students would want to come back and, ultimately, I would be doing business development!
Q: Was there a particular class at Purdue that made you think the business world might suit you? What was it about that course or professor that motivated you?
A: Professor Dorsey Armstrong was a huge influence for me while I was at Purdue. She is such an amazing professor. I am so glad I stumbled upon her classes, and I took every course she offered! She is a strong and confident woman who I knew I wanted to emulate when I got out into the real world. She was memorable and made me work my hardest. I hope I am doing that with my co-workers on a daily basis just like she did for me.
Q: What advice can you offer to students studying English at Purdue today?
A: A degree in English can take you far! I never thought I would end up working for an engineering firm, but it is a skill set they really needed in order to help take the firm to the next level. Keep working hard and be proud of your English degree! It will help you in any field you pursue. Always think about every position a firm needs, do not limit yourself to the main position. For example, an engineering firm needs more than just engineers, an IT firm needs more than just computer programmers. Basically, everyone needs someone who knows how to write!
Q: Outside of work, what do you like to do in your free time?
A: I love to spend time with my husband and dogs, do yoga, and read! My husband does business development for a construction firm (he also has an English degree!) and our jobs are so social during the week that we enjoy a lot of quiet time at home on the weekends!
Q: What do you like to read? What are you reading now?
A: I love reading. I normally have some sort of fictional book going, along with a non-fiction book to help with professional development. Right now, I just started the Markendium books (to prepare for the Certified Professional Services Marketer exam) and I am debating about starting another Larry McMurtry book or beginning the series of Game of Thrones books by George R.R. Martin. So many books….so little time. A mystery novel is probably one of my favorite genres to read.