Before the COVID-19 pandemic changed the world as we knew it, Vladimir Diaz could not fathom returning to college while running his three businesses.
"I have been wanting to do it for quite some time," he said. "When you have a busy life with a family, it's always in the back of your mind, but you never really get around to it.
"Then, the pandemic hit. We were locked down for a while, so I thought I might as well get myself into a program and do it online."
Now, Diaz is on track to graduate from the online Master of Business Administration (MBA) program at St. Thomas University (STU) in December 2021.
"I chose St. Thomas because of the flexibility of the program," he said. "I am able to do it at my own pace. There are deadlines, but I am able to meet them. The program has a good schedule that meets my busy lifestyle. It seems to be working out very well for me."
Diaz owns ClearStar Mortgage Group, Tri-County Florida Realty and ClearStar Business Lending out of Plantation, Florida. He has been an entrepreneur for more than 20 years, so he has plenty of real-world experience under his belt.
"A lot of the bankers and investment bankers I deal with are MBA guys," he said. "Many financial organizations I work with prefer dealing with an MBA graduate. It's basically another way to advance my career, expand my knowledge and enhance my skills."
Diaz grew up in Bayamón, Puerto Rico, but he moved to Florida in 1986. Four years later, he began working in the mortgage industry.
"I have always been good at math, which is my favorite subject," he said. "I worked as a loan officer for a mortgage banker when I was 19 years old. One thing led to another, and I've been in the field since. I have been on my own since 1999."
Prior to enrolling at STU in January of 2021, Diaz had not been in college since graduating with a bachelor's degree in real estate and finance from Florida Atlantic University in 2005.
"I wanted to enhance my education," he said. "I do commercial real estate and business lending. I also finance commercial projects and things of that nature."
So far, Financial Management is Diaz's favorite course in the online MBA program curriculum.
"Because that's the field I have been in for nearly 30 years, a lot of the skills they were teaching are things that I do daily," he said. "It was not only things like being able to use a financial calculator, but also helping you understand the concepts.
"I have applied many of the theories and information that I learned in the courses to my own businesses, which has been great."
Diaz looks forward to completing the online MBA program as the country adjusts to a post-pandemic reality. He and his wife, Sara, have two children — Gabriela (18) and Vladimir Jr. (13). Diaz coaches his son's Little League baseball team. He believes his progression through the MBA program makes him a positive influence on the kids.
"My wife and family are very supportive," he said. "My daughter is about to go to Florida State University. We'll both be students. I'm so proud of her."
Sara, who holds a master's degree and works in the banking industry, is looking into earning an MBA, too. Diaz has some advice for other students who may be thinking of pursing an advanced business degree online:
"I recommend time management," he said. "You do not want to get behind on any assignments. Even though you have that flexibility of working at your own pace, you have to find ways to manage your time and accomplish those tasks.
"That's why I have succeeded in the program, so far. I developed a system where I can complete the tasks and not get behind. That's key."
Although the pandemic meant non-ideal circumstances for many, Diaz is thankful that he could take advantage of the unexpected free time to earn an advanced degree in 12 months.
"I would recommend the program to anyone who has a busy schedule because it's flexible," he said. "So far, I feel like I am getting value out of the program and learning quite a bit. I have always said that if you are learning at least one thing, it was worth the effort."
Learn more about St. Thomas University's online MBA program.
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