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‘Engaged and Energized:’ Colombian Achieves Dream, Graduates from Dalton State Saturday

Maria Daniela Sanchez has been dreaming of this moment for a long time – since long before she left her home country of Colombia alone to pursue an education in America.

“I’m graduating magna cum laude,” she said. “I can see myself walking across that stage saying thank you for making me the person I am right now.”

Sanchez attributes it all to Dalton State and her own work ethic and dedication. She’ll be graduating Saturday with two majors – management information systems and logistics and supply chain management – and a minor in business analytics.

When Sanchez left Colombia, she didn’t initially speak enough English to be accepted to Dalton State. But that didn’t stop her. She spent four months learning English, becoming more proficient, and working to make sure she could be successful here.

Sanchez has high standards for herself. She had been accepted to a university in Colombia with the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business accreditation so any college she attended in America had to have also earned that designation.

Dalton State’s Wright School of Business is among only 5 percent of business schools in the world that have earned the AACSB accreditation.

“I had a list of universities and colleges with that accreditation,” Sanchez said. “I was only going to apply to those. Being in the top 5 percent of business schools in the world is big. Also, my dad was clear that if I was going to America the school had to have that accreditation.”

Sanchez originally played tennis at Dalton State. But when athletics reorganized tennis was one of the programs that was cut. Still, Sanchez remained at the College because she knew she was going to receive an excellent education as a double major.

“It has been great here,” she said. “I’ve loved every second of it. I have definitely taken advantage of the opportunities. It has been a challenge, of course. I took six classes in my freshman year, and everyone was like, ‘You don’t even speak English. How are you going to do it?’ I didn’t leave my room. I was studying 24/7.”

She translated course material and textbooks into Spanish so she could study in her native language.

Sanchez was intrigued by coding and working with computers. She’s also loved data and problem solving. Her major has been the perfect way for her to explore her interests.

“I like taking data that’s all disorganized, and you don’t see anything,” she said. “But then you start to translate it, and it becomes dashboards or statistics you can use to make predictions or forecasts. I think it’s very useful.”

Working with data is a large part of Sanchez’s student work position in the Office of Institutional Research and Planning.

“I’ve learned so much,” she said. “This was my first job ever. I work with a lot of data. I analyze enrollment, programs we have, changes, and patterns. I update our department’s website. And I work with many different departments across campus. This has helped me a lot. I wasn’t treated as a student worker. I was held to a high standard. Then when I had my interview at Shaw for my internship they liked I was working in research.”

Sanchez’s internship is turning into a full-time job for Shaw Industries. She will begin supply chain and operations management training with the company shortly after graduation.

“Maria is an excellent student,” said Dr. Marilyn Helms, dean of the Wright School of Business. “She’s engaged and energized. We tell our students to get an internship. We encourage them because usually that’s a semester-long job interview that often turns into a full-time job. A campus job and an internship, like Maria had, are terrific ways to earn money and experience.

“We go above and beyond in the Wright School of Business,” she said. “We get our students into the industry through internships and tours and networking events. Most of our graduating seniors already have a job. We want them to network and meet with industry professionals so we give them the opportunities to do so.”

Sanchez has taken advantage of the opportunities Dalton State has given her. In addition to being an active and engaged student in the classroom, she is a member of many student organizations. Sanchez is in the Latin American Organization, the International Club, and the Association of Latino Professionals for America.

She also volunteers with several organizations in the community, including the Alzheimer’s Association and with Girl Scouts.

“I want to advocate for Latinas,” Sanchez said. “We can be in good positions in corporate America. I want people to know about Dalton State and the opportunities provided here. I go to student symposiums and summits. I am thankful for the school for allowing me to go on these trips.

“When I was coming to America, everyone told me to take care that there was racism here,” she said. “I have never felt that. People here have been super nice and kind to me. I love the South because of that. I’m staying here in this area because I like the area. Dalton State helped me grow. Dalton State saw me grow into the person I am right now. I came as a teenager, but I’m leaving as a young business woman with so many goals.”