Concordia St. Paul News

October 17, 2017

CSP Spotlight – When a Career Path Curves

It’s been a winding career path for Christine Kudelka (M.A. ’05), a faculty member in Concordia’s MBA and adult undergraduate business administration programs. That’s partly why she’s the ideal person for students to turn to as they explore where to best leverage their own skills and interests.

From Elementary Education to Corporate Business
After receiving her undergraduate degree in teaching, Kudelka entered the education profession as a permanent elementary school substitute teacher. She didn’t really like the job, however.

“So I carefully examined my skill set, and I realized that corporate sales would be a better fit for me,” explains Kudelka.

Her career switch to a corporate sales job with National Car Rental worked out well for her. Within 10 years, Kudelka was a national vice president of sales with 90 people reporting to her, working in New York City and traveling extensively nationwide.

Kudelka never felt she was selling a product; rather, she was building relationships. With strong interpersonal skills, she went on to become a vice president for marketing at Great Clips and then a vice president at Minnesota-based boat builder Jacobs Management Corporation.

From Corporate Business to Business Education
Kudelka felt everything was good in her corporate career until 9/11. On that fateful day, she was on a plane that landed in Kansas City when U.S. airspace was closed. She rented a car and, driving back to Minnesota, listened to the news as the Twin Towers fell.

“Driving home, I asked myself, ‘Why are you doing this?’ I realized the classroom was where I belonged. I needed to do what I was passionate about,” she recalls.

So Kudelka forged a way to combine her business expertise with her passion for teaching and mentoring. She taught courses as an adjunct professor at the University of St. Thomas and embarked on a master’s degree in organizational leadership from Concordia St. Paul. Then she became a full-time CSP faculty member in 2006 and began drawing upon her relationship-building skills to connect her business students with area employers.

Matching Skills with Opportunities
Kudelka’s discussions with a SuperValu executive about how to find and train employees for jobs and promotions resulted in the creation of the Food Industry Management program at Concordia. Within five years, 90 participants had gone through the program; 50 received bachelor’s degrees, and nine went on to receive their MBA.

“All of them ended up with wonderful careers because they learned critical skills they could use on the job,” adds Kudelka.

She also made connections that ultimately resulted in a partnership with the Network of Executive Women. Each year, approximately 140 CSP students participate in on-campus panel discussions with these executives, giving the students exposure to networking and mentoring opportunities.

“Partnerships such as these also help us understand what businesses want in job candidates, and we build that into our coursework so students gain necessary skills and bring value to their employers,” notes Kudelka.

Kudelka finds it especially rewarding to teach her students what she’s always been good at: analyzing her skills to see where they can be best utilized. “In business, I saw that if you could help people understand their skills, you could help them apply those skills to a job where they can contribute and succeed. Now, I enjoy helping students find what opportunities exist to match their skills.”