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Cancer researcher finds business acumen with USF MBA

Tampa, FL (December 7, 2012) — Jillaina Menth said she cried every day her first semester in the MBA program.

Jillaina Menth and Sharon Hanna-West

A cancer researcher at Moffitt Cancer Center with an undergraduate degree in biology from USF, Menth said she didn't think she had the strong business background of other students in the program. Her background as a Busch Gardens zookeeper working with large animals didn't help her when studying debits and credits, she felt.

"I thought I was going to drop out," she said.

But after meeting Professor Sharon Hanna-West in an ethics course, Menth said the benefits of learning under a great teacher turned her experience around. She will graduate December 15 with her MBA, and recently traveled to Louisville, Ky., to head a team of MBA students selected as finalists in a sustainability competition hosted by YUM! Brands (Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, and KFC).

Menth and her three team partners, with Hanna-West as their adviser, put together a plan to make YUM! Brands more sustainable. They used the corporate education system already inherent in the company's culture. They were named among six semifinal teams, along with American University, Arizona State University, the University of California-Berkeley, the University of Louisville, and the University of Southern California.

Although the USF team didn't win the competition, Menth said the experience boosted her confidence in her business abilities. She said she's thankful for Hanna-West's encouragement and the push to do the competition. Hanna-West inspired her to be more involved in the MBA program, she said. In addition to the sustainability competition, Menth competed in the Graduate Case Competition and is working with some MBA classmates to start a sustainability program at Academy Prep, a free, private college preparatory middle school in Ybor City for children from low income families. She is also working on TrackYourEffect.org, a not-for-profit venture she started with classmates.

"I don't think I would have done it without Professor Hanna-West," Menth said.

Hanna-West said she had Menth in more than one class, but was impressed when she stepped up to do the YUM! competition.

"Jillaina is an amazingly talented person with a great sense of humor – something that saved us more than once," Hanna-West said. "She kept the team together. Working with her was a great experience, and reminded me of why I do what I do."

Menth said she decided to pursue a graduate degree in business because she wanted to move beyond being a researcher, which she has done for the past eight years. Her experience in the sciences didn't open up the opportunities she was looking for, she said.

"I realized that I wasn't as marketable with the science degree and the experience working in a science lab," she said. "If I wanted to be marketable in business at all, I needed to get a degree that says so."

Menth feels that the MBA program at USF set her on a new career path. She hopes to eventually become a consultant in the sustainability field, using the knowledge she's gained at the Muma College of Business.

"I've started a program at my company, and I'm finally getting recognized," she said. "Everything has been so amazing this past year that I keep waiting to get pinched and woken up."