Cultivating a Leadership Identity

For five years or so, Karina Mardirossian was a fixture on campus, not only as an MBA student but as a key member of the admissions team. Both the degree program and the job were manifestations of a thoughtful professional mission: practicing – and evaluating – leadership.

Karina arrived at Woodbury fully engaged in a leadership project. A Toronto native, she received her Bachelor of English/Sociology at York University and a Bachelor of Education from the University of Western Ontario. As she describes it, she came to Woodbury “looking to grow my leadership identity.”

“The only way I knew I’d be able to succeed in achieving this was through smaller class sizes, where I’d have the opportunity to share my ideas, network with my colleagues, and receive one-on-one support with instructors,” she says. Having endured “massive classes” of 200-400 students at previous institutions, Karina realized that, before arriving at Woodbury, she had never raised her hand to answer a question or discuss an idea. “I found an instant connection with Woodbury the moment I walked onto campus and was greeted warmly by the admissions counselor,” she says. “I knew I had found the right place to discover my strengths and grow personally and professionally.”

Looking back, she describes the Master of Organizational Leadership program as “changing the trajectory of my life – the program helped me discover who I was as a leader, hone my skills to communicate more clearly and effectively, and learn to play by [those skills] at work every day.”

For her capstone project, Karina created a curriculum focused on teaching teens the fundamentals of leadership. Using the curriculum, she launched leadership programs in the cities of Burbank, Glendale and Pasadena, and implemented the curriculum during her work at the Boys and Girls Club’s Teen LEAD program, as well as in the City of Burbank’s Youth Leadership Program. More recently, she has modified the curriculum for use in teaching and consulting with working professionals in the private and public sectors.

“Upon graduating from the Organizational Leadership program, I realized that I wasn’t done with Woodbury quite yet,” Karina says. “While the OL degree taught me how to improve my soft skills, I elected to pursue an MBA to hone my ‘hard’ skills.”

As it turned out, the two programs proved to be complementary. “In order to successfully manage others, you must first understand how to lead,” she says.“I was able to learn the fundamentals in the OL program — servant leadership, ethics, conflict resolution, team dynamics. In the MBA program, I was able to apply and advance my leadership knowledge by learning about operations, integrated systems, business law, ethical leadership, marketing, finance, and more.”

MBA in hand, Karina hit the book, singular. When Woodbury’s MBA chair, Satinder Dhiman, offered her a unique opportunity to co-author a chapter in his book,”The Palgrave Handbook of Workplace Spirituality and Fulfillment,” she grabbed it: “After many months of writing and editing, I’ve become a published author, having written about a subject that is of great passion of mine: Personal Fulfillment and Workplace Flourishing: Finding Personal and Mutual Alignment.

And now, she’s living it. Last year, Karina began working in Human Resources for Activision Blizzard (think Call of Duty, Guitar Hero, World of Warcraft, Candy Crush), a Santa Monica-based member of the Fortune 500. “It’s a different world out here,” she says. “Moving from higher education to the media/entertainment industry was a culture shock at first. The environment is dynamic, it’s intense, it’s setting the bar high and jumping even higher. Skills are important, but what’s equally important is attitude. One of our mottos here is ‘hire for attitude, train for skill.’”

Karina seems to have lived that one as well.

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