Stephanie Cifuentes ’05, M.S. ’06
Stephanie Cifuentes ’05, M.S. ’06 was “blown away” by her first visit to Radford University, enough that it convinced her to transfer from another Virginia school where she began her college career.
“The campus was exactly what I had pictured in my head when I thought of a college campus,” said Cifuentes. “I remember looking around and seeing such diversity.”
The diversity, combined with the academic programs available at Radford University, was enough to solidify Cifuentes’ decision to attend. When she arrived on campus, she wasted no time declaring her major; she knew she wanted to study communication. Cifuentes graduated with a bachelor of science degree in communication with a concentration in public relations and a master of science degree in professional communication, now known as strategic communication.
As a student, Cifuentes was involved serving as the president of La Sociedad Hispanica and the Hispanic Social Society, community service chair of Phi Sigma Sigma and co-director of RUComm. She was also an active member of the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA), communication honor society Lambda Pi Eta and the Green Team. She says the leadership skills she gained prepared her to be a great “people organizer,” a skill she now uses daily as a project manager.
“Leading an organization is tough. I realized a lot goes into keeping that engine going,” said Cifuentes. “Knowing how to work with lots of different personalities and leveraging a lot of my interpersonal skills has made it easy for me to navigate new companies [and] projects.”
Cifuentes also gained professional experience from two internships with non-profit organizations in Washington, D.C. It was those internships that helped her land a job offer in the non-profit field post-graduation. She was relieved to have a job lined up after graduation but quickly learned that there were more things to consider when applying to and accepting a job than she had expected.
“Things like cost of living, commute time, office culture . . . I also learned that job descriptions aren’t always what they seem. That was a hard lesson to learn,” said Cifuentes. “You really have to probe in the interview process to get to the root of why they are hiring for this role. Do they have a vision? Do they know what this person needs to do to be successful?”
After eight years of working for non-profits and being laid off twice due to economic hardships, Cifuentes decided to move into the for-profit world. She found this to be a much more competitive space, relying more on her professional network to make connections. She arrived at a mid-sized company with a culture that she thrived in, but in 2018, the company went through a merger, and the majority of her department was cut. Cifuentes sought out new opportunities on LinkedIn where she found a role at Nestle.
“It was similar to the work I was already doing, but the interesting challenge was they required someone who was bi-lingual in Spanish. I’ve been fluent in Spanish since I was a little girl but never had officially used that skill in an office setting,” said Cifuentes.
Cifuentes was one of 400 people who applied in the first 24 hours. She landed a phone interview first, and the next day, was expedited into an in-person interview at Nestle’s U.S. headquarters in Rosslyn, Virginia. She got the job! Since October 2018, Cifuentes has thrived as the Project Manager of Digital Marketing at Nestle. Currently, she focuses on the baking division.
But this year, Cifuentes faced a new battle: COVID-19. Her symptoms began with a slight fever and escalated quickly, and it wasn’t long before the panic set in. Cifuentes had to wait seven days before being tested, and after that, her husband started showing symptoms. They both tested positive.
“I took it seriously from the get-go. I did everything right. I was preparing, I was ready to stay at home and the virus still found us,” said Cifuentes. “As awful as it sounds, I’m grateful we got sick in waves. It allowed someone to always care for our kids.”
Cifuentes took three weeks of leave and was grateful to work for a company that has resources and benefits available to its employees. Cifuentes has now recovered and is focusing on setting up a work-from-home station to “create a new normal.”
The Highlander spirit of resilience shone through in Cifuentes during this difficult time.
“COVID-19 changed my life,” said Cifuentes. “We’ll figure out the next steps, but right now, it’s all about staying afloat.”
June 24, 2020