By the time Maddy Stephens was 16, she knew she wanted to open her own clothing boutique. As a native of the small island town of Ketchikan, Alaska, however, her options were limited. So she set her sights on opportunities she couldn’t find at home: a large university with opportunities to attend college sporting events and clubs. “I think it’s safe to say U of A checked every box I had!” Maddy says.
As a freshman, Maddy believed majoring in business would be the fastest track to achieving her boutique dreams, so she jumped into a schedule filled with business courses. But something was wrong, she soon realized. Her classes weren’t holding her attention. Instead of thriving in the classroom, she found herself hesitating to participate.
The Retailing and Consumer Sciences Program
It wasn’t until the first semester of her junior year, while studying abroad in Italy, that she finally decided to switch her major to retailing—an option she had only recently learned of.
The change was immediate. From the first day of her retailing courses, she felt more comfortable with the course content. Her curiosity was back, and she was paying attention in classes. Her classroom performance increased, and she started taking the lead on projects—something she never did as a business major.
Better yet, she was fully engaging in clubs outside of the classroom. She was a member of the business fraternity Delta Sigma Pi, the recruiting and networking group Arizona Ambassadors, and the ground-breaking Terry J. Lundgren Center Retail Innovation Lab.
For the first time in two years, she felt like she was finally on her way to opening her clothing boutique.
It wasn’t long until opportunities for real-world experience arose. “I started hearing about all of the amazing companies who recruit exclusively from the retailing school and all of the awesome partnerships they have.” Seeing the partnership with REI, Maddy applied to intern at the Paradise Valley, AZ store. By the time the summer was over, she asked to work part-time in the Tucson store so she could continue working with REI during her senior year.
Even after graduation, REI continues to hold a major influence on her professional development. While in her senior year, a position opened for retailing students to apply for a merchant trainee position at the REI headquarters in Kent, Washington. After a lengthy, competitive interview process, she beat out the competition and received a job offer.
Succeeding in a Retail Career
Maddy’s message to incoming University of Arizona students is simple: Don’t be afraid. Change your major if it will make you happy. Join new clubs. Step outside your comfort zone to seize the things you want. “If you told me two years ago I would be working for REI post-graduation, I would have laughed!”
With her degree in hand and plenty of professional experience under her belt, Maddy is ready to enter the retail world on her own terms. Now that she has the skills and know-how, the only thing between her and her clothing boutique is time.