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In the Catbird Seat: Accelerated Degree Student Is Ahead of Her Time

Read the story of Sidney Kirkland, a student in Saint Leo University’s 3+1 accelerated degree program in business who says her academics have greatly benefited her in her early career.

A head shot of Sidney Kirkland, a Saint Leo University 3+1 accelerated degree student who completed her bachelor's in management and is now wrapping up her MBA in project management

At just 21 years of age, Sidney Kirkland has already built up quite a professional resume. In addition to her time growing up in a family business and several years’ worth of practical experience, she is about to complete Saint Leo University’s 3+1 accelerated degree program in business with her eyes on law school.

Kirkland is a 12th-generation Floridian who currently lives in Brooksville, FL. She has a 17-year-old brother, Austin, and a Labrador retriever, Zeus. She is a 2018 graduate of Hernando High School.

An Early Jump on Her College Education

She was a dual enrollment student while in high school, taking college classes at Pasco-Hernando State College. She began her Saint Leo University education in the fall of 2018.

“I was a very ambitious student in high school,” Kirkland says. “I had only applied to Harvard University and another school in Florida. I was waitlisted at Harvard and got accepted into the other school.”

While joining an Ivy League institution was certainly intriguing, it was a recommendation from someone who convinced her to at least take a peek at what Saint Leo University, a school whose main campus is less than 30 miles from home, had to offer.

“My mom had a family friend, Celynda Redgrave, who went to Saint Leo. She and my mom encourage me to take a campus tour. I was still dead set on choosing one of the other schools.”

When she learned about the significant financial aid she would receive from Saint Leo, she quickly realized it was a no-brainer to stay closer to home.

“I knew I could get my education practically debt free,” she says. “I also found out I would have to retake a lot of the dual enrollment classes I had already completed if I went somewhere else.”

Plus, Saint Leo’s 3+1 accelerated degree program allowing students to earn a management degree and an MBA in just four years was quite appealing.

Selecting the 3+1 Accelerated Degree Program in Business

She explains how her career interests have evolved over time.

“When I was six years old, I had already made up my mind to go into the medical field as a surgeon or anesthesiologist,” she explains. “When I got into high school, I discovered that I was allergic to certain chemicals used in the hospital, so I had to come up with a contingency career plan.”

A volunteer opportunity as a youth attorney at the Fifth Judicial Circuit Court in Brooksville piqued a new interest for her.

“Thanks to that experience, I realized that I loved practicing law,” she says. “I’d love to incorporate law and business into my work someday.”

In 2016 at age 16, she began working for her dad’s crane company, GSK Crane Service. She started out as an office assistant before doing jobsite support taking photos and videos of the work being done. She was promoted to social media manager and now serves as marketing director.

And why did she believe the management-to-MBA accelerated degree program was the best fit for her?

“Some family friends suggested I get a business degree because they said a lot of people go back for an MBA after about 10 years of working professionally.”

Embarking on the Bachelor’s in Management Program

With several college credits to her name, Kirkland enrolled at Saint Leo in the fall of 2018. She started the first leg of the accelerated degree program – the BA in management degree program.

“I had several professors who taught me so much about their industry experience. To me, I feel lucky to have received an education from professors with lots of real-world experience compared to research-oriented professors at much larger schools who teach hundreds of students at a time.”

Dr. Kelly Atkins was her advisor while she was an undergraduate student.

“Dr. Atkins made sure I was on track with everything and took the time to work with me,” Kirkland says.

Several other faculty members in the Tapia College of Business have also influenced her in a positive manner.

“Peter Marion showed me the importance of networking in any career. Dr. John Lax taught me marketing and real-world applications, which helped me develop a marketing strategy in our company. We had a 40-percent increase in website page views in the first three months of implementing this new strategy, and this resulted in an increase in customers and retention. Dr. Kenneth Embry has also been somewhat of a mentor to me. I took some electives with him and learned a ton about social media.”

Much of what she learned in the classroom has directly impacted her professional work.

“I’ve been able to leverage the knowledge I’ve learned in my classes and textbooks in my crane company job. It has been great to see the real-world application of so many of these concepts come to life.”

Advancing to the MBA in Project Management

She polished off the coursework for her bachelor’s program in December of 2020 and immediately transitioned into the online graduate degree curriculum in the spring of 2021, opting for the MBA in project management. She is on track to wrap up the MBA program this summer.

According to Kirkland, there are several notable differences between her bachelor’s program and the graduate-level curriculum.

“The MBA classes are more focused on how to implement concepts into one’s place of work compared to mainly learning the concepts in the undergraduate program. The MBA professors have shown me what project management really does. It has also helped me in my day job.”

While she is on the younger side of the students in the graduate degree program, most of whom are between the ages of 30 and 50, she feels like she fits in with everyone quite well.

“I’ve honestly found that I am more comfortable interacting with the students in the MBA program compared to my undergraduate degree program because of my experience in the crane company.”

Among the faculty in the graduate degree program she has found to be extremely helpful, Drs. Laque Perkins, Robert brown, and Robert Pratt have fit this bill.

Unbeatable Connections on Campus

While Kirkland has learned so much through her undergraduate and MBA studies, she has also earned a number of unique opportunities to make meaningful connections outside of the classroom through involvement in organizations on campus. She served on the Management Industry Advisory Council.

“I became the student representative on the council. I relayed feedback from students and how to increase professional networking opportunities for them.”

She was also quite involved in the Student Advisory Council in the Tapia College of Business.

“Dr. Robyn Parker, the dean at the time, reached out to the faculty to recommend a student to sit on this council. I was lucky enough to be her pick and became a founding member of this council.”

She served as president of the Entrepreneurship Club and later transitioned into a student mentor role once she began the MBA program. Another group she played a role in creating was the Women in Business Club.

“I helped Emily Prengaman launch the club,” she says. “I helped reach out to women across different industries to see if they would be willing to engage with our members and speak at our events.”

Additionally, she served on the Business Week Task Force with Dr. Lax to help promote the various sessions held for students during this weeklong event. She also attended some events hosted by the Accounting Club and the Marketing Advisory Council.

Two Core Values of Note

While she appreciates all six Saint Leo University core values, two in particular ring true to her the most.

“For me, the biggest core value that has been transparent through my Saint Leo experience is integrity,” she says. “I was raised to understand that money means nothing if my word means nothing. My philosophy is to stay true to your word and complete the actions you say you are going to do. Seeing this being so ever present on campus made me know I made the right choice for college.”

The core value of community is another big one in her book, she adds.

“Everyone knows everybody on campus. We reach out and help each other any way we can.”

She offers up some advice to anyone who is exploring universities for higher education.

“Consider Saint Leo University because of the opportunities that are present on campus,” she advises. “There is no shortage of people willing to help you succeed as a student. The question becomes whether you are willing to put yourself out there. Meet with every person you can – fellow students, professors, deans, and even the president. Network as much as you can. If you have an idea to do something, don’t keep quiet about it because nine times out of 10, someone will help you get your idea off the ground.”

A Multitude of Career Considerations

Kirkland’s most work experience has come through the family crane business. Thanks in part to these duties, she is about to launch her own company doing photography, videography, and graphic design. The name of the company is Si.C.K. Productions, a play on the initials of her full name.

“It started as part of my work in the crane company. I started photographing the cranes and equipment and then got into video editing. Plus, I designed a company logo for us. I have also helped some friends who are YouTubers by editing their videos. I would love for this to become a full-fledged marketing agency someday.”

She has even served as somewhat of a business consultant to others.

“My brother wants to pursue a business and has several friends his age who are trying things already,” she says. “When they have questions, I try to help answer them and guide them along based on my experience. I’ve also helped other students at Saint Leo with advice on business ideas and if there have potential to be a successful business concept. I enjoy being a sounding board for others because I want to help others become the best they can be since so many people have helped me along the way.”

On the legal front, she held the position of youth attorney and completed a short internship at a local law office, working as a secretary and legal assistant. Her goal is to graduate from law school and work as a corporate litigation attorney.

“With my experience as a youth attorney, I loved being in the courtroom and defending people. Through my professional experience and academia, I find that it’s often an unjust fault for which customers want to sue. I like defending companies in those situations to help protect them from the wrongdoing of others. I also love ‘performing’ in the courtroom.”

Regardless of her path, she is confident she will find something rewarding.

“I might want to pursue criminal defense as well or stick with civil law. The beauty of law is that there are so many areas of focus.”

Spending Time in the Wild

Enjoying the outdoors is a big passion of hers.

“Fishing is in my DNA,” she explains. “I’ve been out on the water since I was two weeks old, so fishing is in my DNA. I enjoy everything from inshore fishing for snook and redfish to offshore fishing for grouper. I also love hunting and riding ATVs. I do consider myself a huge movie and Disney nerd as well.”

One of her lofty goals might surprise some, but it also seems to align with her fearless personality.

“I want to go cage-free diving with great white sharks someday,” she says.

Appreciating How She Got Here

While Kirkland has accomplished so much on her own already, she owes so much to her parents, Michael and Erica Kirkland. She wants to make sure everyone knows this.

“They are amazing parents who have shaped and guided me to be the most successful I can be,” she confides.

Photo credit: The photograph included in this blog article was provided by Sidney Kirkland and is used with permission.

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