Grad student knocks down obstacles to succeed in business and school

“What more can I do?”

That is Erica Herrera’s motto, one that carried her through numerous challenges that deferred her dreams of graduating from college. She is now in UWM’s Executive MBA program.

Her mother was widowed when Herrera was in high school. Her brother and sister moved out, so it was “just the two of us,” she said. Shortly after she graduated, Herrera started college classes at MATC in 2000, then had to drop out when her mother became disabled.

“I always wanted to fulfill my dream. My goal was to go to UWM and finish my bachelor’s degree.”

That dream was put on hold for a while. She enlisted in the Air Force in 2000, then dealt with an abusive relationship. In 2008, she married and eventually had four children. She also cares for her mother and mother-in-law, who live with her family.

In 2016, she re-enlisted in the Air National Guard and began taking steps toward earning a college degree.  Through the Air Force, she was able to earn an associate degree in 2018.

Conquering fears

She took some additional college classes at the University of Phoenix and DeVry. However, she still wasn’t satisfied with her education. She said she asked herself: “What more can I do?”

“I was a little intimidated by UWM, the big university, but I conquered all my fears and decided to just get it done,” Herrera said. Finally, she pulled together transcripts, applied and was accepted into the Lubar School of Business’ Human Resources program in October 2018. She remembers being especially excited to get her campus ID.

Although she had to deal with several surgeries resulting from a military training accident, she persevered with her academics, graduating from UWM with a bachelor’s degree in human resources in 2020.

In addition to pursuing further education, Herrera decided to start her own business. That business, EFH Trucking founded in 2016, now has 31 dump trucks, and has worked on such construction projects as the Hub streetcar and Fiserv Forum.

Won governor’s award

In 2018, she won the Governor’s Trailblazer Award for Women in Business. “I had (National Guard) training in Tennessee that weekend, so my husband picked up the award for me because I had to honor that commitment.”

“I was still thinking, ‘What more can I do?’”

So, she decided to enroll in UWM’s Executive MBA program and was accepted.

“I recall my first recruiting meeting with her,” said Adam Wickersham, director of UWM’s Executive MBA program. “I told her that she is seeking to join a program where she will be surrounded by a lot of talented people. She immediately told me that she always wants to surround herself with people of greater talent and success because it motivated her. I knew right then she would be the quality candidate I was looking for.”

Wickersham was impressed with her resume and bio, and asked Herrera how she planned to add more to her plate. “She said ‘hard work beats talent every time.’ I signed her admission paperwork that night.”

Education provides key skills

Along the way,  Herrera has received support from the Women’s Business Initiative Corporation, a Small Business Administration program, particularly the Veterans Business Outreach Center. In fact, she and her husband are featured in one of the photos on the VBOC website.

“I love this organization. It really helped me grow and get started,” she said.

UWM is providing her with information she can use in her business, Herrera said.  Because of her undergraduate degree, “I am my own human resources department. That’s something I don’t need to outsource.”

Through UWM, she also had the opportunity to attend a two-week program for women in business at Purdue University.

Her coursework in the Executive MBA program also intersects with her business needs, and the faculty in marketing and business economics have been really helpful.

In January 2021, she started a second business in property management. Because of the pandemic, it took a year and a half to get that off the ground, she said.

“To get a loan, I had to do a financial analysis and interpret the data from business, which is exactly what I do in class.” And even though she has her own business attorney, she said Jonathan Saffold, senior lecturer at Lubar, has helped her better understand the legal complexities of running a business.

Mentoring veterans

Herrera is also working to help and advise other veterans, particularly women,  interested in going into business. She has thought about working with the VA in the future, she said.

“I feel like I have another calling – working with veterans; I love mentoring them in their businesses. I feel like I should be helping more veterans,” Herrera said.

For now, she said, she hopes her story will inspire other women.

“My entire journey – good or bad – is worth sharing if it helps another woman …  a single mom. There are no obstacles. There may be a rock, but move that rock and keep pushing forward. The only one that can stop you from doing  anything is you.”

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