Despite growing up in casino-less Texas, Fidencio Mata developed an affinity for the gaming industry. Finishing the Master of Business Administration with a Hospitality and Casino Management Concentration online program at Louisiana State University Shreveport in September 2019 was the culmination of a childhood dream for him.
"My grandmother would go to Vegas and she would return with a jar of nickels she won from the slots machines; this caught my interest. I remember taking my first trip to Laughlin, Nevada, when I was 17, the first casino I stepped foot in was the Flamingo Casino Resort. I was just so inspired by being on the casino floor – the energy, the sounds, the colors, I said, 'This is what I want to pursue. This is my calling.'"
Mata's specific career goal gave him a limited choice of schools when it came time to put some education behind his dream, with LSUS offering a quality education at a good price.
"The reason I selected LSU Shreveport is because it is one of the few schools that offers a casino program besides UNLV and maybe a couple of others out there that I am not aware of," he explained. "LSUS was also economical. UNLV was more expensive, so I chose Shreveport."
Cost wasn't the only factor in Mata's decision-making process. LSUS stood out for a number of other reasons too.
"I lived in Dallas, and I was familiar with the area and had been to the casinos a couple of times down in Shreveport," he said. "LSUS has a good reputation. It has the name recognition as well. LSU goes a long way. It's well-known. LSU Shreveport being a part of that system also compelled me to choose it."
Having finished the master's program in two years, Mata cannot wait to put his degree to work.
"There's a lot of options out there, and time goes by quickly," he said. "By the time you know it, you'll be done with the program, which will offer you a competitive advantage and transform the way think, more conceptually and analytically."
Digital Learning With Real-World Application
Mata is an executive assistant at the Hyatt Regency Hill Country Resort in San Antonio, Texas. While there are no casinos in Texas, Mata has still been able to apply his education to his current job as he looks forward to managing a resort with a casino.
"I learned a lot about what casinos do, and I've been able to apply the concepts to my current job," he said. "For instance, our company has a very strong loyalty program, I learned the concepts and process that casinos take when creating and managing their loyalty programs thanks to this MBA program."
Mata found that his favorite class in the program, MADM 760: Organizational Strategy and Policies, had the most real-world application.
"It pretty much gives you that firsthand look at how CEOs strategize and how they align their organizations based on current market conditions," he said. "I was able to relate to our company strategies at a higher level and recognize the concepts behind the decisions we were making. This class provided a big-picture view on how companies operate and how they create their objectives based on market trends, consumer preferences and globalization."
Given the breadth of his experience and the depth of his education, Mata has come up with a strategy to build on the knowledge he has from working at the San Antonio resort.
"Our company has a few properties that do manage a casino," he said. "Ideally, that's what I would want to do — manage a Hyatt Resort that has a casino in it."
As bright as his job prospects are thanks to his MBA, Mata believes that the real success is far more personal than it is professional.
"It's done a lot for me already," he said. "Regardless of my career, I invested in myself and built my skill sets. An MBA degree is transformational, people experience you differently, and I experience myself differently due to the higher education."
Getting through the program took time and dedication on Mata's part as well as understanding and support from his wife, Laura, and his sons, Carlos and Patrick.
Fortunately, going to class online made it so much easier for Mata to find the balance between work, life and school.
"I would say that, given my distance from LSUS, my work schedule, the course workload and trying to balance all of that work with the family, online was my best option," he said. "In the hospitality industry, you could work some long hours depending on the activity of the hotel."
With all of his responsibilities, Mata had to give up some fun activities to ensure that he came out of the program on top.
"I didn't watch TV for two years or attend any social gatherings on weekends," he said. "I was seriously committed even when the classes were tough, like with microeconomics. At one point, I thought I wasn't going to do very well, but I did it. It just took a lot of effort and focus on my part.
"I would use Khan Academy videos to supplement my studies, and I also had tutors who helped me weekends and at night."
Mata's family understood that he was dedicated to the program and did everything they could to support his efforts.
"They kept the noise level down in the study area," he said. "They would leave all day on the weekends and let me study without putting any pressure on me. My kids were always wondering what the heck I was doing because I was never with them on the weekends. They would go out while I studied for nine to 10 hours on the weekends just to catch up and get through the week."
Mata is careful not to call what he gave up to complete the program a sacrifice. Instead, he believes that making time for his education by any means necessary is a fair price to pay for self-improvement.
"Two years of investing in yourself is well worth it," he said. "I would say it's one of the best investments you can make in yourself regardless of your career goals. It teaches you some invaluable critical thinking skills that you can apply to everyday life."
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