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Talent for coding opens new doors for Salem Health manager

by Jennifer Johnson,

Maribel Mendez

Earning a certificate in data science last year represented more than an academic achievement for Maribel Méndez MBA ’21. 

Capping a remarkable educational journey that included completing an MBA at age 46, the certificate helped Méndez discover new talents, broaden her skillset and make her job at Salem Health much easier — almost instantly. 

Soon after she started classes at Willamette University, the techniques she learned helped her create better revenue forecasts for physicians. Data visualization projects are among her most common responsibilities as value analysis program manager. “Sometimes I deal with data that is hundreds or thousands of lines long, and I was able to sort things out a lot quicker writing code versus using Excel,” she said.  

Data science was a natural fit for Méndez, who is bilingual and has a background in speech pathology. Programming languages were yet another “secret code” she could use to communicate, and the storytelling that can be achieved with data complemented her cultural instinct, too. “In Mexico, storytelling is very important,” she said. 

One of eight children raised by migrant farmworkers from Las Zarquillas, Mexico and the U.S., Méndez was the first in her family to graduate from college. After years advancing professionally as a bilingual health educator, she went back to school for her MBA. 

Enrolling in Willamette’s MBA for Professionals program allowed her to focus on finance and snag a tuition discount for working at Salem Health. Her first class, led by Associate Professor of Quantitative Methods Robert Walker, introduced her to the programming language R. Her talent for it pushed her toward the data science certificate program, which transformed her everyday duties.

Now she can provide greater evidence behind why a solution works and a deeper explanation of the outcomes of other choices, a more developed approach to problem-solving that she gained from the program, she said.

Méndez, who also runs her own online flower business, MariGold Florals, said her next step will be searching for her dream job — one that perfectly combines the data and leadership skills she gained from both degrees.

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