Higher Standards: From GVSU Mathematics to Meijer
After a late switch to a mathematics major, Matt Villarreal spent a fair bit of his senior year wondering what job awaited him after graduation. With persistent energy and initiative, he found his way to the corporate team at Meijer, where he now works as an Inventory Control Analyst.
Growing up in Midland, MI, Matt thought he'd go on to study engineering at Michigan Tech after graduating from Midland Dow High School. But a scholarship to GVSU and the chance for a new experience at a school with smaller class sizes led him to choose to become a Laker. Matt began his studies in the engineering program, contemplated transferring schools to study meteorology, and eventually decided that even though he wasn't happy majoring in engineering, he loved GVSU and wanted to stay and complete his degree. "The best decision I have ever made," Matt now says. After taking Math 302 (Linear Algebra and Differential Equations) in his sophomore year, he explored the possibility of switching to the mathematics major, and then did exactly that.
While he knew of opportunities for mathematics majors in the insurance industry, that field didn't particularly interest him. With a minor in business and keen interests in investing, Matt investigated possibilities with several large companies, banks, and brokerage houses, including perhaps becoming a financial advisor. Through a contact he made at the 2008 winter DeVos Career Fair, Matt landed a job at Meijer with an eye toward entering its Retail Operations Development Program. His high energy and passion for his work contributed to his initial employment and helped him quickly succeed in his position. As different opportunities opened within the company, Matt pursued several different possible avenues before Meijer decided that with his mathematics background, investing experience, and familiarity with Microsoft Excel, he was a good fit to be an inventory analyst.
In his daily work, Matt consistently analyzes data as he reads and interprets a wide range of reports on sales and inventory. Based on the data he reviews, Matt makes decisions that lead to specific styles of clothing in particular quantities being sent to selected stores. Essentially this work involves forecasting sales to ensure that the right product is present in the right place at the right time. He observes that just like in mathematics, where there are often several paths to solve a problem at hand; in his work as an analyst there are many different tools to solve the problems he faces. He uses a variety of different available systems and databases, together with determination to get the system to produce the information he needs to make good decisions. Persistence and efficiency - two key traits cultivated by his study of mathematics - is key to success in work. In his words, "dealing with complex problems and struggling through problems in the math major conditioned me for the future frustrations I would encounter at Meijer. New systems, upgrades, and procedures never pass without some kind of issue."
Matt encourages current math majors to not be discouraged or defensive when others question you about what they might do with their mathematics major. "Your options vary greatly and you will be able to cover a wide variety of tasks because you have mastered and developed critical problem solving skills. Following graduation, if an opportunity comes along that you feel doesn't completely 'fit' you, yet you have interest, pursue it. You never know what paths may lead to other paths, and other opportunities." While Matt wasn't initially sure Meijer was the right place for him, he gave it a chance, and used his strong work ethic, passion, and enthusiasm to prove himself, which led to his employer recognizing and rewarding his performance with new opportunities.
Reflecting on his experience at GVSU, Matt says that he was extremely pleased with his four years at the university. "I feel my education was everything that I had expected. However, I left Grand Valley with more than just an education. My overall experience will never be forgotten: the things I learned in my classes, the wonderful times with friends, and the many enjoyable weekend activities on campus all helped shape who I am. To any current student, my only advice is: enjoy every moment."