Undergraduate Evening Studies alumni find success at BMW
Phil Volino has worked at BMW for 24 years, starting out as a maintenance technician on assembly conveyors. “I was one of the first maintenance guys hired here in 1994,” he said.
After earning a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Furman in August of 2016, he is now a senior equipment and controls planner. “I’m a project leader, and the last project I led was valued at $25 million,” he said.
His degree not only helped him earn the role, it also affects how he handles his day-to-day responsibilities. “It helped me know more about cash flow, international business and understanding how things work,” he said. “I’m better prepared.”
Volino has steadily added to his educational credentials since graduating from high school in 1981. He joined the Navy and first trained to be an electrician on airplanes. He later joined Dow Chemical as an electrician, and when their Mauldin plant closed, he found the BMW job.
Around the same time that he joined BMW, he completed his associate’s degree in electronic engineering at Greenville Technical College and went on to complete another associate’s degree in automotive technology from Spartanburg Community College in 1997. “My job kept growing faster, and I needed to keep up,” he said.
The speed of growth at BMW offered many opportunities to advance, and he wanted to keep growing along with the company. As he took on more engineering projects and worked with different cultures, he came across Undergraduate Evening Studies at Furman and realized it would be the ideal next step. “I could learn about business, culture and international business. I felt like, if I’m going to put the time in, I wanted it to mean something, and Furman meant the most.”
During his seven years at Furman, he was struck by the quality of his fellow students “and how much I learned from them.”
In his continuing quest for knowledge, Volino is currently completing his MBA at Clemson. “The bottom line is lifelong learning,” he said. “I want to keep my value high and have options for what I want to do. I might eventually teach or consult.”
He is grateful that Furman, BMW and his family offered him so much support along the way. “It was difficult, but I’m glad to have taken the opportunity,” he said.
Paul Sinanian ’14, a manager of total vehicle validation at BMW, earned a bachelor’s in accounting from Furman for a different reason than most. “I did it to relax,” he said.
“I enjoy learning, and I went back to school to shut my phone off and pay attention.”
Sinanian earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering straight out of high school before joining Bosch as a manufacturing and development engineer. He also earned an MBA from Clemson. After seven years, he joined BMW as a product validation engineer before moving into his managerial role.
When he began at Furman, he had been in management for two years and wanted to learn additional managerial techniques. “I looked at every teacher as a manager of the class,” he said.
Since his undergraduate degree was in engineering, he appreciated the liberal arts aspects of Furman. “It opened up different avenues to think about,” he said. “I enjoyed being in a collaborative environment that wasn’t like work.”
He valued the diversity in his classes and group projects that allowed him to understand different perspectives. His favorite class was Strategic Management taught by John Meindl. “It really connected all the dots and transformed the way I manage and teach at work,” he said. “I use a teaching perspective more than a path-oriented managerial perspective. If you align vision, mission and strategy, you can build something that’s not target-based or transaction-based, but transformational.”
As he continues to collect degrees, his next step is likely a master’s degree in teaching, and his experience at Furman reconfirmed his desire to pursue the field.
“I’ve always been a defender of people who go to school at night,” he said. “It’s impressive and quite motivating. There are some smart people in these classes working really hard. It’s uplifting to see people working that hard, and seeing the rewards is quite nice as well.”
Elle Cohen began at BMW working on the line as a production associate. After six years, she moved into a supervisory role, but what truly interested her was human resources. She had earned an associate’s degree in business management at Greenville Tech, but when she checked job postings at BMW, every human resources job required a four-year degree. “I was ineligible,” she said. “I knew if I wanted to further my career, I had to go back to school.”
As Furman is a private university, she was concerned about price but quickly saw that UES tuition was comparable to other schools in the Upstate. With BMW’s tuition assistance, “It was very affordable.”
Working toward her bachelor’s degree in 2012 was a difficult decision. “That same year, we adopted a child,” said Cohen, who already had four children ages 12 through 19 at the time. “I took a semester off to get things situated with the new baby, but I was trying my best not to stop,” she said. “If you take a break, it’s hard to get motivated to go back. Furman staff were very supportive.”
She valued the way Furman offered help along the way, including a tutoring program that allowed students who excelled in certain areas to help other students who were struggling. “I took advantage of that in several classes like probability and statistics, and I ended up making an A,” Cohen said.
Another perk of the program was the staff, including an advisor who helped her when she became discouraged by all the years she waited before pursuing her dream. “He told me that right out of high school, I wasn’t prepared mentally, but now I realized the importance of education and I’m not wasting my money,” she said. “It was one of the realest things anyone told me. A lot of people wait and have to mature first.”
She enjoyed meeting students from different walks of life and different industries, from an executive at Fluor to a gas station owner.
One year after completing her degree, Cohen noticed a human resources position listed on BMW’s website. This time, when she saw that the job, associate relations professional, required a bachelor’s degree, she was proud to send in her application, and she got the job.
“I think it’s a great fit,” she said. “If I decide to take another position, I would want a higher position in human resources.” Cohen says she daily applies the skill learned through her degree, particularly organizational behavior, management and communication. “That really resonates in the human resources role,” she said. “People are your number one resource, and to sustain the business, you have to make sure people feel gratified when they come to work.”
Learn more about how you can advance your career with Furman Undergraduate Evening Studies.