I love building excitement among people and bringing them together to do more than they would have been able to do individually. I am a big believer that together we can succeed even more than on our own.”
Marketing, chess and salsa dancing are disparate talents Olena Cruz pursues with the diligence and boundless curiosity that has made her a force to be reckoned with.
Cruz, who graduates in June with an MBA in marketing, has been instrumental in turning the Kellstadt Marketing Group (KMG) into one of the most active student organizations in DePaul’s business school. During her one-year tenure as KMG president, the organization sponsored 16 events that collectively attracted participation from more than 1,000 students, faculty members and Chicago marketing professionals.
She is most proud of convincing Microsoft to work with KMG to create a new case competition at DePaul. “Our idea was to get a real-world business scenario that would allow students to pitch their strategic recommendations and apply business concepts they have learned in class,” she says. “We had such great engagement. Microsoft came to campus, and students, professors and the president of the university all came together to support this event, which showcased the talent of students here at DePaul.”
Cruz says her drive comes from her mother, Lubov, an immigrant from Ukraine. “She helped build my work ethic. She started her own cleaning business in Chicago, not knowing the language or many people. She’s not only an entrepreneur; she put me and my brother through college as first-generation graduates in the family. I am very proud of my mom.” Cruz’s father died of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis when Cruz was 20, and every year since she has participated in fundraising walks to find a cure for the neurodegenerative disease.
During her undergraduate years at Northwestern University, Cruz, who speaks four languages, studied international relations. “Originally, I thought I would go into diplomacy. But I soon realized that I can apply those skills to business, because now every company has a global presence.” After graduating, she worked as a sales strategy coordinator at Beam Suntory, a premium spirits company. At DePaul, her curiosity led her to the field of big data analytics. She now works as a solutions analyst at IRI, which uses predictive analytics to help clients develop customer strategies.
Cruz knows how to make the right moves not only in her career, but also on the chessboard and the dance floor. She played chess competitively in high school and won the National Girls Chess Championship in 2006. A semiprofessional salsa dancer, Cruz won first place with her partner at the Chicago International Salsa Congress two years ago.
Cruz uses her dancing talent to empower others as a founding member of Inspiración Dance Chicago, a Latin dance organization that seeks to enrich the lives of young people through dance. “We teach youth to express themselves in a healthy way, to collaborate in teams, and to find creative outlets for mentorship and development.”
Of her wide-ranging success as a leader, Cruz says, “I love building excitement among people and bringing them together to do more than they would have been able to do individually. I am a big believer that together we can succeed even more than on our own.”
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