Tucson Native with Retail Aspirations, Achieving her Goals

May 12, 2020

Tucson Native and Transfer Student to the University of Arizona, Harnesses her Passion for Success


Not all paths to or through the academic program and one’s involvement in the Terry J. Lundgren Center for Retailing are typical.  Some students take non-traditional routes but ones that speak to their perseverance and dedication.  Such a path belongs to Maria Hartke, senior in the Retailing and Consumer Sciences (RCSC) program.  While she knew she wanted to be involved – deeply involved – in the retail industry, she shared that she “…didn’t know how or what I was going to do to get there, but I did know that I had a passion for product and people.”

Maria started her journey through the academic program by first attending the local community college – Pima Community College – in her hometown of Tucson.  For many, this approach is advantageous for a variety of reasons but her desire to attend the University of Arizona was cemented early in her academic career.  “When I learned that the University of Arizona had one of the best retailing programs, I set my goals high and began working towards a transfer. Right in my backyard, I had access to the Retailing and Consumer Sciences major that would take me places I could never have imagined and provide opportunities unlike any other.”

When she made that leap from community college to the university, she immediately got involved in a variety of activities.  Paramount among these was her involvement in the National Retail Federation Student Association (NRFSA).  “When I transferred from community college, I immediately began to submerge myself in every opportunity possible.  Part of my involvement in the Center was joining the NRF Student Association, where I would be a part of a retail community on campus with like-minded peers.”  A key component of the NRFSA’s activities is an annual study tour to New York City that coincides with the NRF Big Show.  Through this program, students are able to visit corporate headquarters of many of our partners such as Macy’s, Winston Retail and others but also other companies with whom the Center has developed relationships.  Students also take part in the student program managed by the NRF that gives students additional insights and exposure to leading executives across the retail industry.  Maria shared that the “experience was mine to make the best of, as I was able to grow my retail knowledge, network, and be exposed to the world I wanted to be a part of one day.”

Maria also took on the responsibility of leading this club and credits her engagement with the Center via this club as one of the defining experiences for her.  She stated that she has “been involved with the NRF Student Association the most during my time at the University of Arizona. Throughout this club I have been involved in workshops, social outings, and networking events. As well as attending the NRF Foundation Student Program and the Center’s Study Tour of 2019 and 2020. This club has been the greatest contributing factor towards my success in college.”  She added that “being the president of the NRF Student Association has been my greatest achievement throughout my college experience.”

While leading the NRFSA was a big part of her undergraduate experience, she engaged herself in many opportunities through the Center.  She was an active member of Trend, the Center’s fashion-oriented student club and took part in Terry Lundgren’s first executive seminar on corporate strategy.  This five day seminar provided students an amazing glimpse into the leadership challenges and rewards of an influential leader at one of the industry’s most iconic brands.  Maria stated that “this was such an influential event in my life as I was able to hear from somebody of great stature. I was able to learn new skills in critical thinking, corporate strategy, and driving innovation.”

All of this hard work paid off in several key ways.  This past year, Maria competed in the NRF Next Generation Scholarship competition.  Since its launch, the NRF has provided over $800,000 in scholarship monies to emerging young professionals at universities across the country.  Maria was selected as a top five finalist for the 2019-2020 year.  Maria shared that “to be nationally recognized by the “Voice of Retail” has been a dream come true.”

After graduation in May, 2020, Maria will be heading to Gap, Inc. where she will start her career in their Rotational Management Program.  Through this program, she will be exposed to lessons in three key areas of the business – production, merchandising and inventory management at the Old Navy brand.

Maria shared that “the most important lesson that I have learned throughout my time engaged in the Terry J. Lundgren Center for Retailing is how important it is to fully dedicate yourself to whatever task you have been given. If I don’t know anything about the topic, this is my opportunity to learn more about it. If I already have done something similar, this is the time to push myself out of my comfort zone. If something seems tough or unattainable, it is more about how much you tried and what successes you did have.”