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Liberal Arts Education Propels Alum's Journey From Spanish Major to Tech Firm President

Liberal Arts Education Propels Alum's Journey From Spanish Major to Tech Firm President

Kelli (Oborn) Moretter-Bue ’00 became president of tech staffing and consulting firm ESP IT in January 2017. (Photo Credit: Provided by ESP IT)

When Kelli (Oborn) Moretter-Bue ’00 told her parents she was changing her major at Bethel from business to Spanish, she received a less-than-enthusiastic response. Only three or four classes shy of completing her business degree, the shift seemed drastic and, Moretter-Bue acknowledges, was not the most responsible of her options. But the things she was learning in then-Spanish Professor Sandi Weightman’s class had ignited a passion for learning about other cultures. “My eyes were completely opened to what was happening in other areas, and why it mattered,” she says. “[Weightman] had a profound impact on me and how I looked at the world.”

Whatever the costs, Moretter-Bue wanted to pursue a career as a Spanish teacher. Now the president of a small IT staffing and consulting firm, she reflects on her unexpected path and how the insights she gleaned from liberal arts studies have provided cross-disciplinary value.

After college, Moretter-Bue spent a year teaching high school Spanish, and quickly discovered that working with college students was her forte. She enrolled in the University of Minnesota’s Hispanic literature master’s program, did a teacher’s assistantship, and upon graduation worked as an adjunct professor in Bethel’s Department of World Languages and Cultures. “It was a fantastic experience for me,” she says. “But it was also the time that I started to have some issues in my marriage.”

Moretter-Bue and her husband had two children—ages two and 9 months—when they decided to divorce. Though they maintained a respectful co-parenting relationship, she realized that her career plans—including the pursuit of her Ph.D.—were “no longer financially feasible,” and she forged a new path.

Her primary goal was to find a job secure enough to support her family. “I was going to get a job at Starbucks,” she says, shrugging. “I was going to be a barista with a master’s degree.” Once again, her plans didn’t work out as she had expected. While she was still a business major at Bethel, Moretter-Bue had landed a competitive accounting internship. When she called the company to ask for a reference in her new job search, they enthusiastically recruited her to come back and work for them. “And thus began my career in accounting and finance!” Moretter-Bue says.

Having come full-circle, Moretter-Bue enrolled in night classes to complete her B.S. in Accounting. During that time, she continued to advance in her career and seek opportunities to “combine her two joys—finance and Spanish.” For a time, she worked as a financial analyst for St. Jude Medical’s Latin American department. “I loved that job,” she says. “I spoke more Spanish during the day than English, and it was fantastic.” In 2016, she passed all four Certified Public Accountant (CPA) exams to complete her formal accounting licensure.

At Bethel, Moretter-Bue says she not only gained a lifelong love of learning, the ability to overcome obstacles, and a greater understanding of herself—she also affirms that engaging cultural differences has served her in every step of her professional journey. “While [classes were] definitely taught in relation to different countries’ cultural differences, or regional cultural differences, those can be broken down into cultural differences in your office, your company, your organization,” she says. “I think I learned a lot about how to deal with differences and respect differences [at Bethel].”

Those lessons have proven to be especially applicable during her time at ESP IT—an IT staffing and consulting firm in downtown Minneapolis. In the three years she has been with the company, Moretter-Bue has quickly advanced from working as a controller, to VP of Finance, and in January of 2017 was promoted to president. Through this journey, Moretter-Bue has had the opportunity to engage and apply her knowledge about the importance of diversity.

ESP IT is a sponsor of the Aspiration in Computing Awards—given to high school girls who are making exemplary strides in the field of technology. It’s just one of the many initiatives the company has taken to support gender parity in tech. “I really believe that we need more women in technology to be successful,” Moretter-Bue says. As a company within the tech industry, ESP IT also faces barriers to diversifying its internal staff. But Moretter-Bue has made overcoming this hurdle a high priority. “Differences make us better,” she says, “and we will be more successful if we have a sales and recruiting staff that are different from each other.”

Donna LeGrand, department chair for world languages and cultures and associate Spanish professor, says she is not surprised to learn of Moretter-Bue’s career transition from Spanish to business. “Companies are looking for good communicators and team members who are aware of, understand, and value other cultures,” she says. “They are confident they can teach and mentor their employees in concrete business skills, but they also know that they are not able to teach communication, intercultural competence, perseverance, or the ability to synthesize information and present it well to clients and colleagues.” Those skills, explains LeGrand, are an essential part of what makes a liberal arts education so valuable. 

Moretter-Bue remarried in 2010. She says much of her life now is about finding new professional and personal adventures that push her outside of her limits. That includes running—a lot of running. “I started running after I got divorced,” she says. “It was a stress relief.” Now, the mother of three is a seasoned marathon runner, triathlete, and training to compete in the Madison Ironman this September. “I don’t believe in balance,” she says without a hint of irony. “And I apparently don’t need to sleep very much,” she adds, crediting her husband’s support and understanding as the number one reason she’s able to chase so many time-consuming goals.

After such an unexpected journey, Moretter-Bue says she’s happy to have found her niche—one where she can engage her values, live a happy life with her family, and set an example as a woman leading in a male-dominated field. “They say you can have it all,” she says. “I guess that looks different for everyone. Yes, you can have it all, but there’s a cost to it and you can’t deny that cost. I don’t get to stay at home with my kids. I miss moments in their day, and in their childhood, that I wish I didn’t have to miss. And that makes me sad sometimes. But on the flip side, I think I’m teaching them a pretty amazing thing, which is that their mom works really hard. I hope that’s something that they can see value in later on. I believe that they will.”  

Learn more about the cross-disciplinary skills Bethel students learn in the Department of World Languages and Cultures.