Cindy Orf

Cindy Orf, a business operations specialist at Boeing, has returned to school after more than 20 years and is pursuing a degree in organizational leadership at UMSL with the help of the company’s Learning Together Program. (Photo by August Jennewein)

For Cindy Orf, returning to the University of Missouri–St. Louis as a student in the organizational leadership program is advancing her children’s education too.

“I want to show my kids that no matter what life throws at you, if you have the determination and the drive, you can do anything you put your mind to,” said Orf, a business operations specialist at Boeing who has two teenagers and two adult children.

“You know it’s going to be hard, it’s not going to be easy – whether it is having a baby at 19 years old like I did. But if it is something that you really feel passionate about and you really want to pursue, don’t ever let somebody squash those dreams for you. Make sure that if it is something that you really want, that you finish.”

Orf will exemplify the philosophy of finishing what she started when she receives her bachelor’s degree in organizational leadership in December. Orf, who grew up in St. Peters, Missouri, attended the University of Missouri–Columbia for one year following her graduation from St. Dominic High School more than 20 years ago.

The organizational leadership degree is an online program aimed at nontraditional students with work experience and who have completed some college courses. The program is designed to help them obtain their bachelor’s or master’s degrees to advance in their careers.

Pursuing her degree at UMSL helped Orf secure her recent promotion from executive office administrator to business operations specialist, a role that provides operations support by preparing data, charts, performance reviews and other documentation.

“A lot of the jobs at Boeing require you to have a degree in a certain field,” Orf said. “I have a lot of work experience, administrative experience, because I’ve been in the workforce for 20-something years, but I didn’t have that degree to help me get to that next step. So, what was great about it is, Boeing gave me that opportunity based on the fact that I am graduating in December from a reputable school – one of their preferred schools – with one of their preferred degrees.”

As a Boeing employee, Orf was able to take advantage of the company’s Learning Together Program, which provides assistance with tuition, books and fees to employees with at least one year of service to enable them to pursue their college education.

Orf said it was the support of her friend, Margo Schoolfield, who was working at Boeing and told her about opportunities at the company and how her years of administrative experience would be of value.

“She said, ‘You should be working for a company like Boeing,’” Orf recalled. “And I’m like, ‘I don’t have a degree.’ She said, ‘They’d love to have you and once you’re there for a little bit, you can join that Learning Together program and they pay for you to go back to school.’

“I was scared at first because I was financially secure, and I did have to take a little bit of a pay cut. But in the end, I looked at it like they’re paying my tuition. So, it was all-encompassing total rewards.”

Orf said that choosing UMSL to complete her education was an easy decision.

“I had all these different options, but for me, UMSL was the best fit,” she said. “The flexibility, the online classes, the organizational leadership degree that I’m pursuing is accelerated. I mean there’s so many things. UMSL was the best match for me.”

Orf shared her feelings about UMSL earlier this year during a video that debuted during Chancellor Kirstin Sobolik’s inauguration event.

“What I really like about UMSL is that it allows me the flexibility to not only work a full-time career but also to complete my education and raise my family at the same time,” Orf said during the April 30 online ceremony.

The dual opportunities of UMSL’s organizational leadership program and Boeing’s Learning Together Program came at a pivotal time in her life.

“I turned 40 years old and looked at my life, and I always told myself by now I would have gone back to school,” Orf said. “I worked at my family business – I was vice president of administration – and I just felt trapped. I looked at my job, and I felt like there was nowhere else to go from there. I had climbed the ladder as much as I could.”

Orf said her decision to reset her career was possible because of the support of her husband and high school sweetheart, Brian Orf, a superintendent for a commercial construction company, and her four children: a full-time cosmetologist, a recent college graduate, a recent high school graduate who’s set to go to St. Charles Community College and a middle-school student.

“It was, ‘Hey you know, it might be a little crazy and I might be a little bit sleep-deprived,’” she said, laughing. “But we talked about it as short-term. He knew it was something that was a dream of mine, and he stood behind me and supported it.”

Orf said that in the daily bustle of juggling work, her family’s schedules and completing her college degree, she’s grateful that she is able to set an example for her children.

“Many years ago, I was a very young mom and I had to give up going to school to raise my family,” Orf said. “But I always told myself, ‘One day, I’m going to finish school.’

“I want to show my kids that it doesn’t matter when, as long as you do it. It’s me reaching that goal. It’s me being able to say, ‘Hey, you know what? I worked hard all these years and that was the one thing standing in my way, a degree.’ And now that I’ve got it, I feel like the sky’s the limit.”

Ramona Curtis

Ramona Curtis