Erriel Tota developed a love of computers and technology while growing up in a family of engineers in the digital age.
The Kansas City, Missouri native enrolled as a computer science major at Northwest Missouri State University located in Maryville. She later switched gears to the Bachelor of Science in Business Technology program and added a web development emphasis.
"After that first semester, I realized computer programming was something I didn't want to do for the rest of my life," she said. "I was interested in computer science. I went to a career fair and met with the head of the computer science department, Dr. Carol Spradling.
"She showed me the different majors. I picked business technology because it interested me, and it was something I could see [myself] doing for the rest of my life. Ever since then, I have been in it and enjoyed it more than my previous major."
Although most of her family attended the University of Central Missouri, Tota had her sights set on Northwest for college. She works part time as a peer mentor for Northwest's TRIO Student Support Services.
"I wanted to go to a school that wasn't too far away, but gives me a little bit of distance," she said. "Northwest also gave me the most money in scholarships. I have learned a lot, met a lot of people and made a lot of connections."
Laying a Foundation
Although Tota went straight from high school to Northwest, she has already acquired some valuable work experience. She worked as an attendant at Raytown School District while still in high school and as an exam proctor at Northwest for one year.
"I like how the Bachelor of Science in Technology program is not a singular thing — it's not just about technology, web development or business," she said. "It's a versatile degree that I can use to do a whole lot of different jobs instead of having one single major."
The flexibility of the degree was especially apparent to Tota when she went on a field trip to the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City during her sophomore year.
"I learned a lot more about my major on that trip," she said. "If I have the opportunity, I would love to work at the federal reserve bank someday."
So far, Tota has enjoyed the courses that focus on working with Microsoft Excel and applying those skills in the business realm most.
"I had a background in it, but I never really understood how to use Excel," she said. "Those classes helped me a lot. With the business side of my major, I also used it in all of the courses and all throughout my college career.
"The web development emphasis has also been great. We created a portfolio using HTML and CSS code that was basically a resume I used for that class and another class where I had to create an online portfolio."
Tota has also been able to apply some of the knowledge she has gained in the BS in Business Technology program to her part-time position.
"We do a lot of outreach to students on campus and try to get them to come to our events in TRIO," she said. "I use some of my experience with the digital courses and Microsoft Word courses to create flyers to distribute around campus."
Tota has had a memorable four years at Northwest. She helped start the Spirit & Truth Gospel Choir with her classmates.
"We sang at different events on campus, but we weren't able to keep it going," she said. "I have been singing since I was in the eighth grade. I also participated in First Lady Organization, which teaches you about leadership. It's been a great overall experience."
The faculty and staff at Northwest have also helped guide Tota from switching majors as a freshman all the way to heading down the home stretch as a senior. She is on track to graduate in December 2020.
"My adviser, Cari Cline, is extremely helpful in getting me to go where I need to go," she said. "If I have any issues in my major or classes, she's always there to help me."
Although Tota became a Bearcat instead of a Mule, her family is proud to see her making her own way while embracing her engineering and technology roots.
"My mom is extremely happy," she said. "She always told us she wants us to major in something that has to do with technology because the world is constantly growing around technology. They are all excited that I am choosing this career path."
As for which specific role Tota will pursue after graduation, she's keeping her options open.
"I am looking toward a career as a business analyst and mixing both my business and technology skills," she said. "I am still trying to dive into what I can do and figure things out. This program has definitely helped open up opportunities for me now and will continue to do so in the future."
Learn more about Northwest's online B.S. in Business Technology program.
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