Karl Ensign (‘11), Senior Automotive Divisional Program Manager for Sonoco Products Company’s Shelbyville, KY., plant, started at Coker as a business administration major with a first-year class schedule that allowed him to take classes in the morning and work during the afternoons at Sonoco.
Karl says, “After my first year, I left Coker and went on a two-year mission for my church. When I came back,...I decided to go full-time at work and attend full-time at night with Coker.”
During Karl’s mission trip to Colorado, he used his Spanish frequently. After his return, Spanish professor Mac Williams encouraged him to study the language more intensely. “That’s really why I chose to enroll, because I have this opportunity where I already know a lot of Spanish, because I went on this mission,...but I can take it to the next level and really make it professional rather than just casual. So, humbly, I changed my major to double major in business and Spanish.”
“What really changed my life was I was forced to study abroad,” says Karl, who chose to study abroad in Guadalajara, México for a semester. “You had to pick a country and get to know the culture...Speaking someone’s language is great, but really understanding them and their culture is really the benefit. And that’s really what helps you as you go forth. If you want to take it from a casual level to a professional level, understanding the culture is paramount.”
After graduating from Coker in 2011, Sonoco offered Karl a salaried position with the company and he’s convinced his Spanish skills gave him a competitive edge. “I was able to use my Spanish. I’ve used it ever since. I’ve done everything from working in engineering, talking to the plants in Mexico and South America...And then I went to a customer service role, I was in charge of our Mexican plants doing [customer service], and then came to Shelbyville and became a supervisor here at the plant.”
Karl’s experience is proof that foreign language skills are valuable skills. “Every company is going to be doing business with the Spanish language. It’s the fourth largest language in the world, I believe. Even if a company isn’t dealing with Mexico or has a need for Spanish, just having that will help you have a job and help guarantee you more success throughout your career. I mean, you will be given opportunities that you didn’t think were possible.”