maruja harris bli alumni

BLI Alumna Spotlight Maruja Harris: On Stepping Back Into A Professional Career Path 

The decision to choose to stay at home as a mom is not one to take lightly; many of us know this. Equally, the decision to come back to the workplace after the fact can feel just as daunting, and difficult to navigate. 

BLI Alumni Maruja (Maru) Harris is a great example of this, with an inspirational journey to share and learn from. A member of The Brand Leadership Institute Spring22 Ingredion Cohort, Maru cites that the BLI helped her with her own comeback story when returning to Ingredion in 2019 after a 10 year stint as a stay at home mom. It was during this time that she was able to find new ways to articulate her value, and find her footing yet again within the workforce.

“It was almost as if I had imposter syndrome; I was always questioning myself if I really belonged there, and I was insecure in my own abilities. The BLI Program helped me with that, and it helped me define who I wanted to be – not just with my professional life, but in my personal life as well.”

Yet Maru’s professional journey starts back in accounting, which she had a scholarship towards in college. She quickly realized it wasn’t the right direction for her, and decided to take a break from her studies, working in the service industry across restaurants for almost 10 years. 

“It was during this time that I was really able to reset, explore and experience so many different things. My husband and I both originally went into degrees that we realized that we didn’t enjoy, and it wasn’t until we took time after the fact that we were able to truly see what it was that we wanted. We’re now encouraging our own son to take that gap year, take that time to explore, and consider what it is he really wants to pursue in the long run.”

She eventually knew it was time to head back to school, choosing Johnson & Wales University in Providence, diving into a Culinary Nutrition Degree which offered a variety of career path options. At the time, National Starch (now Ingredion) was looking for interns for their program, which Maru chose to interview for and got a job through. She came on as a Research and Development Chef, with her existing culinary background setting her apart. 

After a few years, she moved with her husband to Omaha, Nebraska, where her family lived at the time. She shifted into a role with Healthy Choice Frozen for a few years, before they relocated once again to Cincinnati, Ohio. It was at that point that Maru reevaluated what made the most sense for their own family, with her spouse having to frequently travel while they raised their son. She decided to shift into the full-time mom role, another challenging transitional period within her life. 

“It was a struggle in the beginning. You don’t get to go to work and see all those friends that you have; you go to carpool and watch some of the parents drive off to their jobs, when suddenly you’re no longer doing that. It was hard defining myself. But I found my niche, met new friends, and I grew to really appreciate that time.”

It was always part of their plan to move back to New Jersey, and eventually the family was able to relocate back. Upon settling back in, Maru reconnected with her original manager from Ingredion, who suggested that she apply for an open position on her team.

“So, I’m now back where I started. I’m with the same manager, the same company – just a different name – and it’s really great. At the beginning I struggled to find my place, but I now truly feel back home.”

After stepping back into her career journey and completing The Brand Leadership Institute, Maru feels more confident with her self growth, and self discovery. 

“I’ve learned that it’s ok to constantly evolve; evolution is always going to be something that is key to me. Even now at 50 years old, I think to myself, what do I want to be when I grow up? I think I’m always going to be evolving, with my baseline staying the same.”  

When asked for any parting thoughts or words, she shared a quote from Denzel Washington: “Don’t just aspire to make a living, aspire to make a difference.” 

Maru works diligently to live by those words. When she was a stay at home mom, she was intentional with community service and giving back. This transferred into her time back with Ingredion; she told herself when stepping into the role that if everything else failed, she would at the very least work hard to give back, and build relationships through the process. And that’s been exactly what she’s been able to do.