“I don’t care what your belief is, you wake up every day and live your life with honesty and integrity and you help people, and the universe will line you up where you need to be,” Jessica Smith says of her main motivation in life. No matter how many times the universe stacked the odds against her, the two-time graduate of the University of Arizona Global Campus continued to strive to help those around her and to overcome those odds.

Jessica’s first job was as a telemarketer at the age of 15. Lacking a high school diploma, she took the role out of need, not want. Decades of hard work later, and a few degrees from UAGC under her belt, today she is the director of sales at Cox Automotive. She credits much of her success to her degrees, but perhaps even more, she credits her community.

“If I care more about other people, everything I need just comes to me,” she says. 
The journey from a telemarketer to an executive role was not an easy one, and full of ups and downs, but today she remains dedicated to providing mentorship to others just as her community mentored her.

An Unexpected Family

Originally from Chicago, Jessica faced hardship early on when at age 11, her father was killed in a car accident, and at age 15, she became a teen mom.

She dropped out of high school to care for her son, and a few years later, she moved in with her older sister who required her to get a job in order to say in her home. Forced to act fast, she responded to a newspaper ad for a telemarketer job. Little did she know, her first job would lead to a lifelong friendship with the company’s owners, who became her mentors.  

Jessica admits she didn’t like the work at first, but when she received her first paycheck, she was stunned by the amount of money she earned. The owners quickly sat her down and told her she had a gift, something she had never been told before.

“We were a family,” she says of the two men who took her under their wings and first taught her just how impactful mentorship could be.

Her gift, they believed, was leadership. But leadership was a strange concept to her.

“At the time, the only thing I associated with ‘leader’ was gang leader,” she recounts.

Despite her initial doubt, they helped her grow her gift, encouraging her to read books, set goals, and save money. To this day, her favorite book, is Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi, and she often recommends it to her own mentees.

Peaks and Valleys

Even without her high school diploma, Jessica believed she would achieve success, thanks to her mentors. She set a goal to own a home by age 25, and she achieved it by 23. She was making six figures in Chicago, and the once struggling teen mom had flipped the narrative.

Eventually, her company sold its franchise in Chicago, and opened a new one in California. Of course, her family had doubts about her leaving the life she had built in the Windy City behind to relocate to one of the most expensive places in the country. The risk, however, paid off.

The new Silicon Valley franchise was wildly successful, ranking in the top 5 out of 160 locations nationwide. Meanwhile, Jessica continued to achieve her own personal goals while weathering life’s ups and downs, including a divorce, remarriage, and the birth of two more children.

During this time, she also earned her GED. Jessica’s oldest son was about to graduate from high school, and on principle, she felt that she should have a diploma as well.

With her GED in hand, a strong family, home ownership, and thriving career, it seemed that further success was inevitable.

But overnight, everything changed. The company she worked for was sold to a private equity firm, and suddenly she and her husband, who also worked for the company, were out of jobs.

Jessica and her husband had to file for bankruptcy, and the job search proved challenging.  

“No one cared because I didn’t have a college degree,” Jessica acknowledges. “I didn’t have a network because I didn’t know what that meant. I could have had a degree in ‘Clownship,’ but at least it was a degree.”

From Degree to Director of Sales

Defeated,  Jessica and her family moved to Atlanta to be closer to family. There, she resumed her job search and was referred to the automotive services organization Cox Automotive.

Jessica was skeptical.

“I’m not a car gal,” she acknowledges. “I know cars have wheels.” Hesitant, she applied for the role of sales manager but once again was turned down due to the absence of a college degree. Instead, she was offered a lower-level role as a sales representative, which she eventually accepted in June of 2017.

Once again, Jessica’s community stepped in to help. A colleague at Cox was taking online classes at UAGC, which has a partnership with Cox. When she learned of the tuition benefits, Jessica decided it was time to finally earn a college degree and enrolled at UAGC.

Since then, Jessica has worked her way through the ranks in five positions at Cox while simultaneously earning a bachelor’s degree in business leadership, followed by a Master of Arts in Psychology, which she completed in 2023.

“This sets me apart; I stand out as a thought leader,” she notes.

More important, Jessica believed she could pursue her passion for helping people. At UAGC, Jessica found the value of mentorship both as a mentee and mentor. She says the mentorship, advisors, and support are what she feels are some of the greatest values of her UAGC education.

To this day, Jessica touts this as the accomplishment she values the greatest.

“I am most proud of the people that I’ve been able to help,” she says.

Through UAGC, through her career, and through her network Jessica takes pride in her ability to help people. She also credits the community at Cox for her accomplishments.

“The support of great leaders at Cox and the culture of inclusion has allowed me to build a strong network,” she says. “This, coupled with grit and perseverance has gone a long way.”

Looking to the Future

Though she has already accomplished a lot in her life, Jessica says she hopes to continue to help and mentor people as long as she can. As part of that effort, she launched a podcast, Lead Like a Girl, in which she shares her life story and the lessons she has learned along the way. She hopes this will lead to opportunities to be a motivational speaker in the future.

“I hope to inspire others to be the best version of themselves, to take a leap of faith,” she says.


Student success stories should not be interpreted as a promise or guarantee of career advancement or future earnings. The stories shared here represent the outcomes of individual students for illustrative purposes only.

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