Hard Work, Helping Hands

PROVO, Utah – Nov 17, 2022 – Coming to a new country and not knowing the language can be scary. Not knowing what you want to do with your life can also be scary. While Aaron Cruz Morales, a senior majoring in finance at the BYU Marriott School of Business, faced both of these challenges, he was able to overcome them with a strong work ethic and people to help him along the way.

Cruz, who grew up in Mexico City, came to the United States after serving a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints hoping to study at Brigham Young University. Immediately upon arrival in Utah, Cruz began studying English. He spent roughly two years at BYU’s English Language Center, a program that teaches international students English before they apply to American universities.

The first six months of the program were the hardest, says Cruz. Interacting with people who didn’t speak Spanish was difficult, and learning English required a lot of self-discipline. He immersed himself in the language; his English dictionary became one of his best friends as he read books, marking every word he wasn’t familiar with.

After completing the program, Cruz applied to BYU but wasn’t accepted. Undeterred, he applied a second time; this time, he got in. His acceptance into the school led him to the question of what he wanted to study.

Cruz grew up with a passion for art and was originally interested in applying to BYU’s animation program. However, he also wanted a career he felt was more financially stable and secure. After researching different fields, he became interested in finance. 

Cruz dedicated his freshman year to taking the prerequisites for the finance major, pushing aside his generals. As he took those classes, he found that his interest in finance grew tremendously. He applied to the program at the end of his freshman year and entered at the start of his sophomore year.

While he loved his classes, Cruz found his first semester at BYU difficult. As an international student who spoke English as a second language, Cruz had a hard time feeling like he fit in. “I never felt discriminated against or anything like that,” he says. “I never felt rejected by the student body, but at the same time, I didn’t feel like I belonged on campus.”

However, as soon as Cruz stepped into the business school, those feelings of estrangement washed away. Cruz remembers as a freshman going to a meeting for the BYU Finance Society, an organization led by students interested in a career in finance, before applying to the program. At this meeting, Cruz immediately received individualized help. Tracie Laham, advisor for the group, recognized that Cruz was new and took him aside that night to give him advice about his future. Laham even helped Cruz find an internship after his sophomore year with a company that often hired international students.

“Even without asking, I received help and answers to my questions. None of my professors withheld their assistance,” says Cruz. “I met with a lot of professors after hours to go over the material, to try to understand the classes and the programs better.”

Cruz’s fellow students were essential to his education as well. Most of his classes in the finance department were team based, which created opportunities for him to gain experience interacting with people in a business setting. These opportunities also allowed him to learn how to be accountable not only to himself but to his team.

Cruz spent time over the summer after his junior year doing a second internship—this time with Goldman Sachs, where he gained the confirmation that what he was learning in the business school was worth his time. When Cruz asked his manager how to be successful, he told Cruz he always looked for a team player, not a lone wolf. Cruz was thrilled when he heard this, because his classes at BYU Marriott were designed to help him develop as a leader and collaborator.

In much the same way that he learned English, Cruz took an active role in his own education, always looking for ways to get involved and gain experience. He took advantage of internships, participated in competitions, and took time building connections with professors and classmates.
 
“The most important lesson I’ve learned is to look for opportunities within the school and with advisors, professors, and classmates,” he says. “Learn from every single opportunity presented to you.”

Aaron Cruz Morales standing outside in a suit
Aaron Cruz Morales, a finance senior at the Marriott School of Business. Photo courtesy of Aaron Cruz Morales.
Aaron Cruz Morales and his wife sitting on a rock next to a body of water.
Aaron Cruz Morales and his wife Taylor. Photo courtesy of Aaron Cruz Morales

Media Contact: Chad Little (801) 422-1512
Writer: Kaelin Hagen