Look What Happened to One 2005 Online Graduate of UIS: Mary Lynn Schroeder’s Story

Mary Lynn Schroeder for online story

Look at What Has Happened to One UIS Online Graduate

Spending $90 on a sewing machine seemed like a good idea.

In 2008, Mary Lynn Schroeder moved from Chicago to southern Illinois. On the way, she stopped to purchase a sewing machine. She wanted to become a little more self-sufficient in her new life.

In the end, the sewing machine became more than a good purchase—it became a great purchase because it led to her business, In Blue Handmade.

A Gift From Her Father Changed Everything

Settled in southern Illinois, Mary Lynn started her sewing with curtains and then made purses and simple dresses. She opened a small consignment shop as a way to sell her work.

Then one day in 2009, her father sent her a piece of leather that he had won on eBay.

“I had just figured out how to hand-stamp leather,” Mary Lynn said, “so I came home and made some journals that people could personalize with their own message or stamped image” (quoted from this article).

She chose Etsy as a way to sell online. Soon after, as the holiday season arrived with all its holiday specials, friends shared some exciting news:

Mary Lynn’s leather-bound journals had been mentioned on the Martha Stewart Show by the founder of Etsy.com as a holiday gift bargain.

The next morning, December 2, 2009, Mary Lynn found 80 orders waiting for her. Within the next few weeks, sales would climb to the thousands.

Success Had Found Her

  • By 2014, her 11-person company, located in Asheville, North Carolina, was racking up sales of $721,000. This year, Mary Lynn, CEO and Lead Designer, anticipates reaching sales of $1,000,000.
  • She now has the #1 leather shop on Etsy.com, and has had more than 45,000 sales which have shipped to 40 countries.
  • In Blue Handmade products are sold by 300 independent boutiques and chains.
  • And in 2015, her company received the FedEx Small Business Grant Grand Prize, worth $25,000.

You Have Something in Common With Mary Lynn

Like you, Mary Lynn has been an online student at UIS.

Following brief stints at Bradley University and the University of Illinois Chicago, she began working in the music industry, booking bands, and she enrolled in online classes at UIS so she could continue her education.

“I didn’t want to give up on my degree,” she says, “but I didn’t want to pass up this amazing opportunity to travel with the bands.”

Doing both music and her degree took a little juggling. At 2 a.m., while everyone else was hanging out after the show, Mary Lynn was at Kinko’s, using their online access to submit her latest assignments to Blackboard. This happened “in Toronto or Montreal or San Diego”—wherever the bands went.

She describes UIS’ online program as “stunning” and “phenomenal”—”one of the best online schools in the country”—but she admits, at first, she had a little trouble keeping everything in order. Without face-to-face contact with professors, she tended to procrastinate.

She loved her studies so much, however, and had such great admiration for the professors and other students that she soon figured things out.

“Time management is still one of the most important things I got out of my degree,” she says, “and I have the online programs to thank for that. The discipline I had to develop is a big part of the reason I’m a good business owner.”

Not the Most Traditional Preparation for Running a Business

Mary Lynn also credits her major which focused on philosophy, and more particularly epistemology—”how we know what we know.”

Her studies have made a huge contribution to her role as a business owner, she says, especially as she navigates a managerial relationship with her team and seeks to understand group dynamics and what will work the best for everybody.

She also spends a great deal of time speaking to the many customers who order customized journals, and her degree, she says, helps her relate to them better and process what they are saying.

“There’s no way that I would be doing this if I had not pursued my degree,” she says. “I believe that wholeheartedly. I’m good at my job because of it.”