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Change in career path has had its benefits for math alumna

Sally Welborn, shown in a 1972 photo at right and today in photo at left, has never stopped learning since leaving UT Arlington with a degree in mathematics in 1975.

At one time or another, most people have struggled with evaluating the best medical insurance plan to meet their families' needs. But, UT Arlington alumna Sally Welborn deals with benefits issues on a daily basis. As Wal-Mart's Senior Vice President of Benefits, she is responsible for overseeing benefits globally for the more than 2 million associates of the world's largest employer.

When she was earning her bachelor's degree in mathematics in 1975, Welborn planned to be a teacher. Then a series of what she calls "fortuitious events" took her career on a different path.

As she began job interviews, she found that, despite her degree, the first thing she was told was, "Take this typing test." Welborn, who has been an active advocate for the role of women educated in science or math in the workplace, knew she did not belong in those companies.

"These days we all do our own typing anyway," she said. "But back then it was a way to pigeonhole female applicants." She replied to a newspaper ad for recent math graduates to train for actuarial work. The position, along with her endless quest to learn more, became the launching pad for her successful career.

Welborn earned the Certified Employee Benefit Specialist Designation through the International Foundation of Employee Benefits Plans and the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. She has served in leadership positions at the Pacific Business Group of Health, the National Business Group on Health and as vice chair for the ERISA Industry Committee.

"To be successful, it is critical that you never stop learning," Welborn said. "All through my career, I have actively sought ways to continue my education."

Welborn developed a pattern of infrequent job changes, remaining in a position and developing a strong bank of knowledge and experience before moving on to the next challenge. Before joining Wal-Mart, she spent 11 years with Wells Fargo in San Francisco. She was responsible for the design and administration of all health and retirement programs and amassed a track record for implementing programs that met employees' needs, while balancing the company's need for expense management. In many respects, Welborn says, she is a teacher. There are 300 associates on Wal-Mart's benefit team and many are new graduates, coming in as interns. She urges the new professionals to focus on "being the best you can be in the role you have chosen."

She also counsels them not to underestimate the importance of networking, which she said was directly responsible for most of the opportunities that came her way as her career progressed.

Welborn, a native of Houston, said her decision to come to UT Arlington was also one of those fortuitous events. She had married young and lived with her husband in Grand Prairie. It was very convenient to finish college at a state school in nearby Arlington.

"I don't think at the time I appreciated how fortunate I was to have such a well-regarded university in my backyard," she said.