You earned your undergrad from Georgetown, your MBA from U of Arkansas and your PhD in Business Management from Texas A&M University which led you to your professorship at University of New Orleans. What is your personal story and how did you get to where you are today?
After graduating as class Valedictorian in both middle school and high school, I was blessed to receive an acceptance letter from Georgetown University. While there, I studied Finance because I knew it would teach me skills that would not only benefit future employers, but this kind of knowledge would also behoove me and other individuals practically. Unexpectedly, my finance professor, Dr. George Comer, pulled me to the side one day on my way to a class (I ended up missing that next class) and encouraged me to consider pursuing graduate school and academia after undergrad. I knew little to nothing about academia and since I was perfectly comfortable with closing out my education at a bachelor’s degree (after all, even reaching this point was meaningful in my family since I was the first in my father’s family to complete college), I filed his advice away in my mind and moved forward with my plan to work in corporate. After working in Finance and Accounting and feeling like I wasn’t living up to my potential, I reached back out to Dr. Comer more than five years after we’d had that initial conversation. He was gracious enough to meet with me. He told me about The PhD Project
and gave me some preliminary information about applying to graduate school and becoming a Finance professor. I attended the PhD Project November conference and began studying for the GMAT.
The graduate school application process did not go smoothly for me. I applied to a handful of PhD programs that year and didn’t get accepted into any. I realized that I would probably increase my chances of getting into a good PhD program if I first earned an MBA. At the same time, my background in Finance made me wary of overreliance on student loans in the pursuit of more education. So, my agreement with God was that if this was the path I was meant to take, He would not only ensure an MBA program acceptance, but this acceptance would also include a full scholarship and a stipend for living expenses. None of my friends who had enrolled in MBA programs had full scholarships or stipends, so it was likely an audacious request. The next year, I applied to a broad list of MBA programs and before receiving an acceptance letter from any university, I went through the process of legally registering my home as a rental property (a requirement in Washington, DC) and listing it for rent in preparation for my relocation. Incredibly, the University of Arkansas accepted me into its MBA program along with a full scholarship plus a stipend. Even better, I visited the campus and the faculty and staff were extraordinarily kind and supportive. Since I was upfront about my desire to ultimately pursue a PhD, the faculty and I agreed that after completing the MBA program, I would apply and transition to the PhD program. As an MBA student, I was able to work on research projects with faculty, take a few PhD-level courses, and spend time with the PhD students to prepare me for that transition.
This introduction to becoming an academic did not affirm my original plans. I found that the course requirements for Finance PhD programs were very Economics-based. While I enjoyed all things Finance, a deep dive into Economics wasn’t something I found particularly interesting. I drudged my way through a few awful Econ courses as an MBA student and realized that if I had to take several more of these in the PhD program, then maybe a PhD in Finance wasn’t a fit with me, after all. Coming to this realization was very discouraging. It felt like a setback and forced me to reconsider whether I made the right decision in leaving corporate in the first place. I started strategizing a Plan B. I realized that the classes I enjoyed most in the MBA program beyond Finance were the Management courses. I shifted my focus from earning a PhD in Finance to Management.
When the time came for me to apply to Arkansas’s PhD program, one of my professors, Dr. Vikas Anand, was kind enough to sit down with me to make a list of other programs I should also consider. Ultimately, Arkansas and Texas A&M University offered me spots in their Management PhD programs. My Arkansas professors prioritized what would most likely be the best move for me, and they encouraged and supported my decision to enroll in Texas A&M.
I was excited to be a part of Texas A&M. The faculty were known for their research productivity and I looked forward to learning everything I could from them. But, once again, things did not go as planned. The reality of a career in an R1 institution did not seem to align with my desire to produce meaningful work while maintaining a reasonable work/life balance. I also didn’t feel prepared to succeed in an R1 culture. So on the job market, I decided to be intentional about what kind of department would work for me by writing down exactly what I wanted: a more balanced appreciation for research and teaching, collegiality, close to or in a major city, support for my research interests, and ethnically diverse colleagues. Thankfully, I found all of this at my employer, the University of New Orleans.
You worked in wealth management, private equity and accounting before leaving corporate to climb the ladder in Higher Education. What motivated this career re-direct?
The corporate chapter of my life prepared me well for my current academic chapter. I draw on those experiences in teaching, navigating politics, and operating in spaces where very few people look like me. At my last corporate job before deciding to pursue academia, I found myself plotting to make a shift into working for a media company. I had an excellent interview with an amazing company only to later learn that the manager had decided to go with a different candidate. I was shocked. That rejection really made me consider my “why” for applying for another job in a new industry. Every few years, I found myself making this kind of shift—expecting that “next job” to be the perfect fit and then becoming disheartened when it wasn’t. I had to ask myself what I was chasing.
Deciding to let purpose be my guidepost was really the catalyst for leaving corporate and pursuing academia. I realized I wanted a career that allowed me to make a difference in the lives of individuals, constantly learn, and produce meaningful work. I also noticed a pattern of teaching and mentoring in the volunteerism I pursued outside of work hours. So, shifting into academia in the next chapter seemed to make sense. I realize that my purpose in this season is to advocate for overlooked groups through research, teaching, mentoring, and creating jobs. Weeks after the interview with the media company, the manager reached out again to invite me in for another conversation about a new role that had just opened. Taking that meeting and ultimately working for that company would have been the safer, more comfortable route, but I had to gracefully reject the offer and honor my purpose.
As a McLarty Fellow and Houston Museum of African American Culture Fellow, how did these honors further your work and your path?
I was awarded the McLarty Fellowship while in the MBA program at the University of Arkansas. The other fellows and I traveled to Accra, Ghana and consulted with women-owned businesses facing growth challenges. That time in Ghana was unforgettable. It was not only meaningful to me professionally, but also ancestrally as a Black woman. It was a homecoming: I was the first person in my family line to step foot back on the continent since my ancestors had been stolen from there centuries earlier. And although I was there to essentially “teach” the women entrepreneurs more effective means to reach their goals, they served as role models for me, displaying what was possible despite inequity and limited resources. As a Houston Museum of African American Culture Fellow during the PhD program at Texas A&M, I was able to shed light on inner city businesses and communities that seem undervalued and ignored in popular research in my field. At a time when I felt out of place because of my research interests in under-resourced business environments, the Houston Museum of African American Culture held an award ceremony where the CEO recognized me and my work in the community! Although I try to always be internally motivated, I appreciated that external validation. Both fellowships reinforced my intention to advocate for the overlooked.
Why did the PhD Project name you Dr Cinco in 2018?
The PhD Project nicknamed me “Dr. Cinco” after my dissertation defense in June 2018 marked a quintupling of the number of underrepresented ethnic minority professors in the U.S. since the organization’s founding in 1994.
What do you most want to leave as your legacy to those with whom you live and work?
I intend to leave a legacy of kindness, generosity, boldness, honor, encouragement, peace, advocacy, authenticity, and the prioritization of purpose. Above all, I hope to leave a financial, intellectual and spiritual legacy for my descendants and community.