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Poole College of Management Honors Black Women Making History

Celebrate Black History Month and take a deep dive into the challenges and successes of the Black female community at Poole College.

The Black History Month display on the third floor of Nelson Hall.

Each February, NC State and the Poole College of Management celebrates and acknowledges Black History Month through the experiences and accomplishments of our Black students, faculty, staff and alumni. This year, we highlight Black women and their stories, accomplishments and challenges impacting their lives.

“Black History month is a month for celebrating the champions I have the pleasure to work beside,” said Tayah Butler, director of diversity, equity and inclusion. “It’s an honor to follow their lead and work in solidarity with them for equity and social change.”

Meet Our Students

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Kristen Ash, a Global Luxury and Management student
Kristen (right) pictured with a friend from the GLAM program
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Ash finds inspiration from the confidence and power of her grandmother

Kristen Ash, Global Luxury and Management Program

Kristen Ash came to Poole College to be a part of the GLAM Program and even though she has spent her time in the virtual classroom, she has a strong allegiance to her community. Ash said the majority of the challenges in her life stem from childhood as she came to terms with her race. 

“Growing up in a mostly white area, I felt out of place when classmates or dance team members pointed out my race and how I was different from everyone else,” said Ash. “I also felt out of place when I was in situations with other African Americans, because I felt inferior for not knowing many social codes and ques due to lack of exposure. I know that everyone has to learn to love themselves, but I’m thankful for parents who taught me to be confident from the time I was very young.”

Ash finds a role model in her grandmother who has pushed her to travel the world and become globally aware of others and herself. She admires her grandmother’s confidence and her experiences as a young woman in the Civil Rights Movement. 

“I think that members of the NC State community can support Black students on and off campus by taking steps to become aware of their internal biases in relation to the African American community,” said Ash. “NC State and many social media pages have great resources on inclusion, but anyone who wants to learn about supporting Black students can better learn through interaction and experience.”

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Kierra Banks, a Jenkins MBA student
Banks is a current member of the Sigma Tau Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha
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Banks focuses her studies on biosciences management

Kierra Banks, Jenkins MBA Program

As a Jenkins MBA student, Kierra Banks focuses her studies on biosciences management and has a technical lead role for a biotechnology company in Research Triangle Park. Through her company, Banks is a member of Women in Science and serves on the North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University’s alumni chapter. 

“As a Black female, one of the biggest challenges that I experience is working to have my voice heard,” said Banks. “I find that Black women’s voices are often overlooked and undervalued. I overcome these challenges by calling out moments where I feel my voice is muted and advocating behavioral change.”

Banks is a current member of the Sigma Tau Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha, the first intercollegiate historically African American Greek-lettered sorority.

“Everyone can support Black students more through advocation,” said Banks. “Ensuring that Black students have a place to be themselves authentically and championing for their voices to be heard. I think active ally-ship is essential to the success of Black students.”

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Sydney Ferguson, a sophomore in economics
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Ferguson’s role model is professional tennis player Serena Williams
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Ferguson pictured with her parents

Sydney Ferguson, sophomore in economics

As a young girl, Sydney Ferguson struggled with feeling discredited by her peers and feeling like she didn’t fit in. Ferguson felt as though she had to work twice as hard in advanced classes to prove that she deserved to be there.

“It was a journey to overcome and I don’t believe it is unique to me as many young Black girls deal with these same issues,” said Ferguson. “I had to realize that I knew my self-worth and I didn’t have to prove that to anyone but myself.”

Joining Poole College, Ferguson has found her classmates and faculty helpful and welcoming and has a strong support system available to reach out to for help.

In her adult life, Ferguson looks up to Serena Williams for staying true to herself as she has dealt with doubters and people who have discredited her work because of her race. She is inspired by her perseverance and ability to push limits, something Ferguson wishes to do herself in her career.

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Rachel Haynes, a Jenkins MBA student
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Haynes serves as a Business Sustainability Collaborative associate
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Haynes is event co-chair and board member for the Jenkins MBA Student Association

Rachel Haynes, Jenkins MBA Program

“It has been a great honor to be a member of the Black community at the Poole College of Management,” said Rachel Haynes, a Jenkins MBA student. “From my fellow Black classmates to faculty and staff within Poole, I have met some of the most truly talented and inspiring people.”

Haynes has faced many challenges as a Black female and is still fighting against racism and gender discrimination. To overcome these challenges, she tries not to let fear get in the way of following her passions and has found the courage to speak out against these biases.

Outside of the Poole classroom, Haynes is a Business Sustainability Collaborative associate where she gets to work with a brilliant team of students to enhance sustainability education. She is also on the Jenkins MBA Student Association board as an event co-chair where she helps plan events to promote community relations within the MBA program.

“Continue to create spaces where Black students can build community with one another and be an advocate and ally to Black students in the classroom,” said Haynes as a message to the NC State community.

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Tori Williams (left) pictured with her mother, who she looks up to for her care for others

Tori Williams, Jenkins MAC Program

Tori Williams remembers experiencing what many people call imposter syndrome, where she didn’t see many minorities or Black women in career positions she would like to hold one day. It led to insecurities that Williams didn’t belong in that field. 

However, at Poole, Williams has been able to bond with some of the other Black women in her program.

“I didn’t attend NC State for undergrad, so I can’t speak to that experience, but I’ve felt grateful to meet Black women who have similar goals as me,” said Williams.

Williams’ mother is someone she looks up to, specifically in the way she carries herself and how she cares for others. Her mother instilled in her to always help others and work hard to achieve her goals.

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Tianah Washington, an online Jenkins MBA student

Tianah Washington, Jenkins Online MBA Program

While she has not had much experience on NC State’s campus as an online student, Tianah Washington has faced challenges in her 16-year career.

“All African American females experience some type of challenge in their careers,” said Washington. “We know we have to work harder and build alliances to help advance our careers.”

Washington has a career in healthcare sales and is a member of Delta Sigma Theta, a public service sorority, and the National Sales Network. She has a passion for community service and mentoring.

Groundbreaking Women in the News

Tiana Spears pictured for The New York Times

Tiana Spears, Poole College Alumna

In a year of civil unrest and the continued fight for equality, a Poole College alumna was on the forefront of history. Tiana Spears sat down with The New York Times to shed light on racial discrimination in the State Department. 

Spears joined fellow former employees to expose disparaging employment practices against women and people of color. “The message was…focus on your job and be quiet,” said Spears.

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Olivia Washington for Forbes 30 Under 30

Olivia Watkins, Jenkins MBA Program

Olivia Watkins is a current Jenkins MBA Program student who was recently named one Forbes 30 Under 30 for social impact for her work with the Black Farm Fund.

The Black Farmer Fund works towards building a resilient food ecosystem and community investment fund to better support Black farmers.

Award-Winning Faculty

Fay Cobb Payton
Fay Cobb Payton captured by Essence Magazine

Fay Cobb Payton, Professor of Information Technology and Analytics

Fay Cobb Payton, professor of information technology and analytics, received the 2020 National Science Foundation Director Award where she was chosen as the director for the Division of Computer and Network Systems in 2018. Her role is research-focused as she is responsible for working with programs that deal with computers, information science and engineering along with other STEM areas.  

In 2020 she also took on addressing gender discrimination in artificial intelligence (AI) recruiting tools and how there should be a human double-checking and monitoring the hiring process.

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Jessica Thomas, director of the Business Sustainability Collaborative

Jessica Thomas, Director of the Business Sustainability Collaborative

Jessica Thomas, assistant professor of practice and director of the Business Sustainability Collaborative, was awarded the Duke University Fuqua School of Business Alumni Award.

Each spring the business school awards alumni who have made an impact in Fuqua and their own communities.

Empowering Staff Stories

Kimberly Whitfield

When the Poole College of Management faced the COVID-19 pandemic head-on, Kimberly Whitfield, executive assistant to the dean, took the challenge head-on. 

“Kimberly led the task force for getting our building, Nelson Hall, ready for students to return,” said Richard Warr, associate dean for faculty and research. “There are so many details that needed to be managed – from where to put signs to getting hand sanitizer – Kimberly worked tirelessly in this regard, ensuring that we met all the safety protocols from the university.”