Graduation Day loomed at the University of Maryland business school, but unfortunately for new MBA Pamela Carter, employment did not.
With a brilliant track record in her studies, she had performed admirably in a co-op work engagement with the Federal Reserve Board, and was anticipating a permanent job offer at a respectable salary.
She had no Plan B.
The offer did arrive, but it fell far short of her expectations. She declined it. With Memorial Day approaching and no job prospects in sight, she turned to her local newspaper’s classified ads.
In small print, she spotted an opening for an assistant professor to teach office systems technology at Northern Virginia Community College. She had never even thought about teaching college before—but, she reminisces, “It sounded like it could be fun, so I decided I would try for it.”
The college, impressed with her credentials, hired her and put her to work. She proved to be a standout in her first year. But that was when state budget cuts struck the public college. Dr. Carter, the new professor on the block, had no seniority and was first in line to be dismissed.
Then The PhD Project mailer dropped into her mailbox. It was two days before the conference application deadline when she read it.
That night, Dr. Carter stayed up until 3:00 a.m. completing the application. The next morning, she FedEx’d it to meet the deadline.
Meanwhile, her department chair was furiously maneuvering to save the job of his newest professor. Two senior faculty members decided to retire, clearing enough budget room for Dr. Carter to be retained. But having considered the broader possibilities, she declined with thanks and applied to doctoral programs.
“Sometimes,” she says, “you’re on a path that’s meant to be. A postcard comes out of nowhere, you go to a conference, and things start happening.”
Fate played a greater role than she had realized at first. Dr. Carter’s strong first choice was Florida State University. One of the Maryland MBA professors she asked for a recommendation had, it turned out, been a visiting member of the business faculty at Florida State recently. When Florida State’s committee read the recommendation from a former colleague, it gave Dr. Carter’s application greater weight. She was accepted.
Dr. Carter and her husband, facing a significant cut in income, also had the bad luck to be selling their suburban Washington home during a dip in the real estate market. To make ends meet, they realized, it would be necessary to forego vacations and take out loans. “My five dollar jars of olives had to go too,” she jokes. “When you are on a budget, you have to go without some of the little things that make life pleasurable.”
How did she and her husband cope with the necessity of making those sacrifices? “We knew why we were doing it, and we knew it was temporary. We knew what the rewards would be later.”
“In the Ph.D. process,” Dr. Carter adds, “you learn what is really important. That’s what gets you through.”
The dream continues…
In January 2016, Dr. Carter became the Dean of Business & Technology at Community College of Philadelphia.