For T’Keyah Andrews, the MBA experience taught her far more than she could have ever imagined.
Although she never envisioned graduating from a top-tier institution — let alone, at the age of 27 — she found herself joining The Consortium’s class of 2021 at the University of Rochester Simon Business School on the recommendation of her uncle, Keith Smith.
“He went to Olin, and I remember him telling me about The Consortium,” says Andrews, a native of Mesquite, Texas, a suburb of Dallas. “I didn’t really know what it was, but I did some research and reached out to a local Consortium alum here in Dallas. He encouraged me, and that pushed me in that direction.”
Not only was she on the path to pursuing her dream of one day getting a business degree, she was also a recipient of The Consortium’s Leslie Elise Adkins Endowed Scholarship and was elected president of Simon’s finance club. But, in spring 2020, everything changed. With the pandemic among us, Simon went fully remote, and Andrews ended up having her summer internship revoked.
Over the following months, she went from struggling with depression and attempting suicide to receiving an offer for full-time employment and finding a community that cares about and supports her. Now a management associate at Citi, Andrews wants to share her story with others in hopes that it will inspire them to find it within themselves to persevere.
“I’ve climbed some true mountains in my life and had a major transformative life experience,” she says. “I just want to give someone the courage to live in their truth and in their story and understand that things are going to be more than OK.”
She recently spoke with us to share how her experience helped shape her approach to life and work and the importance of being vulnerable.
What was it about your uncle’s experience in The Consortium that inspired you to apply to earn your MBA through the organization?
I always knew, being someone who has a different story, that I was going to need a strong group to help me bridge the gap. I knew I needed a strong base of people who came from diverse backgrounds, either similar to me or resembling what I had experienced.
There’s a sense of comradery that comes from The Consortium. It’s nice to have that network of people who can relate to you and what you’ve grown up with. Because I had gone to a predominantly white institution in undergrad, I wanted to have that layer of experience in my MBA.
How did your experience with depression affect your overall MBA experience?
I think I had always struggled with it, but it came to a head in business school. Then, of course, there was the pandemic as well. I was also the finance president at Simon. There was a lot going on. It was a really dark time for me, but what I learned from it was the ability to rely on your community. I had much more respect and, I think, much more empathy when leading once I came out of that.
I ended up going to the hospital for a week or so. I was completely shut off from everything. I was so concerned. I was on the phone in the hospital going, “I need to get my assignments.” I got a call from my counselor saying, “Look, don’t worry about any of this. Just try and focus on you, and when you come back, we’ll take care of it.” That’s what I did. And when I came back, I remember so many people being like, “This is how we’re going to get you back in.”
Having so many people who were there and supportive renewed my interest in completing my business degree and in continuing to give back, because I had so much to be grateful for — the opportunity that was afforded me to get my MBA, but also the opportunity that was afforded me to make sure that I was OK. I enjoyed having that network — not just The Consortium, but Simon as well. That renewed my faith in humanity.
How did the pandemic further affect you during this time?
It added that extra layer of remembering that people were going through a lot, because you didn’t know who’d lost an internship. There were so many different moving pieces for everyone. It required you to be empathetic to others, not knowing their situation — especially because I had my own situation — extending grace to others, especially in a time of ambiguity, while also leading.
When you went fully remote in 2020, how did you work to manage the situation and your mental health?
One of the best things I ever did was getting my therapist, having someone who was there to relate to me. I ended up getting placed into a good facility where I was able to get someone who culturally aligned with me. This therapist was from Dallas, but thankfully, because of COVID, she was able to continue being my therapist even though I was in Rochester.
I also started taking vocal lessons virtually. It started out just as fun, but turned into a Simon band. Every year, there is a Rochester talent show. We ended up doing five songs, and I sang three of them. We had people who were playing drums, guitar, keyboard. It was all over the place, the myriad of music that everybody brought to the table. I loved the preparation we put into that performance.
What did you take away from this time in your life?
A renewed sense of community, which is what held me together throughout the entire pandemic.
I had alums who helped me while I was going through it. Someone I had met during The Consortium’s Orientation Program reached out to me and said, “Hey, I haven’t heard from you in a while. What’s going on?” I just broke down crying. That’s when she said, “Hey, I just want you to know, I’ve had problems with this in the past. Take my number down. If you ever feel like you’re back in that dark place again, give me a call.” She was also from Texas. It was, once again, weird similarities that brought me back to center, to where I felt as though I did belong there, because I struggled a lot with Simon being so hard for me. I always felt like I was out of place. When I finally started realizing that there were other people who aligned with me, it was like, “OK, I’m not the only one.” That also restored my faith in humanity — just being able to be vulnerable, being able to rely on people to be there for me and provide advice on how to move forward.
How do you feel like your MBA and your personal experiences have impacted the work that you do at Citi and the way in which you do your work?
It has made me put myself first. That’s been the best part of working at Citi. I knew that was something I wouldn’t be able to do if I went into, say, investment banking, consulting or something that is way more demanding. I needed something a little more steady so that I could figure out what’s going on with me health-wise and still be able to do what I wanted in my career.
Citi has been a bit like Simon. I’ve been able to relate everything that I’ve experienced in my life up to this point and realize that people at Citi are so diverse.
Would you say you have a passion for diversity and inclusion? How has that shown through in your work?
Basically, I think about financial inclusion. Some of the things that I’ve wanted to do have been around providing people from different socioeconomic backgrounds with the information that’s going to set them up for financial success … because when I grew up, financial security wasn’t always there.
My grandma worked for Bank of America when I was younger. Finance was the topic of every lunch, dinner and family gathering, but I realized there were other people who didn’t have the privilege of having those kinds of conversations. I wanted to be the person who started to drive those conversations. I think that’s why I initially went into finance. My overarching goal is to provide wisdom to those who come after me.
When I was the finance president at Simon, I had a financial wealth advisor come to explain to Consortium students how to be financially secure while in business school. That’s been something that I’ve carried through, even in my role at Citi. One of the things we’ve talked about at Citi is trying to educate employees of different backgrounds on some of the things that they should know to be financially secure, everything from estate planning to making the most of your 401k — things that I think people from different socioeconomic backgrounds don’t necessarily have conversations about.
How has what you’ve gone through changed your mindset about life and leadership?
It’s definitely changed it in the sense that I provide grace. You never know what people are going through; people are very good at disguising their struggles. I try not to get over-emotional when people do things that might be somewhat offensive, or something that I wouldn’t do, because you can’t hold people to the same standards as you would yourself. The only thing you can control is yourself and your reaction. I tend to think about that as a leader as well. You’re going to run into those moments where you have conflict. It’s how you choose to handle that conflict that distinguishes you as a leader.
What advice do you have for others who might be facing similar challenges?
If anybody is struggling with mental health issues, if you are having a very bad day, my best advice would be to have a conversation with somebody, because you never know if that person or someone they know has also struggled.
Some people tend to think of it as taboo. But one of the things I remember most from Simon was when I was in the hospital, the student advisor Nate, who was also in the hospital, called me and said, “Are you OK?” I said, “You’re also in the hospital!” He was like, “I’m still doing my job. I just want you to know that we care.” That was amazing. The same with Angela, who was the contact for Simon’s Benet Career Management Center at the time. She reached out and said, “I have a family member who I lost to this. I didn’t know you were dealing with it. Why didn’t you tell me?” So, I think the more we talk about it, the more we normalize it. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. Living with it is definitely hard – every day is different – but you have to keep pushing forward and remain hopeful.