A close up of a woman looking off into the distance with the skyline of new york city behind her

When we look back on our lives, there are small moments that ultimately impact our future. For Tamara Foye, watching the late '80s sitcom A Different World was revelatory. The show featured students at Hillman College, a fictional HBCU campus that showcased, in an unprecedented way, diverse young adults who lived in a college community coming of age, learning about themselves, and often tackling important social issues. It made an impression.

“It was just a television show, but it was the first time I can remember thinking that college was a diverse place where smart and independent young people come together to learn, grow, and challenge one another.”

Tamara realizes that the show kindled an excitement about the idea of college and contributed to her motivation to attend. While neither of Tamara’s parents completed a college degree, they were highly supportive of Tamara and her sister pursuing higher education. She describes that they would talk about “when” not “if” college would happen. Tamara enjoyed a traditional college experience at Rider University where she, interestingly, majored in Mass Communications, Radio, and Television.

Growing Her Career and Building Community

Almost twenty years after her first college experience, Tamara found herself living and working in New York City with her husband, Shaimond, and sons Shaimond Jr. (19), Jai (11), and daughter, Ariana (14).  In addition to working full-time in the city and raising her family, Tamara’s faith and church community became very important to her. She and her friends would talk about the challenges of parenthood, especially for women who are often expected to take on multiple responsibilities.

“Connections in our community are crucial for well-being. They provide us with a sense of belonging and purpose and opportunities for support.”

Inspired by her own support system, Tamara imagined starting a nonprofit, Mom’s L.O.V.E., focused on building a community for mothers. As she developed a plan to secure the resources to start and operate a nonprofit, she needed to ensure that it was set up correctly and in compliance with applicable laws. Perhaps it was this experience of founding her own organization that made her a particularly well-qualified candidate for a position within the NYC Department of Small Business Services (SBS). SBS helps connect New Yorkers with resources to create strong businesses.

For perspective, the City of New York is the largest local government in the U.S. with nearly 400,000 employees and 80 agencies. Like many municipalities, NYC government is filled with opportunities for talented individuals. One key to recruiting and retaining talent is offering professional development classes and degree programs that can help employees hone their skills and advance their careers.

Going Back to School to Pursue New Opportunities

Through the Mayor’s Graduate Scholarship Program, full-time New York City government employees, with undergraduate degrees, are encouraged to pursue advanced degrees. Tamara learned about the opportunity and the City’s partnership with UNH College of Professional Studies (formerly Granite State College).

I really hadn’t considered going back to school until I started examining the job market. A minimum requirement for most companies was a bachelor’s degree. However, candidates with master’s degrees were preferred for more senior-level positions. I knew that I wanted to pursue more opportunities, and whether I started my own company or worked for one, I wanted to obtain a master’s degree and the knowledge that comes with it.

Long before Tamara knew the tenants of project management, she was a planner. It is how she achieved so much in her busy life. While she has originally imagined pursuing a master’s degree in business, she came to realize that a project management mindset had helped her operate with direction and purpose.

I prioritize, make lists of the most important tasks and focus on completing the most critical. By creating a schedule that outlines work, school, and personal obligations I’m able to use time wisely by taking advantage of downtime to complete small tasks or assignments. The more I thought about it, studying project management made sense. My next step was to choose a university with a good program and reputation that would understand my need to balance college with my life.

In December 2022, Tamara achieved a graduate certificate in project management, the first milestone toward her ambitious goal of completing her master’s degree at UNH this fall.

Honing Her Project Management Skills

Tamara points to a particular Lean Thinking course that taught her techniques for eliminating wasteful tasks, defining goals, and documenting deliverables and tasks from beginning to end. She thinks about adding value constantly.

“Even with a personal event like planning a birthday, I think about what the experience will be and how I want people feel when they leave at the end. I identify milestones to know I’m on track. When I work with my nonprofit, these practices keep the work in scope and on track.

As a faithful person, Tamara believes that going back to school has helped her to become a better project manager and will ultimately allow her to be of service even greater capacity.

I have a purpose and my purpose is not solely for myself but to give back and use my life and experience, talent, and abilities to make others’ lives better. It’s important to me that Mom’s L.O.V.E. thrives. The safe, resource-rich community our board of directors and volunteers are creating is meaningful to those we serve.”

Tackling the Challenges of Returning to School as a Working Adult

Tamara describes that for all its benefits, her graduate college experience this time is “night and day” from her undergraduate experience. Back then, her parents took on the burden of student loans and her primary responsibility was studying and making the most of the opportunities that college presented.

As an adult, there’s so many things that push against you. There are so many distractions and responsibilities which is why it is important to seek support. In my case, my husband has been a wonderful partner in helping to step in and keep things moving in our household when I have been unable to. Since 2020, my kids have seen me buckle down and do the work to earn my master's degree. They know that if you want something in life, you have to work for it. At first, I didn’t think of myself as a role model, but I guess for my children, I am their “A Different World.”

 

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