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Rachel Oatis: Empowering the Next Generation of Leaders

Rachel Oatis (’19SPS, Nonprofit Management) is determined to equip and educate the next generation of leaders in her hometown of Louisiana. She aspires to fix the educational achievement gap in the South through corporate social responsibility. Oatis completed her undergraduate studies at Spelman College and held positions at the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Washington National Cathedral, and the District Office of Congressman John Lewis and Cedric Richmond. At Columbia University, she has served as the host and Curation Officer of the 2019 TEDxColumbiaUniversity, SPS Commencement Student Marshal, and was the recipient of the Bill Campbell Award for SPS.

What initially attracted you to the Nonprofit Management program at Columbia University?

What initially attracted me to the program was my interest in learning how to become a better leader, and I knew this program would be the right fit. I have always had an interest in management and leadership, so the idea that I could get my master’s in it was truly exciting. When the Political Science Department Chair at Spelman approached me about the opportunity to apply to the HBCU Fellowship, it was a no brainer that I would choose the Nonprofit Management program.

In the process of applying, I thought intently about how my personal and professional experiences lined up with the goals of the program and vice versa. I thought back to the time when I interned at the Washington National Cathedral. It was through this experience that I first worked in the nonprofit space and transitioned from pupil to teacher. I worked closely with students from D.C. public high schools in a program called the Cathedral Scholars Program. This program is designed to foster academic success, professional development, and career readiness skills for students in the D.C. public school system. This learning experience caused me to rethink my disposition as a student and learner. For the first time, I viewed education through the lens of how it would be received by my students. I have been able to take these fundamental lessons back to my classroom experience in the Nonprofit Management program.

What type of skills have you been able to build and improve on through the program?

Experiences in this program has informed both my personal and professional development. In courses such as Communications and Marketing for Nonprofits, I have gained hard skills such as setting measurable media and marketing goals that will help a nonprofit clarify its brand, purpose, and unique value proposition. This course taught me how to use data measurement tools to listen to various audiences and apply this information to improve messaging. In courses such as Fundraising Fundamentals, I learned how to think of myself as a fundraising professional who understands various fundraising vehicles and how they apply to the fundraising process. I learned about the psychological determinants that defined why people give and the realities of asking people for money. This course challenged my understanding of relationship building because my professor reiterated the notion that “people give to people.”

On the other hand, the program has impacted how I see myself as a young, ambitious, goal seeking professional. I have grown in the areas of negotiating hard conversations, listening to learn instead of listening to respond, and thinking strategically on decisions around career and personal endeavors. This came alive for me in my Leading People course where I was required to solicit feedback from others and personally reflect on my personal weaknesses and strengths. I then created an action plan on how I would execute, monitor, and evaluate my goals set. The challenge I grappled with was allowing myself the vulnerability required to say, “I do not know.” I am confident in my ability to bring the skills I have learned in the classroom to my future workplace. Ultimately, I want to bring these skills I have developed to my community and similar communities facing challenges that affect their next generation of leaders.

Rachel Oatis and Todd Baker

What has been your most memorable student experience at Columbia?

My most memorable experience was with my Morehouse brother and fellow HBCU Fellow Todd Baker, whom I met for the first-time during Orientation week in the Fellowship program. Todd and I committed to each other that we would send our absentee ballots out together. As students from Spelman and Morehouse, we were extremely excited because our Spelman sister, Stacey Abrams, was on the ballot for Georgia’s gubernatorial race as the first black woman nominee for governor. After devoting an hour to deep research on proposed laws, candidate background and policy information, Todd and I proudly ended our night feeling enlightened by our newly informed perspective surrounding laws that affect us, our family, and friends. This exchange meant so much to me because even though Columbia pushed me into a new world, we held each other accountable to the purpose and intentionality our HBCU's fostered within us. This sense of security and camaraderie is what we are taught at our respective HBCUs. HBCUs create a culture of care, confidence, and community. Appropriately, the beauty of the HBCU Fellowship cohort is that, although we come from different schools across the U.S., we all bring the same sense of moral centering that transcends physical campus locations.

Learn more about the Master of Science in Nonprofit Management program at the School of Professional Studies.