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Sethretta Frank: Portrait of a Digital Self-Transformation

Among the many key takeaways for graduates of the Executive M.S. in Technology Management program, perhaps the most fundamental is to understand the imperative of digital transformation—the principle that all businesses must transform themselves by leveraging digital technology to upgrade outmoded operations and inefficient processes. For Sethretta Frank, '20SPS, digital transformation has been more of a personal journey.

Throughout a career that spans customer service, home finance, mobile networking, oil and gas production, and engineering, Sethretta has seized every opportunity to learn, grow, and transform herself into a technology leader. Now, only months shy of completing her executive master’s degree in December, she has been recruited for the role of Senior Customer Solutions Manager, Global Financial Services, at Amazon Web Services (AWS).

“I used so many internal resources that were available to me at the companies where I worked to get myself up the ladder,” she said. “I was basically able to upgrade myself!”

Born in Sierra Leone, Sethretta and her family sought refuge from the civil war there and emigrated in 1992 to the Houston area. An exceptional student who earned a 4.5 GPA in high school and dreamed of studying math and engineering, she was courted by and admitted to several Ivy League universities. However, when she was unable to qualify for financial aid as a non-resident without a green card, her family’s church community helped to send her to Prairie View A&M. 

After giving birth to her son, Sethretta took a break from school to raise him and soon found work at a call center, where she was promptly promoted to manager. She then became a home loan advisor for Countrywide and later for Chase Home Finance. When a former colleague recruited her for a new position at AT&T, she dove headlong into telecommunications.

“I went into it deep,” she recalled. “When I started, I had zero knowledge of communications. After a one-week training, we had 90 days to meet our quotas or we’d be fired. I mastered it all because I had to. And I tell people to this day: If you put me in with the wolves, I will survive.”

Over eight years and successive promotions at AT&T, where she worked with Walmart, Chevron, and other Fortune 100 clients, Sethretta took all of the internal training and technical courses she could manage to continue her education. In 2013, thanks to crucial financial assistance from her father, she was able to return to Prairie View to complete her undergraduate studies and earn her M.S. in electrical engineering and mathematics/computer engineering.

After stints at energy and telecom companies in Texas, Sethretta joined industrial gas company Praxair and relocated to New York, where she began to reflect on how she could best leverage her varied educational and professional experience. 

“I said to my husband, ‘I wonder if there’s a degree program that just combines everything but at an executive level,’” she recalled, appreciating the irony that she would soon find herself enrolled in just such a program (and crediting her husband with pushing her to apply and supporting her through it all). “The Technology Management program tied all of these things together—digital transformation, entrepreneurship, operations management, technology and the law, sales and marketing, behavioral experience. It was pretty much a composite of my experience.”

Everything I’ve been through in my life, my career, and at Columbia prepared me for this very moment.

Sethretta Frank, '20SPS, Executive M.S. in Technology Management

That convergence of Sethretta’s career journey with the dynamic learning experience at Columbia was especially evident in her thesis project. Inspired and informed by her Executive Seminar with Norman Jacknis, as well as Charissa Asbury's course on corporate accounting and finance, she delivered a textbook example of digital transformation—a proposal for how Praxair could use IoT technology to dramatically advance its manufacturing process and simultaneously create a new service offering for the company’s clients. 

“Would I have done this kind of project if I wasn’t at Columbia? Probably not,” she said. “It teaches you entrepreneurial skills but in the executive space. That mentality is what I took. Columbia prepared me to do that.”

Sethretta also expressed gratitude for the guidance she received from her mentor in the program, Diana Beecher, who not only coached her on the thesis project but helped shape her outlook on the corporate world as a woman with a family. As she prepared to start her “dream job” at AWS and complete her coursework this fall, Sethretta reflected on how that guidance from Beecher and the program overall played a part in her own transformation.

“At the start of the program, my mentor told me, ‘By the time you finish, you’re going to speak more concisely, your mindset will be so different—everything.’ And I see that in myself already,” she said. “Everything I’ve been through in my life, my career, and at Columbia prepared me for this very moment.”

Learn more about the Executive M.S. in Technology Management program.