Meet Cherise M. Newsome, MBA ‘23 Candidate. Named one of the “Top Forty Under 40” by the Virginia Pilot in October 2021, she’s Vice President for Communications and Marketing at Hampton Roads Community Foundation.
“I’m like a microphone because I amplify the impact of philanthropy by telling stories of generous people and nonprofits using print, video, digital and social media,” she said. “Because of my commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, I am creating a new narrative to show that philanthropy is for everybody.”
Cherise and her family live in Norfolk, VA.
As a volunteer, “I’m a PTA mama, serving as president of the Norfolk Council of PTAs and on the board of directors for the Virginia PTA. Other activities include: scholarship committee for the Hampton Roads Black Media Professionals; founding member of the Visionaries for Change giving circle; diversity, equity, inclusion committee member of the Public Relations Society of America’s Hampton Roads chapter; and member of the early education group EVMS Minus 9 to 5.”
She recently spoke with us about her experience in the William & Mary Online MBA program, its impact on her career, and her insights for professionals considering earning an MBA. Excerpts of our conversation follow here.
What were your first impressions as you began the Online MBA program?
“From the beginning, William & Mary sets the expectation that you have to think outside the box. You won't just be here to learn numbers on a spreadsheet. You will learn effective business strategies, customer relationship strategies, how to be effective in business and in life and use business to help solve problems. The Online MBA program teaches you to be a problem-finder and a problem-solver. That was something that changed my mindset about business leaders.
Through the Wicked Problem experience, you’re really able to step back and look broadly and holistically at a particular industry or community, or even a particular problem, and find out what’s at the heart of the issue: What skills do I have that can help? What product or service do I have that can address it? And then: How can I implement effective strategies to address the problem and be successful in business?
It goes way beyond a spreadsheet to looking at how you envision business, conduct business and measure the effectiveness of a business.”
As you’ve progressed through the Online MBA coursework, what has stood out for you?
“One of the things we talked about in the Organizational Leadership class was how a commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) makes your organization stronger and can make your connection with customers and community stronger, as well. No longer can businesses just operate as monoliths. People want to know what your organization cares about, where you stand, whether you’re taking a lead on those issues, how your business practices align with your corporate values. If you're committed to diversity, equity and inclusion, that has to be seen throughout your leadership, throughout your products and services, even in where you may establish or operate your business.
There are some people who may think conversations about DEI are not really business topics, but they are because they affect our workforce, the culture, and the workplace environment that we establish for staff. They affect our ability to conduct business globally.
If a business leader is not able to acknowledge and respect someone's culture, then how can that person expect to do business with them successfully? How can they expect to maintain relationships with diverse customers successfully if they're not able to have those conversations?
We’ve talked about businesses led by women and the specific challenges we face: the glass ceiling, the challenges of childcare. In a pandemic world, we've seen how the workforce has been affected by the lack of access to childcare, and how that affects families with working parents. Business owners have to think about childcare and flexibility in scheduling as part of a benefits package. These are issues that involve diversity, equity and inclusion. We’ve seen that women are heavily impacted by the pandemic in ways that are different for other groups.
The way we support employees tremendously affects workplace culture. People don't just want to be in a company to make money for the company. They want to work for a company where they feel valued, where there's a sense of belonging. So how do we, as business leaders, communicate to employees that we care about them? Those are the discussions that we have in class.
We still have more work to do, we still have a way to go, but the fact that professors and students at William & Mary are willing to address those topics is important.”
How does the Online MBA program resonate for you, personally?
“I’m learning that effective business leaders build relationships, especially in the communities where they operate.
I believe in getting involved and giving back. And I also believe that companies that want to have sustainable businesses do the same thing. Juggling all of that is challenging, but it's important for business leaders to prioritize time to be involved in the community. That's one of the things that I’m passionate about.
The program’s flexibility is modeling what business leaders should be for their employees. The program is online so it's convenient. And as a busy working mom, I need convenience so that I can learn at my own pace, on my own schedule, and also tend to my career and family needs. My professors are accessible. I’m able to email them and they respond within 24 hours. They hold office hours at scheduled times, so you can pop in or pop out as needed.”
What have you found challenging in the program? How have you addressed those challenges?
“My Business Analytics class was really tough because I don't have as much experience in the quantitative side of things. I don't just want to take the quizzes and submit work and get a grade. I really want to understand how it works. My section leader met with me one-on-one on Zoom, on a weekend. He took the time to go through practice problems and create additional practice problems. I found that very helpful because, as business leaders, we need to know a little of everything: how accounting works, how business analytics work, how operations work, even if eventually we're going to delegate that task or hire someone who's the expert at doing it right.
Other professors, especially in my Global Managerial Economics class, did that, as well. My Marketing professor was really good about looking at current marketing strategies and, because I’m in marketing and communications, helping me to apply them to my current job, so that I can show my CEO, ‘Here's what I’m learning, how it's helping me in my current role, and ultimately helping our organization.’”
Speaking of that, how do you see the Online MBA program affecting your career?
“I joined Hampton Roads Community Foundation in April of 2019 as the director for multimedia communications. The Vice President for Communications was my boss. We worked closely together, but she retired right as the pandemic hit, around April 2020.
I started the MBA program in 2020. When she retired and the position became open, I was in the MBA program and that made me a strong candidate for her job.
I was told that, because I was earning my MBA and learning skills that a Vice President would need to be able to work effectively across the organization, that boded well for me. Ultimately, I got promoted to Vice President for Communications. Along with the title, the scope of the department expanded, so my title is Vice President for Communications and Marketing.
Because of the program, I’ve been able to implement lessons that have helped me personally and helped my organization.”
Such as … ?
“One of the things I’ve learned from the Online MBA program is that leaders need to have cross-functional skills. Typically, in my department for communications and marketing, I’ve done my work in silo. I might develop an advertising campaign, but what I’m learning in the program is that marketing, for example, is a critical part of business strategy, so it's not enough that I’m developing ads or even social media content with just my department. I need to reach across all departments to find out what they’re hearing and experiencing with customers about their goals, and the metrics that they're using within departments, and how we can collaborate to make sure we're putting out the best marketing, because it is connected to our business strategy.
The stories of philanthropy that I share help to inspire donors and prospective donors to give to the community foundation by setting up a charitable fund. That fund is going to grow over time and the money will be distributed to nonprofits in the community. So, as the VP for Communications and Marketing, I need to be talking to our VP for Development, who's engaging directly with prospective donors. I also need to be able to talk with our VP for Grant-Making, who’s working directly with nonprofits, so that I can understand the needs of our nonprofits and donors, their goals and aspirations, how they’re giving back, and how can we meet in the middle, to make sure that everybody's needs are met.
I’ve started setting up quarterly meetings with each Vice President for each of the core functional areas. When we meet, we're collaborating, not only on marketing, but on our strategic direction: Where do we see the community foundation going, what are the trends in giving, what are the needs of nonprofits and how are we meeting the needs of our community? That's all a collaborative conversation now that happens regularly, instead of in a piecemeal way … and that's one of the things I learned from the Online MBA program.”
Congratulations on being named one of the Virginia Pilot’s “Top Forty Under 40.” As that honor suggests, you’ve accomplished a great deal at a young age. How has that been possible?
“I was pleasantly surprised to be selected because there are so many other people doing great things. The award is for young executives who are involved in the community, and I do believe in volunteering and giving back.
My ability to earn an MBA and to be successful is due to a network of support, and I believe this is really important for women, especially, who are often doing a lot.
When I wanted to go back to school, I had a conversation with my husband and said, ‘If I go back to school, there’s going to be a shift in the household.’ He said, ‘Go for it. You’ve got it.’
I’m so thankful to have his support. When I need to stay up late to finish an assignment, or when I do a lot of homework on weekends, and on a lot of mornings when I’m just tucked away, doing schoolwork, I have a very supportive husband who gets it. He does not mind picking up slack around the house. I’ve got my husband's full support and it makes a difference.
My kids think it's so cool that Mommy's back in school. Throughout the pandemic, when we've had to do virtual school from home, we've all been at the dining room table on a Chromebook. We’re all doing schoolwork or work together, and I think it helps reinforce to my kids that learning never stops. If you want to grow more as a person, and then in your job and career, you’ve got to keep learning. I think it's modeling for them, being an example that you never stop learning and you always keep growing.
They're always super proud of Mommy, and they let me know. My oldest has his own room, and he says, ‘Mommy, do you want to use my desk? Come in my room. You can use my desk.’ My kids will make me coffee. And I'll stay up late to get some work done while they go to bed, but they cheer me on.
What advice do you have for professionals considering applying to graduate school?
“I encourage people to write down a career plan much in the same way you would write a business plan: Write down where you are and where you want to go. In the middle, write what you already have to help you get there, and what it is that you need.
I knew that I needed an advanced degree to go to the next level. Despite having gone through a rigorous undergrad school, despite graduating magna cum laude, I knew I needed an advanced degree, because it speaks volumes about a working professional who's willing to go back to school to learn.
A lot of companies are all about continuous learning, continuous improvement. Businesses have to grow and adapt and evolve, so when an employee does that, I believe it makes that person stand out.
If you're not sure what you need, reach out to a mentor who has helped you in the past. I’m thankful that I have a CEO who I can talk to, and who can give me good advice. I also have other career professional mentors who encouraged me to pursue an MBA.
Do research. I read a lot about William & Mary. I went to the open house. I think those experiences, whether virtual or in-person, are really important because you need to hear from students. I remember someone who was in the military, who had been on a deployment and was still able to complete his MBA. I kept thinking, “If this guy can be on deployment and William & Mary can work with him to help him get his degree, then that's a place that can help me, as a mom of three, earn my degree.” You also hear from professors: “We're still accessible, you can still reach me, we can meet up on Zoom.” Do that research.
If you're set on getting a degree but you're not sure exactly which one or whether to take classes online or in person, I always believe in writing down a list of pros and cons.
At one point. I thought about a flex MBA program, to be able to have some on-campus interaction. I thought I needed to see the professor write on the whiteboard. So I wrote down the pros and cons of flexibility: being able to work at a time that's convenient for me, being able to go on my own schedule and pace was important, and that outweighed the hesitation I had around not being physically in class with professors. If I wanted or needed to, I could still go to campus and use the amenities there. For me, all of the pros outweigh any hesitations that I had, so I enrolled and it has been a good journey.”
Choose the Online MBA program that ensures your impact and success.
Prepare for a revolutionary future as an innovative business leader. In the William & Mary Online MBA program, you’ll experience a powerful curriculum led by expert faculty—with the convenience of studying on your schedule and at your own pace. In the Raymond A. Mason School of Business, you’ll gain the skills to maximize your earning potential and make a lasting impact on your community and the business world. Start moving your career ahead. Speak with one of our Admissions Advisors today.