Each day, University of New Orleans graduates play a critical role in maintaining and advancing the area’s economy. Whether they attended UNO during their undergraduate years, for an advanced degree, or both, their impact can be seen in all of New Orleans’ major economic sectors. Many of these graduates are now in leadership roles in their respective industries and are continuing to look to UNO to fill positions, since they know first-hand that graduates will be productive, determined and ready to work on day one.
Here are six stories of New Orleans business leaders who used their UNO education as a major step in their professional development and personal growth.
Executive Vice President, Chief Risk and Human Resources Officer, Ochsner Health
Schiro has had two UNO educational experiences. She earned her bachelor’s degree in management with a concentration in human resources, then later returned to school for the Executive Master’s of Business Administration program.
In both cases, Schiro was impressed with the real-world experiences her professors brought into the classroom. That helped her see how her education would translate into the workforce and particularly, human resources.
“Many of the professors had worked outside of academics, so they would often talk about how something in our lessons applied to the industry and share case studies and examples,” Schiro said. “That also made them very approachable, because we could discuss real-world situations instead of only what was in the textbook.”
Today at Oschner Health, Schiro works alongside many other UNO graduates, including leaders in the health system’s finance, marketing and accounting departments. To help continue that pipeline, Schiro encourages current UNO students to participate in campus activities and take advantage of career development opportunities.
“They have a wonderful career center and can help students get internships in their industry,” she said. “They also offer coaching about business etiquette, resume writing and more. So many alumni are willing to come back and offer that expertise. I think it’s important for students to take advantage of those resources on campus that will help them prepare for their careers outside of UNO.”
Phillip R. May
President and CEO, Entergy Louisiana
Phillip May was already in the workforce when he enrolled in UNO’s Master of Business Administration program. May had a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering, but realized he would need an MBA if he wanted to further his career.
It was a busy time for May. He balanced his night classes at UNO with a full-time job, a family and a house that was under renovation.
“It taught me to carefully manage my time and work hard,” he said. “The thing was that my story was not unique. Many of my peers were in similar situations, yet we all had the perseverance to overcome those obstacles. That was a great part of the experience.”
The experience also taught May how to work more closely with people from different backgrounds. His classmates came from diverse industries, with jobs such as lawyers, accountants, health care professionals, manufacturing professionals and more.
“I think it provided a great cross-section of insights that I didn’t have before,” May said. “My experience was enriched because of their outlooks. That made me appreciate the value of teams and working together and taking everyone’s input into consideration.”
May believes current UNO students and recent graduates share many common traits, including tenacity, a strong work ethic and problem-solving skills.
“If you are a UNO student, you are there with a real purpose and a desire to improve your career opportunities,” he said. “UNO is an ideal place to allow you to fulfill that potential.”
Morning news anchor, WWL-TV; Author, “Off Air: My Journey to the Anchor Desk”
UNO holds a special place in Sheba Turk’s heart. The New Orleans native admits she “overlooked” the university when she was considering colleges for her undergraduate degree. She ended up at New York University, but dropped out after a little more than a year to return home.
“I decided to go to UNO and realized I should have gone there in the first place,” she said. “It was the perfect place to get my degree.”
Turk majored in English, where she developed strong relationships with many of her professors, all of whom were supportive. In fact, when she couldn’t afford the textbook for a class about life in a newsroom, she approached the professor about her predicament. The two bonded, and that connection ultimately led Turk into a successful career in broadcast journalism.
“When I ended up at UNO, I never thought I would discover this career field,” Turk said. “I would tell the students now that you are surrounded by great professors who care about you and have so much knowledge about their industries. I would encourage them to connect with those professors because you never know where it will lead you.”
Senior Vice President, Commercial Banking Department, Hancock Whitney
When Brandon Nelson was ready to move his finance career to the next level, he enrolled in UNO’s Master of Business Administration program. The choice was driven by several factors. Nelson knew other UNO graduates and had seen how their education had positively impacted their careers. He also had heard how a UNO education would provide both theoretical knowledge and case studies from the real world.
“I think UNO does a great job of providing an affordable education without someone having to worry about student loans for the next two decades,” Nelson said. “The MBA program was a great mixture for me. It provided a foundation in financial analysis, organizational behavior, marketing and more. I felt like it gave me the education I needed to be a good manager.”
In addition, Nelson appreciated that his professors and fellow students embraced his own real-world experience and encouraged him to share stories and examples in classes.
“I was about six years into my career at that point, and the professors were not threatened by that at all,” he said. “They appreciated that I could add practical knowledge and speak to the application of the theory being taught. It was enjoyable to have my input embraced.”
Nelson said that kind of open-minded attitude permeates throughout the UNO campus and helps students learn skills that they can then translate into their careers, such as communication and inquisitiveness.
“No matter where you are in your career or your education, I think it’s important to show that desire to learn,” he said. “Self-improvement does not end upon graduation. It can and should be a lifelong journey.”
CEO of Flame Consulting, CFO of Stokes & Associates, Founder of Ellevate Louisiana, Co-Founder of the Cancer Advocacy Group of Louisiana, Former Louisiana Legislator
When Julie Stokes thinks back to her time at UNO, what stands out the most are the relationships she developed with other students, particularly in her sorority. The Jefferson Parish native was able to use that opportunity to learn about communicating, building relationships, expanding her worldview and lead others, all of which informed her future professional life.
“I was lucky enough to be able to run for offices, and those were some of the first real leadership positions I took,” Stokes said. “It really sowed that seed in me of leading others and working as a part of a team.”
As an undergraduate, Stokes majored in accounting, which has long been considered one of UNO’s top programs.
“I’d put it up against any accounting department in the country,” Stokes said. “They also have a very close relationship with large accounting firms and a very robust recruiting system.”
Combined with UNO’s other strong academic programs, Stokes said she considers the university to be “the public educational heart” of New Orleans.
“I think UNO is absolutely essential to the greater New Orleans area,” she said. “It is serving students in this urban setting and I think that is absolutely critical to our city and our economy.”
Managing Partner, New Orleans | Assurance, Ernst & Young LLP (EY)
Brian Rotolo can trace his current career success to the education he received as an undergraduate at UNO. Those lessons in the fundamentals of accounting and business became the bedrock for his professional career.
“It’s a foundation that has served me well,” Rotolo said. “I have spent 30-plus years in public accounting. I think the high-quality education I received at UNO absolutely prepared me for that.”
These days, Rotolo and his colleagues at EY are working to recruit the next generation of financial talent. Rotolo said the firm regularly recruits from the university.
“UNO has a great reputation for preparing its students to take and pass the CPA exam, and that is a pretty important milestone in any accountant’s career,” he said. “I attribute much of that to the faculty in the business and accounting departments. The professors and instructors have always had diverse backgrounds filled with wide-ranging experiences.”
With UNO’s strong academic reputation in other departments as well, Rotolo said he sees the university as a major economic engine in the New Orleans area. In particular, it provides locals a chance to gain a solid educational foundation and work experience that many then parlay into careers with local companies.
“Many UNO students and graduates do tend to be from this area and they want to pursue their careers here,” Rotolo said. “I see UNO as crucial to the economic development of our region. I think the depth and breadth of the various colleges at UNO are impressive and they provide opportunities for everyone.”
Those opportunities also include the chance to become involved in extracurricular activities. For Rotolo, that was intramural sports, which was a fun activity that also taught him lifelong lessons about balancing work and school with personal interests.
“Some of those priorities have changed. Instead of playing sports, it became about my family and children and spouse,” Rotolo said. “But those skills I learned at UNO are still well used today. It’s so important to balance life and work and family while focusing on your well-being. That is one thing our firm really does focus on, and I feel like I developed those skills at UNO.”