Vera Richa ’06: Working for Diversity and Inclusion

16-1_RPS_VeraRicha Q: Thanks for talking with us today, Vera! You’re working as a Diversity and Inclusion Analyst, which sounds fascinating, and you graduated from RPS almost ten years ago now… could you tell us a little about your journey?

A: I don’t feel like it’s been 10 years… I’m still trying to wrap my head around that! I have been back to campus a few times recently. My brothers Tony Richa ‘07 and Georges Richa ’10 graduated a few years after me, so that helped me stay in touch. And now I have a cousin, Jamie Chedid ‘17, who’s a junior there.

Ten years later, I still really miss Rutgers Prep. I started there as a sophomore after having been a student at a school that was focused on the health field. I knew that I wanted to consider a wider range of possibilities and be exposed to a diverse student body, and so I came to Rutgers Prep. The school is on a mission to make sure that it reflects the full range of human diversity in as many ways as possible, and I never once felt like that I didn’t fit in or belong. No matter what I cared about, I knew that Rutgers Prep would support me in that.

For me, the diversity of Rutgers University was a big part of the draw to attend there. Once I arrived, I knew that I wanted to challenge myself, and I guess RPS set me up for that, too… at Rutgers Prep I’d been surrounded by smart people who really valued education, so I knew that I wanted to keep those values. When I started college, I had a goal of being “successful,” but I wasn’t really clear about what that meant for me. I was interested in marketing because it dealt with the psychology of the consumer, which I think actually started with my favorite class at Rutgers Prep – psychology! Ultimately, I chose to pursue a degree in Finance in order to challenge myself and learn more about the financial industry.

Immediately after graduating from Rutgers University, I worked at Goldman Sachs for almost two years, specifically focusing on foreign exchange deals, where I did well, but ultimately felt like it wasn’t really me.

When a family friend, who ran a small consulting firm, needed help with recruitment and marketing, I tried my hand at that, which was interesting, but not entirely challenging enough for me. I enjoyed the work, but I realized I missed the structure of a large firm, particularly an investment bank.

Meanwhile, my twin (Eva Richa ‘06) was in a rotational program at Barclays that offered more structure and some interesting opportunities, so I then came back into the corporate environment, still seeking my ideal fit. For almost three years, I worked in change management supporting finance. I led projects that enhanced reports and systems used by all finance teams at Barclays. While the team and stakeholders I worked with were great, I found little fulfillment in the content of the work.  I ultimately decided that my next move was going to need to be more in the arena of people-skills, towards an area where I could really feel like I was making a difference.

Thankfully, Barclays encourages internal mobility and with the support of my manager, I was able to transition into a role in Human Resources. Since June 1, I have assumed the role of Diversity & Inclusion analyst supporting the global firm. I spend my time thinking about how to support employee network groups in their work, and working to help make sure everyone can be their full selves at work. I still get to use the mathematical and analytical skills I developed in my previous work, which I realize now that I love to do. I help make sure that our Diversity Dashboard is reflective of our current reality, and that we’re on target to meet our goals with regards to recruitment, retention and development of women, particularly in senior roles.

Some of my work includes connecting new military veteran hires with senior military veteran employees already at the firm in a mentoring program, revitalizing a campaign to show folks how they can be allies to the LGBTQ community, and this year we’re also rolling out our “He-for-She” campaign to align with the UN’s campaign.

What draws me most to this role is being able to feel that I’m helping people move towards a work environment in which they can truly be themselves.

Q: That sounds so great; it’s wonderful to see people find work that really aligns with their values. Do you have any advice you’d like to share with current Argonauts?

Trust your instincts. Advice only goes so far… no one else truly knows your heart and your dreams. Don’t worry too much about other people’s expectations or about making money; if you do something you really love, you’ll excel at it, and the money will follow. Know who you are and you’ll be successful on your terms! And if you don’t know what your dreams are yet, that’s totally fine… just expose yourself to as many possible career paths as you can, and you’ll figure it out. If it takes you a little longer, so be it; we are all on our own timelines. And finally? Don’t sweat the small stuff!

Vote Smart Names Jamieson Bates ‘08 Director

Vote Smart’s mission is to provide free, factual, unbiased information on candidates and elected officials to ALL Americans, and they have recently named Rutgers Prep graduate Jamieson Bates ‘08 their director. We spent a few minutes with Jamieson recently talking about his work and his journey since graduating from Rutgers Prep.

Q: Jamieson, thanks so much for taking some time out of your day to talk with us; it must be a very busy time for you there! Can you tell us a little bit about your life after Rutgers Prep?

A: I graduated from Clemson, where I tried to cast a really wide net and not limit myself. When I visited the school I really liked it, and I decided to make happiness my priority.

Q: Do they let you major in happiness now?

A: (Laughing) Well, I majored in financial management; most of my peers ended up working for Bank of America, or doing some kind of financial analyst work or other work in the financial services industry. I was and am still interested in that, but it wasn’t something that I wanted to commit my life to.

The summer after I graduated, I cycled across the country with Bike and Build, which I’d found out through a Rutgers Prep classmate, and when I came back home I looked for a job but then decided that I really needed to do some internships, to help get a better sense of where I wanted to head next.

Q: How did that play out?

A: I got a three-month internship in Ireland working for the World Trade Center, and then came to Montana to work as a research intern at Vote Smart, helping to develop profiles on politicians. I started out in the development department, and then I became the research director, and then when our national director decided to leave they asked me to try out the position on an interim basis.

Q: What a wonderful vote of confidence! (No pun intended.) Can you talk a little bit about your current position at Vote Smart and what hopes and dreams you have for the organization going forward?

My focus now is on getting us through the election and trying to improve as we go forward. As states release their candidate lists, the demands for research really start ramping up. It’s challenging and very cool… I definitely feel like I’ve jumped into the deep end.

Our hope is that we’ll have more users and more engaged users. Vote Smart started in 1992, mostly as a hotline; since then, almost everything has migrated to the internet. A key priority for the organization will be improving our “online” offerings, and I will also be focusing on how to accomplish that with our IT department. Additionally, a new initiative has cropped up to promote our data to the “big whigs” (the NY Times or the Economists of the world), and ultimately sell it to them and have them disseminate our data to their users.

This work feels like important work, and it connects with my desire to make a difference in the world.

Q: How might we have been able to predict this story? Are there aspects of your Rutgers Prep experience, either curricular or otherwise, helped prepare you for college and the work you’re doing now?

A: For me, it mostly has to do with the change in environment between where I would have gone to school and the feeling of Rutgers Prep. Studying at Rutgers Prep helped build my confidence, and gave me some space to become who I was becoming.

Dr. Loy’s senior writing class was a big jumping off point for me in terms of writing and also in terms of style, critical thinking, and thinking about how we can all communicate better.

Q: If you could go back in time and offer some words of encouragement or advice to your younger self or to current members of the Rutgers Prep community, what might you say?

A: Be yourself and go for it! This can be hard to take to heart, but the older I get, the more I think that trusting yourself and not worrying too much about the consequences is really key.

(To learn more about Vote Smart’s work, check out this introductory video.)

Singing for Pope Francis

(One of the great things about the Rutgers Prep community is how long-lasting the ties that bind us are. Our alumni/ae return to visit with us on a regular basis, and when they can’t visit in person, they send us updates through our Facebook or Twitter accounts. This recent report from Daveda Browne ’06 is a wonderful glimpse into the way in which a passion-driven life can lead one to some unexpected places…) 15-10_RPS_Singing_for_Pope_Francis
How did your experiences at Rutgers Prep prepare you for your subsequent academic and vocal experiences?

Past experiences play a very important part in one’s present and future. My experiences at Rutgers Prep were crucial in laying my foundation academically and vocally to take my next steps in life at Lehigh University. My involvement in Women’s choir and the Women’s Chamber ensemble at Rutgers Prep enhanced my interest in classical music and vocal pedagogy, to the extent where my focus became improving my vocal skills and perfecting my craft. It was in the last semester of my senior at Rutgers Prep that I began to take private voice lessons with Susan Fanale. In addition, my experiences at Rutgers Prep prepared me to be a confident decision maker and a determined and diligent individual, all of which have helped me realize great opportunities. I went on to Lehigh University to acquire dual degrees in both Music (with a voice concentration) and Biochemistry.

What advice about following your passions would you give to current Rutgers Prep students?

Following your passions can be difficult at times, but I would tell current Rutgers Prep students – as I tell everyone – “Never give up!”

It’s your passion for a reason. This is something you love doing, so you will always be motivated to strive for more. Whether it becomes your career or just a very involved hobby, it is a necessary part of life, so again I say “Never give up!” Find your niche.

How did your time at Lehigh prepare you for what came after?

My time at Lehigh University encouraged me to hone in on and improve my skills as a vocalist and musician, and also as a scientist; it created an environment for me to learn more about myself and set the goals I wanted to achieve in life. There, I studied both my crafts more in depth. An important of my journey through my undergraduate career was taking risks and being open to discovery, this mindset helped see perspectives I may not have seen otherwise, and ultimately allowed me to know more concretely and confidently my aim in life.

How did you get to sing for the Pope and what was it like?!

My opportunity to sing for the Pope was one that came by surprise. The opportunity to audition for the United Nation Singers came my way in early July of this year. I went in for my audition and was immediately invited to join the group for two concert tours this summer. The first was a tour to Japan at the end of July for 10 days in commemoration of the atomic bombings 70 years ago and the second took us to China at the end of August for 15 days to commemorate 70 years since the end of WWII. The papal visit to the UN was the next important event that the UN singers were chosen to participate in. Only 20 of our 35+ members were welcomed to sing for the Pope, so there was an internal audition to choose the 20 singers that will sing for his Holiness and I was one of the members chosen. I am very grateful to have had this once in a lifetime opportunity, it was truly unforgettable.