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Risk and Analytics Student Overcomes Obstacles, Chases Dreams

By Samantha Beavers

In August 2014, Master of Management, Risk and Analytics (MRA) grad student and North Carolina native Amanda Blackmon snapped a photo of her daughter before sending her off to kindergarten. Like most moms, she had all sorts of questions in the back of her mind. How would she adjust? What would her teachers be like? Except in her case, her daughter wasn’t the only one heading to school. That fall, Blackmon started her undergraduate studies at William Peace University in Raleigh, N.C.

“At the time, I was a divorced, single mother struggling to make ends meet and dealing with severe depression. It was one of the lowest points of my life. But rather than letting the challenges of life define me and giving up, I decided it was time to make some positive changes,” Blackmon says.

Thirty-three years old and a first-generation college student, she dove in headfirst – taking on a full-time courseload while simultaneously working full-time as an HR specialist for NC State’s College of Education. Four years later, she graduated with her bachelor’s degree in business administration, leadership and management.

“I wanted to show my daughter that no matter what life throws at you, you’re responsible for managing those challenges – and that it isn’t about how many times you get knocked down, but how many times you pick yourself back up. I am hopeful that I have shown my daughter that she can do anything she sets her mind to and that it’s never too late to make a change,” she continues.

Another factor playing into her decision to start college? Her longtime career in higher education administration at NC State. 

Her first foray into higher education was at 19 years old as a processing assistant with NC State’s department of animal science in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS). Since then, she has held positions in several of the university’s colleges – including CALS, the College of Veterinary Medicine, the College of Humanities and Social Sciences (CHASS) and the College of Education.

“This experience developed in me a genuine appreciation and understanding of the importance of higher education – and also helped me recognize the joy of growth and personal development. That ultimately gave me the desire to become a lifelong learner, which led me to complete my bachelor’s degree at thirty-seven and start my graduate studies at forty-three,” Blackmon says. 

Throughout her career at NC State, Blackmon has provided expertise in finance and human resources administration, offering recommendations to management regarding business and resource needs while also managing financial and compliance risks. Additionally, she has served in leadership roles for 14 years – leading, inspiring and managing teams.

Along the way, her ability to work with data and identify, access and manage risks organically grew, Blackmon says – as did her curiosity.

“There is an exorbitant amount of data in the HR space that could be used to help shape decisions, influence culture and solve problems. The challenge, as you can imagine, is what we refer to as data deluge – the situation where the sheer volume of new data being generated is overwhelming the capacity of institutions to manage it and make use of it,” she explains. “I believe this is a huge challenge in the higher ed space in particular, and I am hopeful that organizations will learn to navigate their way out of the deluge.”

That curiosity ultimately brought her to the MRA program at Poole College of Management – her fifth college, if you’re counting.

“While researching different degree programs in data analytics, I found the MRA program at Poole College. After reading about it, I knew immediately that this was the program for me. I also remembered Ericka Kranitz from her time in internal audit at NC State, and when I saw that she was the program director, it simply solidified that I was making the right decision,” Blackmon says.

Looking ahead, Blackmon hopes to use her expertise in risk and data to shape leadership decisions and influence culture at the college, university and system office levels for the remainder of her career at NC State. Specifically, the idea of applying classroom content to her current role as HR systems data and reporting analyst for NC State’s University Budget Office excites her.

“In my current role, I extract, analyze and report data from within our HR system in conjunction with data from our financial systems – which helps shape leadership decisions at both the university and system office levels. Knowing that my support to campus partners, management and external agencies may positively impact our campus provides a great sense of job satisfaction, and I’m confident that this program will help me add even more value,” she explains.

Further down the road, Blackmon dreams of becoming a business operations consultant – assisting organizations in simplifying and streamlining their operations, elevating their customer and employee experiences and helping them discern the difference between risks they should mitigate and risks they should take.

“I’m confident that the knowledge and expertise I have developed during my career at NC State, coupled with the innovative coursework and real-world applications within this graduate program, will provide me with the insights, tools and credentials needed to succeed in this role,” she says. 

And for the time being, she’s already living a lifelong dream of hers.

“I’ve always dreamed of being an NC State student. Our family loves NC State – we’re football season ticket holders and both my mom and aunt retired from the university,” she says. “And in addition to being huge NC State fans, we’re also Caniacs. My dad is a long-time season ticket holder so we get to go to several games a year. If you’re a regular at the Canes games and have seen ‘Santa’ on the jumbotron, that’s my dad. He looks like a real-life Santa, long white beard and all.”