Everyone thought M.B.A. student Stephanie Ogidan Preston would play basketball in high school. At 6-foot-3-inches, she seemed a likely candidate for college play, too. But, characteristically, Preston, 27, has other plans: After completing her M.B.A., Preston plans to start her own foundation to help improve education in lower income neighborhoods in her hometown of Providence, R.I. She is already on the board of several philanthropic organizations, and there is no doubt in her mind that she can build her own.
Preston began building her own life's path back when she chose to participate in track and field, rather than basketball; she excelled at the shot put and discus. Then, while an undergraduate at Duke University, she studied economics and Spanish, earning B.S. and B.A. degrees. While in Durham, she worked for Duke's Chronicle newspaper, selling advertising to businesses across the country. Despite the university's caveat against working more than 20 hours, she held two other part-time jobs.
After graduating, Preston returned home to Providence and moved into a house next door to her parents. She married and started a year-long manager trainee program at Bank Rhode Island. Accepted into the program without any banking experience, Preston fell in love with the industry: She became the youngest branch manager in the history of the bank. "In Rhode Island, especially in the neighborhood I grew up in, people equate success with moving out of that community. Again, going against the grain, I want to prove that you can be successful and still live here," Preston said.
Preston had set a few goals for herself when she returned to Rhode Island. One was to work in an industry that she had never worked in before; the second was to learn as much as she could from others--to become an "information magnet," as she likes to say; and the third was to give back to her community.
Preston first began to contribute to her community when she was just 15 years old. She taught math to 12- and 13-year-olds at Providence Summerbridge, a Breakthrough Collaborative program that helps middle school students become better prepared for high school. Preston said, "I went to a middle school that was for low-income students, and it completely changed the course of my life. Education is the great equalizer," she said. Preston also helps raise funds for the middle school she attended.
Before starting the Sloan M.B.A. program last fall, Preston left her job at the bank and became a master teacher at Summerbridge. She spent much of her time working with faculty, developing lesson plans, setting goals for faculty training and working to foster a love of teaching and a commitment to student success.
With her time at a premium these days, Preston said she chooses carefully which organizations she wants to work with. "If you have a passion for something you find the time for it," she said. Preston knows her sacrifice to attend Sloan will be worth it, and she is proud she is setting an example for her daughter, who often asks, "Are you going to school again?"
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on March 14, 2007 (download PDF).