By Hammer, Ben
Black Issues in Higher Education , Vol. 20, No. 6
Dr. Shahron Williams van Rooij, a marketing executive for technology firm Datatel, recently traveled to Nassau, Bahamas, to scuba dive and take slide photography of the colorful underwater marine life -- one of her favorite hobbies.
Van Rooij thrives in uncommon surroundings. She earned her master's in international politics in Beirut, then returned to the City University of New York (CUNY) for her doctorate in quantitative techniques. She pursued an uncommon path after earning her degree, using her quantitative research skills to land marketing positions with the help of several headhunters.
Today, she occupies a spacious office at Datatel's corporate headquarters and oversees a team of managers and a half-a-million dollar budget. Van Rooij has advanced in a field once the exclusive domain of White men -- and her story offers important lessons for graduate students considering what to do with their degree.
"A career decision is not a single decision," she advises doctoral candidates. "So if you decide today that you want to be a professor at a university, and that is the track you want to pursue, that doesn't mean if you evolve into something else that you have betrayed academia."
While pursuing her doctorate in the social sciences, van Rooij taught at Queens College in New York. Even before a city budget crisis sharply reduced the number of tenure-track positions open to her, she began to consider whether academia was where she wanted to be.
"I would read articles or hear professors talk about their work and the question that always popped into my mind was, `Who knows about this or even cares about this besides other professors in the discipline,'" she says. "Because it's nice to write about things and publish it, but if only four other people are going to read it, then so what."
Van Rooij says she liked the teaching aspect of her work, but found the university to be focused more on research.
"When learners learn and come back and say, `I was able to take what I learned in this class and do X, Y and Z,' I found that very rewarding," she says. "You just can't do that at the university because the university is structured upon research, teaching second, community service third."
So when she saw a newspaper ad looking for a non-MBA with strong academic credentials she responded and secured a market research job with Gray Advertising, a top agency.
"What it made me realize is that doctoral students have a choice," she says of the unexpected turn of events. "Private industry and even nonprofit organizations and foundations are aware of the value of the doctorate beyond just the value of teaching academics."
After a stint at another advertising firm, van Rooij moved to the Roseland, N.J.-based business services provider Automatic Data Processing Inc. (ADP) as a market research director helping the firm reorient its strategy to an accounting industry being transformed by the personal computer.
She married a Dutchman and from 1985 to 1991 worked for Dow Jones Telerate in the Benelux (Belgium, The Netherlands and Luxembourg form the Benelux countries) where she led the company's marketing for the opening of new offices in Amsterdam, Brussels and Luxembourg. New York-based Telerate is a leading provider of real-time and historical financial data to Wall Street traders, delivered through a deep, proprietary technology infrastructure.
She founded and ran her own marketing firm in the Netherlands for five years before joining Datatel at their Fairfax, Va., headquarters, where she is now director of product marketing. The company builds software that supports the business functions of 600 colleges and universities, including eight historically Black institutions.
MAKING THE SHIFT
Van Rooij says the initial shift from the ivory tower to the boardroom was a "startling" one.
"An academic is very much a lone ranger if you will. They're used to working in isolation," she says. …