Tiffany Shumate '08 is senior director of university partnerships at AI4ALL, an organization committed to increasing diversity in artificial intelligence. Prior to AI4ALL, Tiffany served as the assistant director of admissions and multicultural recruitment at Bryn Mawr.
Tiffany recently took part in the Career & Civic Engagement Office’s Alumnae/i in Residence program (note: this program is being held virtually for the remainder of the spring 2020 semester).
In the below Q&A, Tiffany talks about finding her career passion, the value of attending a women's college, and more.
How did you get involved in your current field?
I graduated from Bryn Mawr interested in social policy and education. As a junior, I won the Truman Scholarship and was offered a one-year fellowship in Washington, D.C., post-graduation. I accepted and worked at a social policy center called CSSP or, Center for the Study of Social Policy. It was 2008. That fall, three major things happened that impacted my world: we elected President Obama, the economy crashed, and I was working in “policy wonk central” in D.C. I had a front row seat to policy design and how it impacted families on the ground. At CSSP, I was responsible for researching state policy initiatives that addressed the disproportionate number of African American and Indigenous children in the child welfare system. That fall, I worked with five young men involved in both the juvenile justice and child welfare systems. They taught me about the responsibility of schools and educators in changing students’ workforce opportunities. Though I didn’t know it then, I was beginning to merge what I had studied in education classes at Bryn Mawr with policy and direct service.
From CSSP, I decided I wanted to understand the influence of education policy on graduation rates for low-income students and those involved in child welfare. I ended up working at the district level for D.C. public schools in the Office of Special Education (OSE) under Michelle Rhee, one of the most controversial education reformers in public education. I worked directly with families and served as an advocate, supporting them in advocating for their children’s education rights as students with special needs. It was a transformative experience; I was watching our nation embrace our first Black President and just 10 minutes down the road from the White House, I was witnessing how children were being systematically excluded from quality education opportunities. While at OSE, I developed strong relationships with community members and teachers, and was soon recruited to serve as a special education teacher in D.C. public schools. I worked with early childhood through middle school students. I ended up back at Bryn Mawr after five years in D.C. because I was curious about college access. As a teacher, we were “preparing students for college,” and I wasn’t convinced we were being successful. I was curious about what made a quality education and how colleges identified promising students. Returning to Bryn Mawr was a surprise—I hadn’t anticipated I’d return as an employee. I learned a lot about myself as a professional and what I ultimately want to contribute to the world. It was in conversations with Bryn Mawr colleagues that I decided I was interested in business. I began to be interested in how organizations design sustainable funding models to support education programming. I had the opportunity to work with Pensby and the Dean’s Office to select two Posse cohorts, I supported summer programming with Tri-Co, and was part of Bryn Mawr’s inaugural Community Day of Learning. I learned good education takes great investment, both in time and finances. I wanted to know how to raise funds to ensure places like Bryn Mawr and social profit learning spaces thrive.
I left Bryn Mawr looking for more professional responsibility in managing budgets and teams. Since my transition to the Silicon Valley, I have held leadership positions in social profit spaces like Black Girls CODE and now AI4ALL. As senior director at AI4ALL, I combine my passion for education, workforce development, and business. I’m responsible for university partnership expansion. I lead a department with a strong team that leads four sub-programs. I’ve grown our partnerships from six to 16 university sites, and have increased our alumni numbers from 250 to around a 1,000. I have worked in technology adjacent fields and see the space as an economic growth opportunity for the most vulnerable communities.
Bryn Mawr taught me to be ambitious and to explore. My career reflects this. I was just accepted to the MBA program at the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley!
What part of your Bryn Mawr experience has been most important to your professional development?
I had incredible relationships with my professors—they saw me as a colleague. Before Bryn Mawr, I had not had the experience of being a student and teacher in a learning environment. I was always the student. But at Bryn Mawr, it was different; I had opportunities to consult with faculty on inclusive classroom design for Prof. Alison Cook-Sather’s Teaching & Learning Institute. I worked with Prof. Jody Cohen as a consultant and ended up co-writing an article with her after I graduated. I had professors like Alice Lesnick, Tracey Hucks, and Barbara Hall at Haverford who introduced me to authors, literature, experiences (I went to Ghana for the first time with Prof. Hucks!) that have impacted both my professional and personal development. These experiences helped me develop the confidence, critical, and data-based thinking skills I needed to launch my career.
I will also say Bryn Mawr nurtured my ambition. When I wanted to do something, I was told to make it happen. It was expected I would make the best decisions and be thoughtful about them. That expectation and support continues to ground me, especially during difficult times in my career. When I have been most unsure in my career, or have felt stuck, I have always been able to rely on my Bryn Mawr network—whether faculty, the career development resume review team, or my closest friends from Sisterhood—to help me through.
What career advice do you have for current Bryn Mawr students?
Use each summer and winter break to build your resume. Take chances and identify externships and apprenticeship opportunities you want to explore. Even if you decide it’s not the right position for you, you have the experience and there are always transferable skills gained in each position.
I also recommend taking at least two data analytics, statistics, and/or economics courses before graduating. It’s important to understand the job market today and what is coming in 10 years. With the rate of technology today, you will most likely have a job that has not yet been created. To prepare for that job market—not just the career, but consider the entire market—I think it’s important to understand analytics and economics, as these will always be valuable skill sets in any market.
What made you choose to attend Bryn Mawr?
I had a college counselor in high school who suggested I look at women’s colleges, in particular Bryn Mawr. I remember her trying to convince me and saying something like she thought I’d appreciate it because it had “powerful women like [me].” I was not convinced; I put Bryn Mawr at the bottom of my visit list that summer and had every intention of completing the tour just to appease my counselor.
I fell in love outside of the Gateway Admissions building on campus. My tour guide was a junior named Zunira (Hey Zunira, hey!) and she embodied Bryn Mawr. She was, and still is, exuberance, boldness, and warmth. She talked about the relationships she’d built and what it was like to live on a campus with ambitious and insightful classmates who cared about the world. At the time, there was an admissions campaign—Proud to Be Bryn Mawr—and there were flags hanging on posts with the phrase. I knew I wanted to be at Bryn Mawr after that visit because I wanted to be in an environment with people who interacted and engaged like Zunira and the other students I met that day. I applied Early Decision that fall and am glad I made the decision.