Rakiya Cunningham applied to The University of Texas at Austin with her eyes set on making her mark in the business world. When she learned that she had been accepted, she was ecstatic. She knew that UT was the place she wanted to be.
Once on campus, she created leadership opportunities for herself in the business community as a black woman.
“You can find yourself the only African American in a lot of your classes, and it can be challenging just because you start to doubt yourself,” she said. “Now, when I'm the only person, I see it as power and I see it as an opportunity to teach others.”
Cunningham has spent her four years building community and fostering understanding across campus.
She was the president of the Black Business Student Association, a member of the Gateway Mentor Program and the treasurer of Delta Xi Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority. She also worked closely with the Office of Student Life in the McCombs School of Business as a mentor to other students of color.
After graduating this spring with a degree in finance from the McCombs School, Cunningham is moving to Houston to work for Shell Oil Company as a financial analyst. She also wants to continue working with minority populations in finance.
We spoke with Cunningham about the impact of college on her life and her plans after graduation.
Q. Why did you decide to come to UT?
Rakiya Cunningham: The summer before my senior year in high school, I attended a camp in the McCombs School of Business called DYNAMC (Discover Yourself in Accounting Majors and Careers).
After attending the camp for a week, I knew that UT is where I belonged.
Q. What excited you most about college?
Cunningham: I was most excited to experience something new. I lived in the same house my entire life and went to school with the same people. College was an opportunity to branch out, see more of the world and the opportunities out there.
Q. What was your major? Why did you choose it?
Cunningham: I chose finance because I like evaluating numbers and critically thinking. Finance allows me to come up with business solutions and decisions from data and general principles.
Q. What were some challenges that helped you become who you are now? What did you learn from them?
Cunningham: Being a person of color, you are subject to many biases. Though this has been a challenge for me, it has helped me build confidence, resilience and empathy that makes me the person I am today.
I learned you cannot be stifled by others’ perceptions of you. You must move forward and work towards educating others and breaking barriers.
Q. What is your favorite college memory?
Cunningham: My favorite memory of college is exploring the world with my friends. We started out studying calculus together and ended up studying abroad together in Beijing. Then we went traveling the world.
Q. What’s the difference between you before you got to UT and you now?
Cunningham: Before I came to UT, I really didn’t know what I could do in life. Now that I am leaving, I know exactly what kind of leader, citizen and person I want to be in this world.
Q. What do you hope will be your mark on the world after graduation?
Cunningham: After graduation, I hope to use my knowledge in finance and business to increase financial literacy in low-income communities. I also hope to work towards becoming a business leader while also creating more opportunities for people of color. Ultimately, I do not want my degree and knowledge to stop at me, but to be a catalyst of opportunity to others.
Q. What else would you like people to know about your story?
Cunningham: Education is truly a privilege, a privilege my parents spent their lives trying to provide for me. My parents have done everything they can to make sure I can experience things they couldn’t even imagine. I hope to be an example to many of my other family members and to other people of color who think higher education is unattainable.
My story is not just my story, but a story for so many more people.