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UMGC Alumni AssociationTiana S. Clark ‘04: Living Audaciously

When Tiana S. Clark ’04 was just 11, she lost her mom. Even at this young age, she knew she had a choice to make. She could give up and surrender to her circumstances, or she could put her trust in God and survive. She chose the latter.

“I went on to thrive, empowering myself and others,” she explains. Two years later, Clark was valedictorian of her eighth-grade class and continued to be an honors student throughout high school.

Composed under pressure

This mental fortitude and resilience would become her trademark, propelling her to succeed in everything she set her mind to doing.

After high school, she knew her family didn’t have the financial means for tuition to a traditional four-year college. CIark had aunts and uncles who had served in the military, and she was intrigued. Although some people laughed at her and called her “too girly,” she decided to follow that same path and enlisted with the U.S. Air Force Intelligence squadron when she was 19. 

She served in an intelligence analyst role, training pilots to detect and evade enemy systems and leading the target war strategy in Kuwait, which included a digital map transformation. She has also flown in a fighter jet. 

“I was lauded at war time for being calm under pressure,” Clark adds.

She was also recognized for her grit when she was stationed in the United Kingdom. During this time, she was named Airman of the Year, earning this top honor from a pool of 2,000 candidates, and earning the prestige to co-pilot a fighter jet training flight.

Charging into civilian life

Although she enjoyed her military career, Clark knew education mattered for her future. While she was deployed, she decided to continue earning her college degree online through UMGC so she could prepare herself to succeed after she separated from the military. 

When she reentered civilian life in 2005, she briefly worked for a defense contractor before turning her passions to education. 

She taught at an inner-city middle school in San Antonio at a time when many of her friends decided to teach in affluent areas.

“I wanted to make an impact where I was needed most,” she explains.

She was passionate about helping the kids who were struggling the most to find their inner strength and believe in themselves.

“I empowered a boy who teachers said couldn’t read—and who had flunked the 8th grade twice—to stand in greatness, revealing he not only could read, but was the smartest kid in the class,” she recalls. 

She later transitioned into the corporate world, winning over a vice president at Valero Energy Corporation to secure the job over another top candidate—and redefining what her role at the company should be. 

“I created the position of business analyst to effectively drive the adoption of IT projects,” she explains. “As global change manager, I led change management for the acquisition of Chevron in Wales, UK.”

Empowering others

Clark has always been drawn to mentoring. When Susan Taylor, editor-in-chief emeritus of Essence magazine, requested that Clark launch the San Antonio chapter of Taylor's National CARES Mentoring Movement (NCMM), she jumped at the opportunity. 

“This organization is dedicated to recruiting and connecting mentors with local mentoring organizations to help guide struggling Black children to achieve academic and social success,” she says. 

Her NCMM chapter received an award from Big Brothers Big Sisters of South Texas for recruiting hundreds of mentors for this organization. 

In 2018, Clark launched another community-minded venture. She led a hand-picked team of dozens of people to create the Hollywood-award-winning web series, Soci Circle. This series was designed to empower tween girls to grow into confident, empathetic, inclusive and resilient future leaders.  

“Soci Circle is an amalgamation of so many key points along my life's journey,” notes Clark. I lost my mother as a tween and know all too well the internalization of emotions that can be damaging to mental health and the critical need for resilience at that age.” 

And as a mother of four children—including three daughters—she wants to see better ethnic representation in the media along with fun and positive educational programming.

Giving back to her alma mater

In the year ahead, Clark will turn her attention to UMGC when she serves on the Alumni Advisory Board, lending her considerable talents to support, enhance and promote UMGC and its community of students, faculty, staff and alumni around the world. 

“I was humbled to be asked to join the UMGC Alumni Advisory Board because UMGC holds such a special place in my heart,” she explains. “I was determined to complete my degree, which meant taking classes overseas, taking online classes while deployed and transferring outside credits. UMGC became a huge factor in my ability to complete my college degree two months before my honorable discharge.”

In her role on the board, Clark hopes to inspire others who may need to complete their degree in unconventional ways. 

A wide-open future

Not one to grow stagnant, Clark continues to spread her wings and soar. Ten years ago, she applied for a role at Microsoft without a technical degree. She worked her way through the ranks and today is chief of staff, Partner Channel Sales, and is a member of the senior leadership team of Blacks @ Microsoft Chicago.

“I’ve been a top leader and influencer in the company, managing billion-dollar-businesses, and built its first-ever national Services Sales University,” she explains. 

This Spring, she is also launched The Driver's Seat, a program designed to empower women. Clark knew she had a lot to offer up-and-coming professionals thanks to her tenacity and confidence, and she wanted to help others tap into their own talents and abilities so they too could thrive. She is also a speaker and panelist on the subjects of empowerment, career advancement, and diversity, equity and inclusion. 

Her secret to success? Being bold in following her dreams. She hopes her story inspires others to forge their own paths as they pursue their own ambitions.  

“Sometimes the path to get to the destination is different for others, and we all have to do what works best for us, our lives, goals and dreams,” she says. “To anyone who is currently completing their degree, or taking any road less traveled, stay the course. You will meet your destination when you are supposed to, on your time—and on your terms.”

Read more Alumni News.