I Am Merkle is a series of interviews that showcase the individuals who make Merkle a unique and diverse place to work. This month, learn more about our featured employees, Adraine Upshaw and Ashley Vaughan, who are involved in the Seat at the Table (SATT) program.
Developed by Merkle’s Cheryl Harewood, SATT is a mentorship program with a mission to amplify the voices of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) employees through fostering relationships with executive leadership that help them identify the skills and knowledge necessary for advancement.
Tell us about yourself; where did you grow up where do you live now?
AU: I am a Southern girl and I grew up in Birmingham, AL. I now live in Maryland with my husband and son.
AV: I’ve been in Columbia, MD for almost 30 years. I’m such a fan of Columbia that I recently served on our equivalent of a city council and continue to remain involved in the community.
What drew you to your current career?
AU: I started college as Physical Therapy major. Statistics 201 was a required course, and I really enjoyed the class, so I took the optional Stats 202 the next semester. The professor told me I was in the wrong major, and I would be better off in the math/stats department. I went on to obtain a BS and MS in Statistics!
AV: I applied to Merkle in 2009 because of an article in a Baltimore magazine about the work Merkle was doing in the nonprofit space. 13 years later, I’m enjoying the variety of projects, opportunity to work with a variety of teams at dentsu, and the chance to focus on so many social impact initiatives in my current role.
To date, what has been your biggest learning or teaching moment?
AU: In graduate school, I had to teach Intro to Statistics. They gave instructors pre-made slides and course notes. I didn’t prepare enough for teaching, thinking I could reply on the notes during my lecture. My first week was a devastator. Even though I corrected my behavior the following weeks, some students held that against me the rest of the semester. So, I always remember first impressions are powerful.
AV: One very practical lesson that has stuck with me since my college internship is to read to the bottom of the email. Before you react, before asking a redundant question, and certainly before replying all – read to the bottom of the email to be sure you’ve read all the information provided and avoid embarrassing moments.
What is a moment in your life that defined or shaped who you are today?
AU: My father was one of two black students in his MS mathematics program. In one of his classes, there was a day each week designed for reviewing the quarter-long project, which determined your final grade. The professor would not review the black students’ work, so I asked if he dropped the class. He replied, “No, I didn’t”. While the other students usually left after they received feedback, he stayed for the entire class time and listened to all the students’ questions and the professor's feedback. He received an “A” in the class. He taught me that life is not easy, but you can’t give up. If you keep pressing hard, a break will eventually come.
AV: In college I went on my first international trip to study abroad in Italy for a semester! I’ve always been independent, but this set the stage for many more solo experiences and brought comfort with doing things on my own. It’s important for us to get out of our bubble, navigate new places, and meet new people.
What inspires you about your workplace culture?
AU: A: Merkle leadership truly believes DEI efforts are essential to company success.
B: Merkle is full of talented people. The collaboration across teams to meet and exceed client expectations is astonishing.
C: Merkle has a flexible work environment.
AV: I know that I am surrounded by smart, capable, and proactive people. I’ve been here for 13 years, so I’ve seen many employees return as boomerangs. We’re constantly changing, but with that also means we’re growing and evolving.
What is your biggest takeaway from your involvement with SATT?
AU: There is not one path to success. There is not one timeline to success. There is not one version or definition of success.
AV: Anti-racist work is critical for our employees, and we must maintain a spotlight on it. We need to intentionally promote equity, education, and allyship. One of the best ways to accomplish this is through creating relationships and listening to our black, indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) community. SATT creates a space for executives to focus on those goals and work one-on-one with their BIPOC mentees over the course of a year. The SATT program has made a difference in the lives of our participants. My hope is that our executive mentors find ways to implement anti-racist work into every level of our organization.
If you currently weren’t doing what you do today professionally, what would you be doing?
AU: Hosting a food/travel show.
AV: Dream job? I would just have passive income. Then I would spend my days visiting friends and family, volunteering at various organizations, and trying out new hobbies. Essentially, I’m ready for retirement.
What was the first concert you went to?
AU: New Edition featuring Whodini & The Fat Boys
AV: Backstreet Boys in 1998. I’ve seen WAY more concerts since then, as I worked at Merriweather Post Pavilion for five years, Columbia’s outdoor concert venue.
- Favorite food – Shrimp and oysters (cooked)
- Favorite TV show/movie – What's Love Got to Do with It
- Favorite hobby/activity - Watching movies
- Favorite book - The Complete Collected Poems of Maya Angelou (1994)
- Guilty pleasure – Pepperidge Farm Verona Strawberry Cookies
- Best advice or mantra you live by – "There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure." – Colin Powell
- Favorite food – Carbs - I'm terrible at picking favorites!
- Favorite TV show/movie – Sons of Anarchy
- Favorite hobby/activity - Playing games – Dungeons & Dragons, Settlers of Catan, Ticket to Ride, Bang, etc.
- Favorite book - Trevor Noah's Born a Crime – but on audiobook!
- Guilty pleasure – Sleeping, a LOT
- Best advice or mantra you live by – Don't be upset with the results you didn't get with the work you didn't do.