Excellence in Action

Yolanda Gorman ‘78, MBA ’83, Ph.D. ’93

Yolanda Gorman ’78, MBA ’83, Ph.D. ’93 is the Senior Advisor to the Chancellor for Strategic Initiatives at the University of California, Los Angeles. Previously, Dr. Gorman was president and CEO of Phillips Graduate University, a graduate school of professional psychology and management.  She is a two-time Regent Emerita for the University of California, Board of Regents, and the first African American woman to chair the board of the UCLA Alumni Association. Dr. Gorman is a three-time graduate from UCLA with a B.A. in psychology, an MBA and a Ph.D. in educational psychology.  

Interviewed by Monique Beals • July 30, 2018

Please describe your career path from UCLA to your current role.

My career path, if you can call it that, was unplanned and unconventional. Halfway through my doctorate, I realized I was on a path that was not going to be right for me. I knew that my skill set from UCLA positioned me for careers that I had not considered. I was able to combine what I had learned from my undergraduate career in psychology , my MBA and my doctorate in educational psychology to start a consulting firm. This firm specialized in nonprofit management, so the research skills and problem-solving skills that I had developed at UCLA were really perfectly suited to helping nonprofit human services organizations pursue grant funding, conduct evaluations of programs, and establish strategies for long-term growth and sustainability. Frankly, I never could have imagined that my work as a consultant would lead me to a position as President of a graduate university. There I was also able to draw on the skills that I had learned at UCLA as an undergraduate, then as a graduate student to become a department chair, a dean and finally, the president.  These experiences really helped and provided me with an appreciation for and some expertise in university leadership upon which I draw in my current role as Senior Advisor to the Chancellor. While I didn’t have a direct path, the things that I did as an undergraduate and graduate students served me well in the career that I ended up choosing.

What inspired you to choose this career path?

I wish I could say that this was a chosen path, but what I can say is that I chose to say yes to opportunities that were presented to me. For example, when I was in the doctorate program, I was studying to be a child therapist, but I realized that wasn’t the career for which I was most well suited. There I was about to finish my doctorate with no real idea of what to do with myself.  At the time, I was working in a clinic as part of my academic training, but I realized that I had research and writing skills that could help nonprofit leaders pursue grant funding. I really liked conceptualizing programs that met community needs and developing funding proposals to support those programs. As a result, it gave me an opportunity to have a significant impact on communities, and I realized that this was a passion of mine. I realized that I had an important combination of business and human service skills to support the work that was offered in these communities. It seemed like the ideal opportunity for me to pursue a passion, so I actually “discovered” my career as part of a process to do something completely different than what I was in school to do.

How did your UCLA experience help shape your success?

I have to say that probably everything I’ve done at UCLA has helped shape my success. I think I’ve held almost every role at UCLA that a person can hold. I’ve been a student. I’ve been a staff member. I’ve occasionally taught. I’ve been an alumni leader. I was the first African American woman to be President of the Alumni Association Board as well as a two time Regent. Everything that I have done has been related to my success as a university President and now currently in my role. I think my exposure to the network and the experiences that I’ve gained at UCLA all came together for me in the current role that I have.  

In what ways have you utilized the UCLA alumni network?

First of all, several of the employees that I hired for my consultant firm were either UCLA students or graduates. I did that because I knew that these were individuals among the most talented and smartest employees I could find. They had the analytical and problem-solving skills that were important to the work we were doing, and they were also people who had an orientation toward service. Many of the colleagues with whom I worked, particularly in my role as a consultant, were Bruins, and again, for many of the same reasons that I hire Bruins. For me, I try really hard to be a mentor for students and young alumni, because I really believe in giving back. I stay very connected to the network. It’s part of my world.

What has been your greatest career challenge and how did you overcome it?

I have been offered a lot of unique career opportunities that challenged me, and I think one of the greatest was when I took over leadership of a struggling institution and was given about 3 years to turn it around. I didn’t have a lot of ideas at the time about whether or not I could pull it off, but I knew that UCLA had given me the tools I needed to research, learn, and figure out what I didn’t know. I relied on my ability to research options, access mentors, and weigh the alternatives to get me through. Surprisingly, it really helped me a lot. This is the same approach I bring to my current job. I don’t have all the answers, but I am confident that I have the skills to find an answer.

What advice would you give to UCLA students and alumni interested in your industry?

I have to say that you have to be open to the opportunities that are presented to you. When I entered graduate school, I thought I was clear about what I was going to do, and I realized that it wasn’t the right path before I had even completed the program. I had to be open to opportunities that were presented to me. You never know what will land in your lap. I know my advice sounds fairly uncertain, but I have learned in my experience that opportunities we have not considered will present themselves. Having confidence that you take from UCLA a set of skills that will allow you to be successful regardless of the option will open up the world to you in exciting ways.

How do you participate and support in the UCLA community now?

Serving as President of the Board of the Alumni Association was a tremendous opportunity. I had the opportunity to participate in an alumni development program that showed us opportunities in the Alumni Association, and I remember thinking, “Oh I want to be President of the Alumni Association.” That was one of those times when I set a goal and pursued it. I had the unique opportunity to serve as a UC Regent twice, and that is very rare. I had the opportunity to lead the UCLA Alumni Board but also to represent UC alumni from all campuses. I remain involved with mentoring students. I stay connected to the Alumni Association, and I’ll be helping them with their fall retreat. In my role, I also get to be involved faculty, staff and students across campus. It is really a great opportunity for me to be involved in so many different ways. It certainly fulfills my need to remain connected to UCLA.

What makes you most proud to be a Bruin?

My mother worked for UCLA for 30 years beginning when I was quite young, so I literally grew up on UCLA’s campus. As someone with three degrees from UCLA, I just can’t imagine anything better. I chose UCLA, because in my mind, there was no other place to be a student. I am one of those tried and true Bruins.  UCLA has provided me with the most incredible opportunities, and has played a significant role in who I am today.

And finally, what’s next?

I don’t know what’s next, but I’m really enjoying the role I have here now. I hope that it is something that I’m able to do as long as the Chancellor will have me. The only other thing that I’d like is to have the opportunity to mentor and support students, young alumni, and others who are interested not just in my career field, but in any career field. Being able to provide support for people who are pursuing their dreams is a big deal for me and something I’d really enjoy, so when I think about my future, I hope I am able to incorporate that into anything that I do.

ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER

Monique Beals is a Communications major and UCLA College Honors student from Memphis, Tennessee. She has previously interned at the Office of Senator Lamar Alexander, the Orange County Register, and Tegna Inc. She has also worked as an Urban Fellow for the City of Memphis. At UCLA, Monique has been involved as Marketing Director of the Community Service Commission in addition to working as a Student Recruiting Assistant for UCLA Athletics. After graduating from UCLA, Monique intends to pursue a career in journalism or law.

Interested in learning more about UCLA alumni who are creating lasting impressions and impact in their industries? Visit Excellence in Action for the full collection of interviews.