Nsombi Ricketts

Alumni News

Nsombi Ricketts

She once wanted to be a writer, therapist, or lawyer. Now Nsombi Ricketts (BS99) uses parts of all those vocations in her role as VP for diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) at Brooklyn’s Pratt Institute.

I was definitely a Renaissance kid. I was into art and music and fashion design. I painted. I drew. I played musical instruments. I danced. I wrote poetry and stories. And I was a voracious reader. I wanted to explore.

Northwestern was a school where if you weren’t sure about what you wanted to do or were interested in many things, you didn’t have to follow a narrow path.

I was impressed that Northwestern had a Black House. It was important to have somewhere on campus where I would be supported and could meet other Black students. Coming from New York to a predominantly white campus in the Midwest was definitely a culture shock. 

After getting my MBA at Emory, my first role was in marketing at American Express. But I was never at my desk; I was always volunteering to be on a diversity panel or traveling with HR to do diversity recruiting. 

A career coach once asked, “What would you do for free? What’s your passion?” I initially said nothing. I’m not doing anything for free. But it wasn’t true. When I was in business school, I established a Diverse Leadership Conference, served as president of the Black MBA Association, and worked with the administration on diversity initiatives—and I wasn’t getting paid for any of it. I was doing it because it was important to me.

I was always doing diversity work. I was balancing my career in human resources and marketing with my natural passion for DEI, but it took a while to find the right role. 

A DEI leader has to collaborate with everyone. DEI work can’t be relegated to just one person or one office—it’s everyone’s job.

So much of DEI work is about relationship building, communication and marketing, and ongoing tracking of results.

To be effective, you need to influence others to accomplish shared goals, and communicate progress with transparency. 

This field is constantly evolving, so you must invest in professional development. I have a DEI certification. It’s not like I just woke up one day and said, “I’m a chief diversity officer.” I go to professional development workshops and conferences all the time to keep learning and expanding my skill set.

We should hire DEI leaders with the same diligence that we hire any senior leader. It’s a mistake to hire any Black, Indigenous, person of color, or LGBTQ+ person and assume that they want or can do this work without any background in DEI. If you put the wrong person in this role and they’re not supported, they can’t succeed. And that can derail an organization’s entire DEI agenda. 

Diversity fatigue is real. Early in my career, I didn’t have boundaries—I just wanted to succeed. I worked all the time. I said yes to many things I didn’t want to do. And it took a real emotional, psychological, and physical toll on my health. Now I have much stronger boundaries between my work and personal life, and I say no all the time. 

It’s important that I leave a legacy. I want to develop initiatives and implement policies that make an impact. We’re in a unique moment in history right now.

People are finally taking DEI seriously and investing resources in a way I have never seen before. And I plan to capitalize on all the opportunities of this moment.

--As told to Julie Deardorff 



Jack Benjamin (BS20) is a production intern for The Late Show with Stephen Colbert in New York City. He recently earned a master’s degree in comparative social policy at the University of Oxford.

Juliana Conway (BS20) is a health associate at Mathematica Policy Research in Washington, DC.

Isabel Dobbel (BS20) is the women’s outreach director for Illinois governor J. B. Pritzker’s re-election campaign. She is also chief of staff for Senator Mike Simmons and national committee person for Young Democrats of Illinois.

Isabelle Matthies (BS21) is an analyst with Civic Consulting Alliance, a nonprofit pro-bono government consulting firm in Chicago, and a fellow with the Northwestern University Public Interest Program.

Soteria Reid (BS21) was one of four winners of the Jazzy Johnson Waw-jashk Student Award from Northwestern’s Campus Inclu- sion and Community. The award recognizes outstanding contributions to sustainable campus change and growth.

Emily Salzman (MS21), a math teacher at Chicago’s Lane Tech College Prep High School, received a five-year fellowship from the Knowles Science Teaching Foundation.

Lisa Thomas (MS21) credited her SESP coursework with helping her win a diversity, equity, and inclusion award from Sheppard Mullin, the law firm where she is partner and leads the privacy and cybersecurity team. She is also on the adjunct faculty at Northwestern’s Pritzker School of Law.

David Weitzman (MSLOC22) is human resources manager for Ingredion Inc., a multinational ingredient provider.


Meixi (BS11), who earned a doctorate in learning sciences and human develop- ment at the University of Washington, was appointed assistant professor of organizational leadership, policy, and development at the University of Minnesota’s College of Education and Human Development.

Robin Bellerby (MS13) was named senior vice president of architecture at Premier. Over the last two decades she has managed numerous high-profile projects from design development to project completion, including Manhattan, a $120 million, 700-unit condo development in Las Vegas, and Mockingbird Flats, a $28 million, 412-unit multifamily development in Dallas.

Gregory Brennen (MS13) received his PhD from Duke University and is the Marion L. Brittain Postdoctoral Fellow in the Writing and Communication Program at Georgia Tech.

Brianna Davis Johnson (MS13) was named the first-ever chief diversity, equity, and inclusion officer for Central Ohio Technical College and the Ohio State University at Newark. Last July, SAGE Journals published her collaborative paper on repressive legalism in higher education.

Aireale Rodgers (BS10, MS18) received the Patricia Cross Future Leaders Award from the Association of American Colleges and Universities for her dedication to academic innovation in equity, community engagement, and teaching and learning.

Kate Schultz (MS13) received the 2021 Faculty of the Year award for the EdD in Health Professions Education program at T. Still University in Kirksville, Missouri.

Lisa Anderson (MS15) is senior program manager in Stanford University’s digital education office, which supports digital education across Stanford. She is also directing a nationally syndicated book conversation series called “Academic Innovation for the Public Good.”

Christina Cilento (BS17) is an associate policy fellow at the nonprofit Center for Climate and Energy Solutions. She recently authored a C2ES report that charts a path forward for Arizona to reduce emissions, bolster equity, and build climate resilience.

Julie Emms (MS17) is administrative director for the Center of Quantum Networks at the University of Arizona’s Wynat College of Optical Sciences.

Amelia Plunk (MS17) is a curriculum designer who, as a professional Dungeon master, designs and runs private adven- tures as part of the fantasy role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons.

Kay Ramey (PhD17) is assistant professor of learning sciences at the University of Iowa.

Skyler Adams (MS18) is associate director of admissions for evening and weekend MBA programs at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. He and current MSHE student Rocio Mendez-Rozo are engaged.

Lauren C. Miller (MS18) is senior director of coach experience at Chief, a private network designed for women in executive leadership. Chief was recognized as one of Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies of 2021.

Dana (Spencer) Larsen (MS19) was promoted to assistant director for residence life at American University.

Rachel Rasmussen (BS19) is youth services coordinator at Baltimore-based nongovernmental organization World Relief, where she manages K–12 and young adult programs for refugee families.


Marcia Walker-McWilliams (BS06), executive director of the Black Metropolis Research Consortium at the University of Chicago, was appointed to the Digital Public Library of America board of directors. In 2016, she published Reverend Addie Wyatt: Faith and the Fight for Labor, Gender, and Racial Equality, a biography of one of the most influential African American female labor leaders in the 20th century.

Stephanie P. Addison (BS07) was named associate attorney in Taft Law’s Chicago litigation practice, representing clients in complex commercial litigation matters including breach of contract disputes, employment discrimination claims, and consumer class defense. She previously served as assistant inspector general for the City of Chicago Office of Inspector General.


Steve Boland (BS90), chief administrative officer for Bank of America, was appointed to the board of directors of Frontdoor Inc., which provides home service plans. A member of Bank of America’s executive management team, he is also a vice chair for the company’s Global Diversity and Inclusion Council.

Arva Rice (BS90), president and CEO of the New York Urban League, was recognized with the Community Hero Award from New York City mayor Eric Adams, the New York Knicks, and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver.

Wendy Deal (BS92) has been a veterinarian at VCA Mill Run Animal Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, since 2005. She coordinates the VCA New Graduate Mentorship Program in Columbus and recently became the area medical director for central Ohio VCA hospitals. She has been competing in short-distance triathlons since 2018.

Carlin (Johnson) Politzer (BS92) was hired as a vice president for, a national nonprofit that brings older and younger people together to solve problems, bridge divides, and cocreate the future.

Yemi Mahoney (BS93) is chief diversity officer and special assistant to the chancellor at Indiana University East.

Jennifer Weiss (BS93, MPT96), a licensed physical therapist, was named CEO of the future Encompass Health Rehabilitation Institute of Libertyville. Illinois.

Kristie Norwood (BS95) is education manager for Children’s Home & Aid’s Early Start program in Chicago.

Lynn Kotwicki (MA97) was elected the first female commodore in the 100-year history of the prestigious Bayview Yacht Club. “Boating and sailboat racing has always been a passion in our family,” she says. “I can’t wait to give back to the sport that has given me so many amazing opportunities.”

Nathania Montes (MA98, PhD02) was named dean of student affairs at College of DuPage in Glen Elyn, Illinois. Previously, as interim dean of student development she created and led Chaps Unite Against Racism, the college’s award-winning equity and inclusion initiative.

Margaret Clauson (MS99) is superintendent of Skokie-Morton Grove (Illinois) School District 69.


Arlene Michaels Miller (PhD87) is a professor in the College of Nursing at Rush University Medical Center. Her research looks at individual, family, and community factors that contribute to mental and physical health in immigrant and other minority populations. She is a coinvestigator on three National Institutes of Health–funded studies: “A Digital Application for Pain Management in Home Hospice,” “Dementia Caregiver Chronic Grief Management,” and “Steps to Effective Problem Solving for Individuals with Intellec- tual Disabilities.” She is a board member of the VNA Foundation of Chicago, which funds mental and physical health services to the city’s medically underserved populations.

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