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Atiba Edwards was born in St. Vincent, West Indies and grew up in Brownsville, Brooklyn. He graduated from University of Michigan, where he obtained degrees in Industrial Operations and Engineering and Liberal Arts with a focus in Poetry and Musicology. Atiba is the Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer at Brooklyn Children's Museum. Additionally, he co-founded FOKUS, an arts not for profit organization that uses the arts to connect and create communities while at UMICH and has expanded with a NYC Chapter. Prior to Brooklyn Children's Museum, Atiba was the Director of Operations at Brooklyn East Collegiate, a middle school that is part of the Uncommon Schools network. Previously, Atiba also worked as a Fixed Income Research Analyst within JPMorgan’s Investment Bank where he covered the Automotive Sector and he also worked at Nomura Securities in their High Grade and High Yield Fixed Income Research divisions.
Why did you decide to apply and participate in UROP as an undergraduate?
I think for me, I had work study as part of my financial aid and really was trying to figure out what to do, I really wanted to push myself and being at the University of Michigan, which is a known research school, I would be remiss if I missed out on that opportunity. For me, I applied to UROP cause It gave me a chance to really push and learn skills in a realm I probably would not have known about. UROP gives me a chance to develop core essential skills that are transferable to many walks of life, but also to learn about something that could be fun and cool.
What do you think you learned from your UROP experience?
I think one of the biggest skills I learned was teamwork and independence. I was part of a group project, but I also had my own project that I was responsible for. The detail and preparation you put in everything you do, I would double check and triple check my work. Fast or slow is really not the goal of work, it’s about working efficiently. I tried to work quickly enough to get things done, but also have enough time to go back and check for errors. The other thing I learned as an undergraduate is that there’s always these great things happening all around campus, but it’s not going to be presented in a way that’s on a website or a brochure - you really have to go digging for it. I think that’s a pivot to say I learned the aspect of self discovery and really seeking out things that were offered. As a peer advisor I learned teamwork, different tools, communication skills - skills as a research scientist, as a student on campus and as an overall human-being. Some of the folks who were my peer advisors and some of the folks who became peer advisors after I was theirs are still close friends - we were really able to build community in the role that we occupied.
How did the experience shape or inform the next steps you took in your academic and professional journey?
I think my UROP experience helped shape my desire to learn in ways that are complementary and accretive to my success. When I was working as an intern in the summer, I knew I wanted to work at an investment bank. I started seeking out all the folks I wanted to talk to and just familiarizing them with what I was trying to do. I developed that passion to learn and the confidence to approach people. That’s a big part of being an undergraduate research scientist, if you find a project you then have to go meet that researcher and you talk to them. I think that same level of effort and conviction in mind required to succeed and do something is really parallel with my career.
Speaking of your career, What type of work are you involved with now?
Currently I am the executive vice president and chief operating officer at the Brooklyn Children’s Museum. Before that I ran a charter school for 6 years and before that I worked in investment banking for 5 years.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Find the research project that feels both the most interesting and also the most riskiest and just do it and fully commit to doing it. If you decide not to do something, really have a strong reason why than an answer on the level of “well it might be an inconvenience” … Life is full of inconveniences and those shouldn’t alter your path to future success. Happiness takes hard work, it’s hard work to be successful. It doesn’t come natural to anybody.
What advice would you give to a current UROP student looking for a mentor? What’s the best experience you’ve had with a mentor?
I would ask two questions, what keeps them coming back to this project? What would they define as success out of this project? And how does this project bring them happiness? Those are three key questions. As a student you’re going to be spending 14 plus hours a week doing this work, you want to be around somebody that has those answers because that’s going to help guide your questions. And I think you want to sit across from that person in a room as they answer those questions because there’s a certain level of dynamic reaction that you get by being right there. Ask them directly “how are you as my mentor going to push and support me?” You want a mentor to be like that person who goes to the gym with you and you’re ready to give up and they encourage you to do two or three more push-ups. At the end of the day it all goes back to the vibe and you ask yourself “do I feel good working with this person?”