“You have to be brave,” Tiffany Ezeokonkwo shares. “I really believe that if we have the courage to ask for what we want, there’s a good chance we will receive it. And every closed door we encounter eventually leads to an open one.”
Tiffany, a former student in Dr. Pam Ellen’s section of WomenLead in Business and a senior in the Robinson College of Business majoring in computer information systems with a concentration in process innovation, demonstrates a strong entrepreneurial spirit—something she’s been strengthening since she was a child. As a middle schooler, she began making bracelets and styling her mother’s and sister’s hair as a way to make extra money during the summer breaks. People began noticing her skill and after a lot of word-of-mouth recommendations, she realized there was an opportunity to translate her talent into a full-fledged business. Not long after, she founded Ezetiff Styles, a business specializing in protective hairstyles.
That’s only been the beginning. More recently, Tiffany started a faith-based podcast, “Excel & Exhale,” which just wrapped its first season. She’s interviewed young professionals about their experiences striving for work-life balance and how their faith helps them remain grounded. She aims to have transparent and transformative conversations with her guests and emphasizes the importance of self-care.
“Working to exhaustion isn’t excellence,” she explains. “I think it’s worth prioritizing rest and exploring who we are apart from our job titles. Ultimately, it’s about finding harmony between excelling and exhaling.”
Today, her businesses continue to grow and, as a Gen Z digital native, she shrewdly incorporates social media into her business model and looks for opportunities to deepen her engagement with other new media and share her knowledge with others. Just last year, for example, she served as a digital leader for Georgia State’s Digital Learners to Leaders program, which allowed her to gain experience finding creative, technology-based solutions to challenges faced by urban communities. It was through this experience that she discovered her aptitude and love for project management.
“So much can happen when people are willing to work together. I love seeing people who have potential and helping them realize their greatness,” she explains.
“A lot of people don’t know their strengths until someone points it out to them. I learned that from my mom,” she adds.
Tiffany’s family has had a big influence on her ability to feel at home in the entrepreneurial space. In addition to her mother’s perceptive guidance, her father—a U.S. Navy veteran who emigrated from Nigeria at age 17—became a successful entrepreneur following his retirement from the military. With his example and the support of her entire family, she learned the importance of using the resources around her to grow her endeavors as well as ensure her scholastic success.
As a high-achieving student, Tiffany relies on her entrepreneurial mindset to think and act strategically to make sure she has what she needs to succeed. This has included taking work-study positions that provided essential materials, such as a laptop—which she used to do her homework and develop her businesses—until she saved enough money to purchase her own.
It’s also meant planning her days around the availability of university resources, which has often meant long hours on campus.
“Fifty-five Park Place became my second home. I’m always in my advisor’s office—learning and having conversations about the possibilities and opportunities that might be right for me,” she shares.
“I’ve learned to put myself out there,” she adds. “I have no problem asking if a campus event would have me as a speaker.”
Taking the initiative and advocating for herself has become second-nature for Tiffany. It’s meant choosing courses and extra-curricular activities that align with her interests, allow her to deepen her skillset, and widen her network. In addition to completing the WomenLead course, she’s done everything from campaigning for a spot with Georgia State’s Student Government Association; participating as an active member of the university’s chapter of Women in Technology, including serving as its president this year; sharing her collegiate journey and tips for success on special panels for the Robinson College; studying abroad in Abu Dhabi; and serving as captain of the 2019 Panthers in the Valley cohort.
Not to mention, during the last two-and-a-half years, Tiffany has been working with The NCR Corporation—first as a software project management intern and, now, as a part-time software project manager. She’s already accepted a full-time position with the company, to begin after she graduates this May.
Her talent and drive haven’t gone unnoticed. She’s been recognized in many ways, including being named a 2019 Forbes Under 30 Scholar, which allowed her to attend and network at the organization’s annual summit this past fall. She was also selected to participate as a Harvard Business School Peek Weekend Student last summer, which allowed her to learn about the school’s MBA program by attending classes, staying in the dorms, and networking with faculty and alumni.
“I want to make an impact, and that means moving forward with intention and excellence,” she shares. “For me, it also means building a community and spending time with people who speak life and remind me who I’m meant to be. Once I realized this, I knew I would always have an anchor to ground me and help me feel fearless and confident.”
About the author: Charleen Wilcox is a Ph.D. student in the Moving Image Studies program in the School of Film, Media & Theatre in the College of the Arts at Georgia State University. She manages social media and communications for the WomenLead program.