Growing up in small towns in Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas, LaToya Marc found her passion for social justice tempered by the practical need to make a decent living. "I was raised by a single mother who stressed the importance of education as a way to a higher quality of life. I consciously wanted a stable job that could provide that," she says. LaToya excelled at math, and both her father (who served in the Air Force) and her high school guidance counselor encouraged her to go into engineering.
At the Georgia Institute of Technology, LaToya majored in industrial engineering. "I don't want to know how to build one car," she says. "I want to know how to build one hundred cars in less time and for less money. Of all the engineering disciplines, industrial gave me the greatest opportunity to think about flows, processes, structures, efficiencies—it would prepare me for leadership at a management level."
While in school, LaToya applied her talents at a Coca-Cola bottler and at Bank of America, helping them roll out new lines of envelope-free ATMs, and forecast cash distribution to minimize armored truck dispatches. She continued to work at BofA after graduation, but two events changed her ambitions. First, between her junior and senior years of college, she had participated in the Summer Ventures in Management Program (SVMP) at HBS, which awakened a deep interest in Harvard.
Then years later, while working for BofA in Chicago, she heard a news report that startled her: statisticians claimed that they could forecast the number of future prison cells the nation would need based on the performance of 4th graders on standardized tests. At this point, LaToya had been volunteering as a math tutor, but now she found volunteering insufficient. "The more I thought about it, the more I wanted to do something about it."
Learning to be a better leader
LaToya shifted careers, leaping full time into the public school system in Georgia where she taught middle school math. She was a fast learner: she initiated the "P.A.I.D. Scholars" initiative at her school, a program that used "virtual currency" as an incentive to motivate progress. She was recognized as "Teacher of the Year," and Teach for America recruited her to help them scale impact—a role that combined her skills as an educator and as a process engineer.
Yet LaToya has even larger ambitions. "I want to be a district superintendent," she says. She looked into the MBA because, "I want to apply the same things business leaders use to scale solutions. To build true equity in the education sector, we need strong leaders who can think strategically about building a practical movement for achieving goals."
About HBS, LaToya says it's been "a dream to be here." Even though she's happily busy with her husband and two-year-old son, she has, if anything, amplified her involvement on campus: she has been elected one of the co-presidents of the Student Association. In an historic first, she and her colleague, Libby Leffler, are the first two-woman team to lead the student body.
"I'm amazed by how I've been embraced and accepted at HBS," says LaToya. She ran for office on a diversity platform to increase the number of black case protagonists and promote training to counteract unconscious bias, a mission that, she says, has received a great deal of faculty support. "It hasn't always been rosy, but my perspective and background is really valued here."