In Her Footsteps
Alumna Leona Tang wants more first-generation students to know the possibilities of a business degree
Alumna Leona Tang’s grandmother had a plan for her granddaughter: she would study biochemistry at UC Davis and then start a desirable, sought-after career, preferably as a doctor.
But Tang had other plans for her future.
Today a management consultant and former executive vice president at Charles Schwab, Tang dropped out of UC Davis and came home to the Bay Area to pursue a business administration degree at then-Cal State Hayward. Her family was surprised and confused at the move. Tang recalls her dad — a small business owner — asking her why she needed a degree to learn about business when he could teach her everything she needed to know.
But Tang persisted despite her family’s misgivings, and went on to earn her degree in accounting and land a job right after graduation. Since then, she’s built a career in finance and consulting that has not only been successful, but is now allowing her to give back through a scholarship dedicated to first-generation business students like herself.
“I found a community [at Cal State Hayward], and I found my calling in terms of being an accounting major,” Tang says. “The people and professors I met were all influential in getting me into accounting and encouraging me to stay in accounting and auditing.”
A Gift to Inspire
The Leona Tang Scholarship is modeled loosely on Tang’s personal experience at the university, with requirements for the recipient to be a first-generation student in the College of Business and Economics, who must be excelling in their major courses. It is the first Cal State East Bay scholarship specifically dedicated to students who are the first in their families to pursue a college degree.
“It’s almost as if I’m writing the scholarship for myself 25 years ago,” Tang says. “When I came here, I had a low GPA, but I did well in all of my business classes.”
As a first-generation student, Tang says the faculty and organizations she was part of became her family and kept her motivated to not only finish school, but pursue a job at one of the top accounting firms in the U.S.
After graduating, she secured a job as an auditor with the Office of the Inspector General for the Department of Housing and Urban Development through the university’s career services center, despite a tough job market brought on by the 1991 recession.
“Back then, I didn’t have the internet to look for jobs online, but because of the career center, I was still able to get a number of interviews and ultimately find a job,” Tang says.
For youth interested in accounting:
Now, after decades at major companies such as Charles Schwab, Ernst & Young and PricewaterhouseCoopers, she’s hoping her gift will inspire others.
“I’ve always valued education and I’ve always felt a desire in some way to give back, to leave some sort of legacy,” Tang says. “My career has been a combination of luck, timing, opportunity and skill, and I feel like Cal State Hayward was a big part of that. I hope this gift is not just a one-time help; I hope it inspires students to help others in the future in whatever way resonates with them.”
In addition to giving back, Tang says she’s spent much of her career focused on bringing more diversity to the world of finance and financial services.
She regularly speaks to young women about becoming accountants, and mentors aspiring business women through organizations like Girls Inc. of Alameda County.
“We know from experience that diverse teams are more successful, but there are not a lot of minority women going into financial services,” Tang says. “If women aren’t going into those majors or [if they’re] thinking those careers aren’t for them, how are we going to have diverse teams?”
And although the scholarship isn’t limited to female students, Tang hopes her story will inspire more young women to think about a future in business.
As for Tang’s grandmother? Tang says she was incredibly proud of her granddaughter at graduation back in ’91 and continued to support her decision to pursue accounting instead of biochemistry.
“She probably had the biggest smile out of anyone at my graduation, and I’m so glad she was able to experience that with me,” Tang says.
RISING IN THE EAST: THE CAMPAIGN FOR CAL STATE EAST BAY is underway, and we’re working hard toward our goal of raising $60 million in honor of the university’s 60th anniversary. To date, we have marked $39 million in support of initiatives such as student scholarships, faculty excellence and capital improvements. To learn more about our campaign and its priorities, including how you can give, visit the Rising in the East website.