In her early twenties, Keisha Dean had earned her MBA and was a buyer at Ford Motor Company. Always passionate about creativity, she decided to leave corporate America behind to forge a new path. Today she is executive director of the Society of Publication Designers and firmly believes “marketing is everything.” A faculty member with the School of Business at University of Phoenix, Dean is living proof that one’s passion can become one’s livelihood.
Raised in Southern California, Dean moved to attend Florida A&M University, where she earned both her Bachelor of Business Administration and her MBA. After graduating, she was hired into the executive management training program at Ford Motor Company in Detroit, Michigan in the mid-1990s.
She advanced to the role of buyer, eventually purchasing emission sensors for all plants worldwide. She describes her role at Ford—where she dealt with $100 million in vehicle component parts—as analytical and strategic. “You work with engineering, and with the actual plants. I made long-term decisions on where the sourcing would be and then, if necessary, handled any outages of products,” says Dean of the work, adding that the company “really is structured to support the buyers.”
“The visual editors who capture us with their photography, with the typography, with how the whole layout is designed . . . [the people who] get us to pick up the publication off the newsstand, these professionals really shape the conversation in any area of popular culture or politics.”
Although successful at Ford, Dean didn’t feel completely fulfilled in her professional life. “I felt kind of unbalanced because I was using one skill set and not developing another,” she explains. That other skillset, her creativity, was beckoning.
“I had not considered going back to school for fashion because it wouldn’t be a terminal degree,” she says. A conversation with a friend’s sister shifted her perspective. “She said, ‘You could go back to school to get whatever degree you want.’ That was the catalyst to me making a big move.”
Dean enrolled at Parsons The New School for Design in New York City, earning her Associates in Applied Science in Fashion Design in 2000. The program allows those returning to higher education to “delve into design without having to go through another bachelor program,” says Dean.
At the end of her time at Parsons, Dean had decided working for a designer wasn’t the route she wanted to take. “The treatment of human capital is not the same in the fashion industry as it is in some of the Fortune 500 companies I had previous experience with,” she explains. “I had a different perspective.”
Instead, Dean made her way to the Society of Publication Designers (SPD) in 2001. She first worked under the executive director, then on a part-time basis as a consultant. She became the executive director herself last December. Established in 1965, SPD promotes the importance of editorial design and recognizes the work of high-level editorial graphic artists. Directors and board members of the SPD represent publications including Fast Company, Bloomberg Business Week, People and Vanity Fair.
“The visual editors who capture us with their photography, with the typography, with how the whole layout is designed . . . [the people who] get us to pick up the publication off the newsstand, these professionals really shape the conversation in any area of popular culture or politics,” she explains.
Dean continued to meld her creativity and business sense, establishing the online jewelry business Kei Gee LLC in 2006. She had initially intended to develop a clothing line, but the search for funding proved challenging. A new option presented itself when a friend introduced her to beading.
“I just took it and went with it,” says Dean, who describes her style as “modern elegance” with a concentration on sterling silver.
In 2005, Dean brought her professional knowledge to University of Phoenix, joining the School of Business as a faculty member at the Jersey City Campus. Her mother, Dr. Gladys Dean, had been encouraging her to apply for years.
Keisha relaxes in her office at the Society of Publication Designers, located in Union Square, New York City.
In the late 1990s Dean’s mother was academic chair of the School of Nursing and Health Sciences at University of Phoenix’s Detroit Campus. “I’m by nature an introvert, so standing in front of a group of people talking isn’t naturally what I thought would be my place in life,” Dean says. “I found out I had a knack for it—I was very surprised.”
What helps with Dean’s comfort level is her passion for the course topics. “I think marketing is everything and I’m very passionate, and animated when I’m talking about it,” she laughs. She recently taught MKT 421, a marketing class that delves into analysis of factors affecting consumer behavior, how to define marketing variables and how to develop and implement marketing strategies. “I try to relate [the coursework] to current events,” says Dean. She gives her students freedom to discuss anything in class, making their own connections back to marketing principles. “Everyone has to have an opinion.”
Dean’s professional history is something she feels gives her solidarity with her Phoenix students. “I made a dramatic shift in career direction and returned to higher education to fulfill a lifelong passion,” she explains. “Many of our students have done the same.”
Her career path has been far from linear, but she values the experience and knowledge gained at each step. “Ford was a great opportunity, with lots of responsibility. I value that experience so much and rely on it a lot in my endeavors,” she says. “I value my students as well. They’re all experts at something in life, and so I treat them as such. Many of them have had wonderful life experiences, and I appreciate seeing how they apply those experiences to their learning.”
Faculty since 2005
MBA, Marketing, Florida A&M University
BEST TEACHING PRACTICES
Employ the Socratic method.
Use popular cultural references to support learning comprehension.
Remember what you enjoyed and what you hated about being a student. Let those memories guide your approach to student relations.