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Dr. Rachel Monteverdi: Against All Odds

From humble beginnings, Dr. Monteverdi had to figure out college independently while overcoming family challenges. This included her Native American great-grandmother being kidnapped from her Apache tribe and her pregnant grandmother having three small children to raise when her husband was killed. Her grandmother had no education to fall back on and picked cotton to provide for her family. Dr. Monteverdi’s mother married, raised five kids, and moved around the country as her father served in the Marines. “I began my college journey with no savings, no knowledge of loans or grants, and no understanding of how higher education worked. My college experience was a struggle from beginning to end”. 

Despite the obstacles and disadvantages she would face, Dr. Rachel Monteverdi went on to obtain a Bachelor’s, Master’s, and PhD. Something no one in her family had ever done. After graduating with a Bachelor’s degree, she found herself thriving in the corporate world but wanted to build real-world communities as well. Cooperative Extension provided her with the perfect opportunity to do both!  She was hired to serve as the Durham County Cooperative Extension Family Resource Center’s (FRC) director in the second-lowest-performing school in North Carolina. With more than 500 black and Hispanic families (49% and 49%, 2% other), and 98% qualifying for free and reduced lunch, Dr. Monteverdi had her work cut out for her, and she needed more tools in her tool belt. She realized this and decided she would take one class at a time to earn her Master’s in Human Development and Family Studies, minoring in Leadership and Administration, under the direction of Dr. Karen De Bord. From that point forward, her primary focus became threefold: Human Development, Leadership Development, and Training and Development. 

Dr. Monteverdi’s Dissertation Presentation

Dr. Monteverdi served in three capacities: On a grant as a FRC director, later as a 4-H agent, and finally as a Family and Consumer Sciences agent overseeing programs that were critically needed in multiple counties. She was working with many leaders in the field of Extension and simultaneously being nominated as Chair or President of multiple associations, boards, and committees. As a result, Dr. Monteverdi found herself needing additional knowledge in the subject of leadership, which was her truest passion. In 2014, Monteverdi graduated with her master’s degree. Soon after, she was inspired by Dr. Gary Moore to apply for the doctoral program and signed up for his class – an excursion along the Eastern seaboard to explore Extension in action.

Dr. Rachel Monteverdi credits NC State and Cooperative Extension with molding her into who she is today. Both have provided a solid foundation based on research while Extension has allowed her to practically apply what she has learned. Dr. Monteverdi discovered her passion for working with youth and family life in Extension. Her favorite classes were those based around youth development, family, and leadership. Environmental scanning and program planning encouraged her to transform communities, build community capacity based on existing strengths, and collaborate with others to meet the needs of North Carolina residents. From her studies to her colleagues to her experiences, the lessons learned were invaluable and provided Dr. Monteverdi with what she needed to successfully take the next step. She now collaborates with professionals across the globe. As a team, she and her colleagues work with companies such as Shell, GSK, Unilever, and others to partner and transform behaviors, cultures, and performance! 

Many of the influential faculty and staff who helped Dr. Monteverdi along the way are no longer with NCSU – beginning with Dr. Karen De Bord, Dr. Andrew Behnke, and Dr. Gary Moore. But this doesn’t keep Monteverdi from paying them their due credit. She says “Dr. Moore is one of those rare educators who was the perfect trifecta: He had a passion for learning and shared his knowledge freely without reservation, he had a passion for students, meeting them where they were and challenging them to take things to the next level, and he had a passion for teaching while also striving to employ best practices in adult learning.” Dr. Kim Allen was a phenomenal educator and friend to Monteverdi. Dr. Jay was a Godsend in navigating her through program evaluation, and her former Cooperative Extension Director, Tyrone Fisher, was incredibly supportive throughout her entire educational journey. Last, but not least, Dr. Michelle Bartlett has been Dr. Monteverdi’s greatest influence and mentor with both her Master’s and Ph.D. Without her encouragement, compassion, and grit, she believes she never would have made it to the PhD finish line. 

From her research and experience, Dr. Monteverdi has found that we have a leadership problem globally. Despite billions of dollars spent on leadership development, only 13% of organizations report that they have performed a quality job resulting in increasing leadership skills. Her passion is to expand that percentage. As a former field faculty for NC State Extension, and as a professional who ran a training division for Duke University, she found herself desiring to become a part of the solution with leadership development. Now, as a consultant and executive coach, the findings from her dissertation allow Dr. Monteverdi to serve her client partners better. 

Looking to the future, as a leadership development consultant and coach for Next Level → Next Step, serving a wide variety of industries, Dr. Monteverdi’s plan is amping up her efforts in implementing best practices based on her research. She is diving deeper into the research to help her client partners become the best versions of themselves. Dr. Monteverdi’s programs challenge people to explore, discover, understand and transform. In her words, “We expand our humanity and focus on what’s right within ourselves and within others; what energizes, and how we use our innate talents and strengths. We know what we stand for and why.” Her team seeks to reshape companies and shift cultures into becoming more purpose-driven and high performing. She also believes that she has a responsibility to contribute to the literature. Her findings blew her away and she hopes they do the same for others seeking real-world best practices in leadership development.   

As we have learned from Dr. Monteverdi’s story, opportunities await us no matter where we come from or how much we have. We just have to have the faith and determination to take hold of those opportunities. Dr. Monteverdi looks back on her humble beginnings, saying she obtained her Masters and Ph.D. for her Native American heritage, and for the inspirational females who have come before her – and for all those like them. “It’s a lifelong dream – and if I could play a small part in inspiring other minority females, regardless of age, to pursue that dream – that would be ideal.” Despite her struggles, Dr. Monteverdi has excelled beyond the classroom and is continuing to impact her community through her leadership and extension work.