Faculty focus: Dr. Esther Chavez

Posted on Friday, February 1, 2013

Esther Chavez, age 39, is a quick study. Two years after earning her PhD in Leadership Studies from Our Lady of the Lake University and becoming a full-time faculty member, Dr. Chavez was promoted to chair of the department. 

“I never thought that would happen,” she says. 

She never thought she’d become a professor, either. Dr. Chavez was enjoying a successful career as Director of Credit Sales Strategy at Citibank when she decided to pursue her doctorate at OLLU. Her intent was to leverage a PhD into a position of executive leadership at Citibank. But then came an unexpected turn. 

Dr. Mark Green, professor of Leadership Studies, asked her to teach a bachelor’s level class at OLLU. “I said, ‘I don’t think that’s a good idea. I’ve never taught anything in my life,’” Dr. Chavez recalls. “But I said I would give it a try. I taught my first course in 2006 and fell in love with it while going to school and working.” 

Two years later, a full-time faculty position opened and Dr. Green asked her to fill it. At the time, Dr. Chavez was working on her dissertation and aiming for a promotion at Citibank. The offer from Dr. Green required a reversal in ambition and career planning. It also required an immediate response. 

“So I left Citigroup to come here,” Dr. Chavez says. “It was quite a leap of faith. I still had a year to go to complete my dissertation. Dr. Green said, “I think you really have a gift and could make a big difference here.’ 

“A big part of my decision to take the leap from corporate to academia is because I loved the Leadership Studies program so much. I loved the method and fashion in which it was being executed.” Now, Dr. Chavez teaches Leadership Studies in the doctoral program and masters program. At the doctorate level, she also teaches leadership ethics and morality and research methods and strategy. At the master’s level, she teaches a critical thinking and synthesis course that prepares masters students for their comprehensive exam.

While at Citibank, Dr. Chavez led six teams of salespeople in financial services. Each team had a sales manager. She was a division leader. A lot of what she did was to help sales managers be effective. "Sales is about understanding people’s needs and matching those needs to something you have to offer. I did a lot of teaching. I just didn’t see it as teaching. I saw it as sales, but there was a lot of teaching and that’s where I grew that teaching muscle," Dr. Chavez said.  

Prior to working at Citibank, Dr. Chavez was a store director for H-E-B. Her last assignment was running the Las Palmas H-E-B store. She transitioned out of that to Citibank financial services. "I went from directing a store with $625,000 in revenue a week to being a phone rep and selling financial products at Citibank. After two years, I managed a team of 15 sales people. That team was generating the third highest revenue in the nation."  

Dr. Chavez decided to earn a doctorate from OLLU four years after receiving her MBA from The Lake in 2001. "I was sitting at home, thinking I really should be doing something with my extra time, other than relaxing and enjoying leisure. I thought I’d like to pursue a PhD but I wanted to find one that would be functional. So I went online to look."

"What initially drove me to look at The Lake was the MBA program. I found the PhD program in Leadership Studies. I read through the curriculum and I thought it was perfect. I could improve my leadership skills at Citibank. I could go to school on the weekends. And after talking to folks at Citibank, they said they’d pay for 80 percent of my tuition. So I jumped into it," Dr. Chavez said. 

Bringing a "fresh lens and perspective on how we identify professor talent for our classrooms," is what Dr. Chavez says she brings to her position as department chair. "Academia is so traditional in that it provides a certain criteria about what a professor should look like. Very often we don’t realize that same skill and knowledge is out there but not necessarily in the traditional form. We need to look outside the box because we tend to overlook talent out there that can be just as effective without a particular pedigree. I’m kind of the living example of that. I kind of broke that mold for people. I don’t necessarily have 15 years of academic experience in my background but I bring skill and knowledge from somewhere else." 

Dr. Chavez says she is "amazed" at the journey that led her from a career in corporate America to department chair at OLLU. "I’ve been very blessed with rare and unique opportunities. I’ve been smart and aware enough to recognize that it was God opening my eyes to the journey He has for me. I’ve had more opportunities than any one person should have. I believe it was Providence that brought me to this program."