From finance to education
Ayanna Thompson’s path from finance to Regents Professor at Arizona State University was anything but linear. As a child, she believed the amount of money she made would define her success. With her sights set on Wall Street, Thompson landed a prestigious role as an investment banker at Lehman Brothers. Although she achieved her goal, she realized it didn’t spark passion in her.
“It felt like I had fulfilled all my desires and goals in life, and then realized that it was not really what my soul wanted,” said Thompson.
At that moment, her next move became clear; she’d quit her job and pursue a PhD in English. Initially worried how her family would perceive this shift, she called her mother and broke the news. To say she was supportive is an understatement.
"I've never been so proud of you in my life,” said Thompson’s mother. “I knew you were chasing the dollar and that was not going to be what ultimately fulfilled you."
From then on, Thompson decided to follow her dreams and find meaningful work in areas she’s passionate about.
Finding her niche
When Thompson began her PhD studies, she struggled to find her niche. Progressing through her program, she realized the answers to her questions originated in the past. As she studied first encounters between east and west, Africa and Europe and new world versus old world, she found that many of these pivotal moments took place in the Renaissance. Once she discovered this, Shakespeare seemed to be a natural fit.
“There are a lot of encounter moments in Shakespeare that seem formative for the way that we think about identity and culture,” explained Thompson.
When Thompson completed her PhD, she didn’t leave Shakespeare behind. Now a Regents Professor at ASU, she teaches an online course dedicated to his career and body of work.