Regina Whitley is a pioneer — and that’s not a term we throw around lightly. She’s worked for more than 25 years in the tech industry, busting barriers from Memphis to Washington, DC, to Asia with the likes of Dell Computer, MCI, Sprint and the Memphis Bioworks Foundation. A graduate of Immaculate Conception School, Regina holds a journalism degree from the University of Georgia and a Masters of International Management degree from the Thunderbird School of Global Management. Regina is the founder and executive director of the Greater Memphis IT Council, a membership association focused on creating a center of excellence for information technology in Memphis, and today, she’s our FACE of Memphis!
What is the mission of the IT Council and what is your role as the executive director?
The mission of the council is to create a center of excellence for IT in Memphis. As the founder of this association, my job is to create a strong ecosystem for IT by growing the membership among the IT leadership within industry, the technology providers, and the universities and colleges. In order to provide value for our membership, we develop programs and events around strategic business issues for professional networking and we offer technology training. We also support workforce development efforts for Memphis and programs for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education in Shelby County schools.
What would you consider to be the most significant achievement in your career?
Because I have a diverse background, there are different achievements of which I am proud. At the beginning of my career, I served in the Peace Corps as a teacher in French-speaking Africa. After graduate school in marketing, I led the launch of the first international product at MCI, a combination credit card-calling card with service in foreign language and currency. I later had the opportunity to live and work in Hong Kong, leading a startup company for financial information services working with a young Chinese team. More recently, I took the opportunity to found the IT Council to work with the IT leadership in Memphis to grow the market for technology. All of these experiences have made for a rewarding career.
How can IT improve the livability of Memphis?
The IT Council recently hosted a thought leadership forum on the advent of Smart Cities – an initiative of the White House and a global movement. Metropolitan centers around the world are adopting technology to make city government and services more effective and more transparent. Memphis is making strides in this area by developing a website and dashboard, MEMFacts, for information on city services and statistics on crime and neighborhood blight. By continuing to harness technology to improve 911 and 311 services, the city can communicate more effectively with citizens to make Memphis a more livable and safe place.
Does the IT Council support educational programs in Memphis schools?
The IT Council has adopted the first STEM school in the Shelby County school system, Maxine Smith STEAM Academy. This middle school is focused on a curriculum around STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) in order to create a pathway for careers in technology. The IT Council provides a weekly career talk for the students during their lunch hour called LunchBox Wednesday. Each week, these sixth, seventh and eighth graders hear from professionals across many disciplines to inspire them on their future careers in technology. We are also hosting their second annual career fair in March and planning an after-school program to provide coding classes. After one year in operation, the school ranked number one in the TCAP tests in Shelby County and number two in the state of Tennessee. We are excited and committed to working with these 260 gifted students who represent the future technology workforce in Memphis.
Who are some of your female role models and heroes?
I have always admired trailblazers and pioneers in their fields. Katharine Graham as the first woman publisher of The Washington Post, Jane Goodall and her research with the chimpanzees in Africa, Georgia O’Keeffe as a groundbreaking modern artist and Martha Stewart as the founder of a media network for the domestic arts are all heroes of mine. In my own family, both my grandmothers had rich careers and were pioneers in their own right. One led the pediatric ward at John Gaston Hospital (now the Regional Med) as the head nurse. My other grandmother served at the Tennessee Department of Employment Security in an early role for workforce development. My mother was primarily a stay-at-home mom, but she enjoyed a late-in-life career at The Commercial Appeal, working her way up from an entry-level job in the call center to lead the classified advertising department over a 10-year period.
What motivates you?
I have always been motivated to take on a challenge and to create something new. I also really enjoy developing programs that showcase the achievements of others.
What brought you back to Memphis?
I have had the opportunity to live in many places around the world, yet I never stopped calling Memphis my home. In 2007, I felt it was time to return and be here for my family.
Where is the first place you take out-of-town guests who come to Memphis?
I go down to the river! The River Inn, The Madison Hotel and The National Ornamental Metal Museum are all amazing vantage points to share the sunset on the Mississippi.
What’s your best piece of advice for others?
Practice the art of resilience, because life will certainly present you with challenges. In the words of the lyrics sung by both Ella Fitzgerald and Natalie Cole, if life lets you down, be ready to “pick yourself up, dust yourself off and start all over again.”
What are three things you can’t live without, excluding faith, family and friends?
I can’t live without a great cup of coffee, the morning newspaper and walking my dog.
Meet more inspiring Memphis women. Click here to check out the FACES archives.
Thank you to Micki Martin for the amazing photographs of Regina.