From the time Michael DeVaughn could walk, to his sophomore year of college, his family lived in an efficiency apartment in Washington D.C. with zero bedrooms. His mom, a high school graduate, and his dad, a maintenance man for a public school — and a high school dropout — slept on a pullout bed on one side of the apartment. On the other side there was a bunk bed for DeVaughn and his brother.
“If you look at my resume you see an Ivy League school graduate, master's degree from a top 20 MBA program at the time, a PhD from a top research university in the country, you would think I had a charmed life,” DeVaughn said. “That's not the case.”
His family didn’t own a telephone or a car, and between the four of them they shared one dresser with five drawers; the bottom one filled with books.
“My mother was intent on making sure that we were good readers and we joined a book club,” DeVaughn said. “It was a signal of what was important. They both told me I needed to get an education in order to be successful and have a good life.”
DeVaughn would become the first person in his family to graduate from college in 1986 from Brown University. However, the journey to becoming a college graduate wasn’t always DeVaughn’s top priority, not until his aunt persuaded him to reconsider.
“My aunt said, ‘If you get straight A's, I will give you $20 — this is sometime in the early 70s — that's a lot of money,” DeVaughn said. “That was all the incentive I needed. By fourth grade I got straight A's and then I showed up with my report cards. It's funny because she didn't think I would do it. I remember when I did it I waved that thing in front of her face and said to my aunt, ‘You need to pay up.’”
From that point on, DeVaughn became a diligent student, with the goal of bettering his financial situation and graduating college. He eventually got a scholarship to a prestigious private high school in the Washington D.C. suburbs that put him on track to be an Ivy League graduate.
Today, DeVaughn works as the Dean of the Pamplin School of Business at the University of Portland. Not only that, but he is the first African-American to fill this position at UP. Influenced by his own journey to becoming a college student, he makes it a high priority to make meaningful connections with students to make sure they feel like they belong.
“I'm about access, any student who wants to be a business student should be able to,” DeVaughn said. “As dean, it's my job to give you the resources necessary. I firmly believe that one of my key priority systems is making sure that we are an open and accessible field, and that students have the resources they need to succeed to solve problems that they're interested in.”
His humble beginning is what he credits for his desire to go to college, but his passion for business wasn’t always apparent. While attending Brown, he studied economics and saw business as a vehicle to get his family ahead.
“I knew I wanted to do business because in my view, business people made all the money,” DeVaughn said. “They all sit behind desks and in all the jobs I had done leading up to college, they were all blue-collar manual labor.”
“My dad was a maintenance man for public school,” he continued. “So, I’d go to work with him sometimes, sweeping floors and cleaning toilets. I had a job one summer cutting grass at the shopping center. I knew that business people didn't work with their hands.”
At Brown, DeVaughn was also a part of the track and field team. For him, sports taught him important skills like leadership, grit and self-determination — all skills he still uses in his day to day life. He eventually became an Ivy League Champion in the 35 pound weight throw.
After Brown, DeVaughn worked a variety of roles at Bank of America and PepsiCo before getting into academia. It was only after college that DeVaughn truly found his passion in the field of business.
“My passion for business started after I graduated from college,” DeVaughn said. “It was only after I started working in my first job — which was for Fleet Financial Bank, which is now part of Bank of America — where I developed a passion. I would read Forbes magazine, Fortune, Wall Street Journal, Businessweek, I had so many subscriptions. My wife was like, ‘Maybe throw some of them out.’ But that's where I developed, I just consumed everything business.”
There was a pivotal point in DeVaughn’s career that would shape the trajectory of his life. It started with a Nantucket Nectars bottle cap with the words, “Professor Hazeltine was one of Tom and Tom’s favorite professors at Brown University.”
Barrett Hazeltine, professor of engineering at Brown University, is a role model of DeVaughn’s, and the reason DeVaughn got into academia to begin with. While working with Bank of America, DeVaughn got the chance to be a TA for one of Hazeltine’s courses.
“I taught it on Monday nights, from 7-7:50,” DeVaughn said. “I didn't get paid, I did it as a favor to him. My wife said, you know, I see you get so excited about that one class for 50 minutes. You're more excited about that than your real job. You should see if you can do something about this. That was exactly what I did.”
DeVaughn eventually got his start in higher education through the PhD project, a program made as an effort to try and get more people of color to pursue PhD’s. While he was impartial to the idea at first, something stuck with DeVaughn by the time he finished learning from Bernard L. Milano, the former president of the PhD project.
“When your job is getting on your nerves, you can't handle your boss, I want you to think, ‘Get a PhD’, and he was right,” DeVaughn said. “So, I went in '95 and in '97 I eventually quit my job. I moved my two kids including Nathan, who was three at the time, halfway across the country to University of Wisconsin. We had no family support, I'm from Washington D.C. and my wife's from Indiana where she was 12 hours away from in Madison, Wisconsin.”
“I started a PhD program with a three year old and an 18 month girl at age 33 too, by the way, 10 years older than the average PhD student,” he added.
After teaching at the University of Minnesota and the University of St. Thomas, DeVaughn moved from the East Coast to become the Dean of the Pamplin School of Business, a decision that came easy to him because of his son, UP alum Nathan DeVaughn ‘16.
“I was always impressed with the education he got here,” DeVaughn said. “Everything college is supposed to be a transformative experience happened to him here. He just thrived. So when the opportunity came, I knew I wanted to be a part of that because I saw what happened to my own kid.”
Being close to family was another reason to make the jump to UP for DeVaughn. After graduating, Nathan started his family here in Portland, so spending time with his grandkids was also a reason DeVaughn decided to come to UP.
DeVaughn hopes to cultivate a more student focused culture at UP. His priorities at UP are inspired by his own role model, Professor Hazeltine, who prioritized engaging with students and getting to know them personally. For DeVaughn, this ranges from holding season tickets to the men and women’s soccer and basketball team to personally meeting with first-year business students.
“I want to be shaking their hands four years from now in Chiles,” DeVaughn said. “So, I have really been focusing on lots of student things, that means maybe meeting at odd times. I hang around a little bit at night to meet the students. I'm all about the students.”
DeVaughn is also focused on things including equity and inclusivity within the business school. It is important to DeVaughn to be a representative figure for Black and African American students as well as being accessible as a mentor.
“I’ll be frank here,” DeVaughn said. “Sadly in this graduating class, there are 186 senior business majors — two of them identify as Black or African American. I think that number should be higher, we can be better. So it's important, I think, for students like that to see me in this position. I feel like I'm a supportive figure and that's part of the reason why I'm trying to be accessible to students. I want them to know that I've got their back.”
Outside of work, DeVaughn is still a supportive figure for his family. Besides being a sports fan himself, he has also been very involved with his own children’s development in sports. He was a track coach for ten years at his community park system, an experience that earned him an outstanding volunteer award.
“He comes from very humble beginnings,” his son, Nathan DeVaughn said. “He’s worked hard for what he has, he won’t tell you that. He makes the most of everything. Growing up from a more privileged stance, I felt like I had no excuse to be lazy or not work hard because I remembered his background and how he grew up.”
DeVaughn, during his time at UP, hopes to embrace students, enable success for our stakeholders and engage students in Portland communities. His job, as he puts it, is to give students the necessary resources to solve problems students are interested in, prepare students for future jobs and to push students to think outside of the UP campus boundaries.
“That's why I'm in this particular business, because, to me, that's what's important,” DeVaughn said. “Professor Hazeltine is my sort of academic hero and when I'm all done in this profession I'm striving to have students say that their experience was so informed by Mike DeVaughn that they might put me in a bottle cap as well.”
Kimberly Cortez is a reporter for The Beacon. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.