Evolving a Career
"Everybody has to be a technology person."
Towry has always been good with numbers, so she opted to study math and computer science in college. Towry points out this was in a time before personal computers, when you had to use punch cards for programming.
“Before we even knew what technology was, I was learning technology,” she said, adding that her first experiences in tech were from programming and logic perspectives, which meshed well with her love for math. She recalls that, back then, technology was a “side thing” whereas today, it’s infused in everything we do.
“Everybody has to be a technology person [today],” she said. “Everybody does.”
After college, Towry moved from her “little-bitty town” to Shreveport, La. to work as a programmer at a bank. She says it was a good introduction to the business world, but that feeling was from a “very wide-eyed perspective.” She explained that, being from a small community, she didn’t know what possibilities she actually had, what the world had to offer. But she did know it felt good to wear a business suit each day.
“I will tell you that when I started that job, I showed up in homemade clothes. I sewed my own suits,” she said.
"What motivates me is the connections I make..."
After a few years, Towry took her computer skills to a position in the information technology department at a Louisiana college. There, as she provided tech support, she became acquainted with business school faculty. Her new colleagues and friends encouraged her to consider getting a Ph.D. Towry first completed an MBA at Texas A&M University, an experience that opened the world to her. She soon went to work for Exxon and later, Compaq.
“I loved the corporate world. I knew how to succeed there — and I was succeeding. I had a nice expense account, I was traveling, I was moving up in the world,” she explained. But after 10 years in the field, she realized she wasn’t completely fulfilled: She was sad when the weekends came to an end.
“I always tell my students this is something to look out for,” she said. “If you’re sad on Sunday nights, then you have not found your ultimate job yet.”
That’s when Towry decided to pursue her Ph.D. at the University of Texas. Suddenly, she no longer experienced the Sunday blues.
“I absolutely knew then, without a doubt, this was what I was meant to do,” she said.
She was destined to take her parents’ path after all.
Her decade in the industry served Towry well in her Ph.D. program, just as it does now in her teaching. She’s proud that she not only brings the right academic credentials to her position at Goizueta Business School, but also an abundance of real-world finance and technology experience. This, she says, truly allows her to go beyond in her calling to teach.
“It’s all about connecting to human beings. What motivates me is the connections I make,” she said. “I love my students. To watch them progress and to watch them fulfill their dreams is absolutely what makes me want to be a fabulous teacher.”
“They’re my legacy..."
Towry works with students at every level at Goizueta, but mentoring Ph.D. students is especially rewarding for her because of the close, one-on-one nature of the work. In fact, she affectionately calls her students her children, perhaps because of something her schoolteacher mother used to say. Towry’s mother was never certain about religion or an afterlife, and she always reasoned, “I know I will live forever through my children.” Towry, who doesn’t have children of her own, has adopted her mother’s mantra in a way.
“...and so now I have ‘grandchildren’ because my Ph.D. students are out there teaching and they have students,” Towry said. “It sounds funny to talk about it that way, but when I see my former students at conferences, they’ll say, ‘Hey, Mom!’ and then they’ll introduce their student and say, ‘Here’s your new grandchild.’”
This playfulness demonstrates the kind of relationships Towry has built with her mentees at Goizueta: They’re truly like family.
In addition to her duties as a professor, Towry is serving a rotation as vice dean to the faculty. She hopes that in this role she can build and deepen connections between administrators and faculty members and help create a sense of ownership of the school among the faculty. Her approach here is to lead, not manage.
It’s not only on campus that Towry gets to serve students, faculty and her community. A partnership between Goizeuta and a South African government agency takes her and some colleagues across the Atlantic each year. There, they teach South African scientists with inventions and ideas, often related to life-saving medical technology, about the business side of entrepreneurship. For example: how to take something from concept to market.
“I just absolutely fell in love with the place,” Towry said, adding that the international education experience also spawned a love of travel and adventure. “I’m completely obsessed with South Africa. I go on a safari every year.”
Towry’s timeline for academic and life milestones may be off by a few years from some of her colleagues — for instance, she married at 51 — but she’s quite satisfied with how things turned out professionally and personally. Outside of teaching and research, she loves hanging out with her husband. They love Broadway musicals and bike riding — and singing duets at karaoke bars.
Although she at first resisted following in their footsteps, Towry is thankful for her parents’ positive influence and inspiration. Her father, long retired from teaching, is in his 90s, and her mother passed away in 2017 — but not without teaching her daughter one more lesson. As Towry’s mother’s Alzheimer’s disease progressed and her memories got muddier, there was one thing she always seemed to remember: her students.
It’s clear her mother’s lifelong love of learning has inspired Towry to help her own students — her kids — find their voice.
“They’re my legacy,” Towry said.