By: Diane Stirling
(315) 443-8975

A degree in information studies is a tremendous asset, whether you are an information-technology career purist or not, School of Information Studies (iSchool) alumna Liz Ngonzi,’92, told listeners at her keynote address for the BLISTS annual reunion event last week.

“Whether you’re directly in this industry or not, it’s important to get the tools, knowledge and understanding because it really does help boost your profile to have an iSchool background,” she told the audience for the Black and Latino Information Studies Support organization event. “You don’t necessarily need to have a straight and narrow path,” she advised. “You can figure out what is the most fun for you and what makes the most sense to you. It’s a field where if you’re willing to put yourself out there, all the objective factors are not important. It’s really about whether you’re good or not.”

Ngonzi, a member of the second graduating class in the Bachelor of Science program in Information Management and Technology at the iSchool, should know.

She spent half of the past 20 years pursuing a traditional IT career in “corporate America,” she said, then alternatively, the next decade in an anything-but-typical professional path based in her entrepreneurial spirit, international interests, and ability to use technology as a consummate connector. She’s now a recognized expert on entrepreneurship and leadership for women and minorities; technological innovations used in advancing causes around the world; and empowering disenfranchised people through access to technology.

Shifting Stereotypes

A major focus of her work is changing stereotypical perceptions of African countries and African women. “Magazines and other media, and even searching on Google, can provide a much distorted impression of Africa; a very limited perspective,” she acknowledged. The impression given “is that African women are always being rescued by someone else.” In reality, “African women are doing things for themselves and to help other African women, and technology is playing a huge role” in that change of status, she suggested. 

Ngonzi’s desire to help re-set that perspective is what inspired her to organize a panel discussion, “Africa, Tech and Women: The New Faces of Development,” one of 600 of 3,200 submissions that were accepted for presentation at last spring’s noted South by Southwest conference. There, she described how African women are rapidly adopting technology and putting it to use in everyday ways, as well as in new educational and entrepreneurial pursuits to improve their lives and their communities. 

Her personal journey has spanned many thousands of miles, from Uganda to the United States, and increasingly now, back to Africa. Born to a mother who was one of Uganda’s first female diplomats and a renowned Ugandan playwright father, she has straddled two continents worth of diplomatic, academic, and business worlds for many years. When Liz’s mother came to the United Nations, Liz came along and graduated from the international UN School. That is where she learned, “we’re all just people, and the things that divide us just don’t make any sense,” she said.

Embracing Tech

Her Alumni Weekend visit was Liz’s second back to SU since she graduated as one of the iSchool’s earliest “geek girls.” Ngonzi originally began her SU studies as an art student in the College of Visual and Performing Arts, but soon recognized she needed a change. She learned of an initiative encouraging African Americans to pursue STEM education and decided to join the ITS program. Her embrace of technology then was fearless, she chuckled, because “I had only taken one or two typing courses and certainly didn’t know anything about computers.” 

Four years later, Ngonzi was among 20 students graduating from the second bachelor’s degree class. The timing was perfect, she explained. There was a recession. While many of her friends faced uncertain career futures, Liz’s, IT background meant interviews and job offers. She accepted a position with then-number 2 computer manufacturer Digital Equipment Corporation and joined the company’s rotating training program. She worked trade shows for the next six months, and stayed at DEC until joining MICROS Systems, Inc., and later, Arthur Andersen, holding sales, marketing and business consulting managerial positions. After SU, Ngonzi also earned a master’s of management degree in hospitality from the Cornell School of Hotel Administration.

Changing Gears

When Ngonzi decided it was time for another change, she formed her own boutique practice, Amazing Taste LLC, offering consulting, teaching, marketing, and partnership-building services, where she now “leverages tech all the time.”

She currently serves as entrepreneur-in-residence for Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration and is an adjunct there, plus teaches about online and mobile fundraising and supporter engagement at New York University’s Heyman Center for Philanthropy Fundraising. Her clients include domestic and international educational institutions, gender rights organizations, health development foundations, and political campaigns and youth development organizations. For instance, she took Cornell’s annual icon and innovator awards program online and integrated social media. She did the same for the African Medical and Research Foundation’s Stand up for African Mothers campaign. Ngonzi said she expects to become more and more a dual-continent citizen with overlapping and intersecting pursuits in America and Africa

Cognizant that she also represents the storyline of today’s African American woman, Ngonzi is highly aware of her personal responsibilities as well as her professional ones. “It is important to be willing to give back, to mentor, and to do whatever you’ve got to do to help other people, because you’re in the best position to help another person,” she acknowledged. “It’s not just about being about yourself, it’s about being about the community as well. A lot of people did that for me, and I recognize that I have to pay that forward.”