Graduate Rita Knaff Takes the Stage at African-American Leadership Symposium

Cincinnati graduate Rita Knaff took the stage today at the 2015 Information Technology Senior Management Forum (ITSMF) Symposium, a gathering of African American CIOs to promote more diversity in executive-level IT positions across the country.

Before Per Scholas Rita worked as a flight attendant for 19 years. When she was suddenly laid off, she didn’t know what to do with her life. Through word of mouth she found Per Scholas, and is now a Project Coordinator at IT firm Pomeroy.

Here’s what she had to say:

Good afternoon. My name is Rita Knaff. It is a tremendous honor to be speaking to each of you today. I am an IT professional at Pomeroy where I work as a Project Coordinator to clients across the region and globe.

Being a tech professional is new to me. Prior to this I had a long history as a flight attendant. I always loved traveling to New York City—I met all types of people and celebrities on my many trips there.

During the start of the recession, I received a letter that gave me three months’ notice that I was going to lose my job. I had been with the company 19 years.

Experiencing a layoff after such a long career, loyal to my job, was a huge loss to me. My first thought was “What on earth do I do now?” After 100 job applications, receiving rejection letter after rejection letter, I knew I needed a new plan. My former career in the skies wasn’t enough. It wasn’t relatable to many of the jobs I applied for.

I knew I had to make my skills relevant to the job market today.

I decided to expand my education and try out a number of different hats. I was certified in substitute teaching and even considered enrolling in Northern Kentucky University.

During this journey, a wonderful thing happened. I was taking a project management class and I met a young lady named Hannah during a break one day. She and I were discussing our current course load and aspirations for careers.

She said to me, “I just graduated from Per Scholas. They helped me with my tech certifications and even get a job. I just graduated two weeks ago and have a job offer on the table… Oh, and it’s free.”

Free. Technology. And Certification. I would have thought she was crazy — but she was a graduate herself. I went online and applied that night. And I began class almost immediately.

Per Scholas is awesome. The course they teach is 8 weeks long. Every day Monday through Friday. All day from 9 to 4. It’s intense. They taught me hands-on technical competencies from opening up the computer to learn the hardware, to setting up networks and understanding how to support mobile and cloud technologies.

By the end I was ready to pass the CompTIA A+ Certification — and I didn’t stop there. I’ve gone on to earn the Network+, CAPM, and ITIL Foundation certifications.

They also taught those essential workplace skills that are required in the tech department. We all know the customer is always right and teamwork, teamwork, teamwork, right? Per Scholas didn’t just teach the technical skills, but how to actually be successful on the job. Like, sometimes just showing up is all it takes to win! Being punctual and attendance was serious.

Job searching was a whole different game once I became certified. The employers were coming to me. I received an email inviting me to interview within a day from submitting my application. This was so different from my past rejection letters that took weeks or months to receive. It felt great.

And here I am in front of you today — working in IT!

I always knew this career existed, but, you know, it’s male dominated. I had the mindset — the wrong mindset admittedly — that this career was more for men. But here I am. I am doing it. And you know what? I’m great at my job.

It’s empowering to be a woman in IT. And even more so being a woman of color. I am an asset to my employer and to this industry.

I am excited for this career — and I look forward to meeting with and learning from each of you in this room.

I thank you for your leadership in empowering more individuals like me across the country. I wish you all success in your IT careers! And success in diversifying this rewarding industry.

Thank you

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