Learning to Lead
Briana Guillory ’16 found her voice at Colby and has been speaking up ever since.
It didn’t take long for Briana Guillory ’16 to fall in love with Colby. Soon after arriving on campus from her home in Las Vegas, Guillory built a network of friends and participated in a range of experiences that led to her discovering both her passion in life and her powerful voice.
Since graduating, she has used lessons learned at Colby first in her job as a teacher in Newark, N.J., and now in her current role as a senior project manager at the pharmaceutical company Merck in Philadelphia.
“That’s the part about college, it’s meant to make leaders. It’s meant for you to find your voice and what your voice is and what your passion is,” Guillory said. “Sometimes you find it there, sometimes you don’t, but a lot of it starts there.”
Guillory moves conversations forward at Merck, where she has worked for more than two years. During that time, Guillory earned two promotions and now holds the title of senior specialist, cross-functional project manager. In this role, she helps execute different strategies that give patients better access to Merck’s products. She also serves as communications chair for Merck’s League of Employees of African Descent.
On top of her career in public health, Guillory is an entrepreneur and the founder of Be Great By Design, a small company that specializes in helping clients grow into their best selves, a process of self-discovery that she began as soon as she set foot on Mayflower Hill.
Guillory’s journey began in Las Vegas, miles away from the strip, where she attended Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy. She grew up playing sports, and academics came naturally. When it came time to apply for colleges, she had options.
She visited Colby in the fall and fell instantly in love. She met her roommate, a volleyball player, and visited the volleyball coach, who assured her she could walk on if she enrolled. She also attended a Pugh Center party.
“I left Colby with a sweatshirt and said this is where I’m going to school,” Guillory said.
She attended the Colby Achievement Program in the Sciences the summer before she enrolled, and once on campus quickly found her niche. Guillory loved each course she signed up for, and enjoyed seeing how they all connected. Eventually, she majored in environmental studies and minored in anthropology.
“I wanted to go to class, I wanted to ask these hard questions,” Guillory said.
Guillory’s passion for her subjects allowed her to become more invested in her education. “I was taking classes that mattered to me about topics that mattered to me. I was fully invested in my education,” she said.
At first, Guillory scribbled questions in her notebook during class. By the end of her time at Colby she had learned to voice those questions and push conversations in meaningful ways. She credits a study-abroad opportunity in Tanzania for changing her life.
Guillory backpacked through rainforests and national parks, and for her research project studied local perceptions of development. In Tanzania, she focused on the relationship among people, the environment, and policies. Branching out on her own, immersing herself in a new community, and learning an unfamiliar language helped her gain the self-confidence to communicate ideas when she returned to Colby.
“I didn’t believe in my voice all the time, but others around me did, and that’s something I had to learn and lean into at some point,” Guillory said, crediting Chandra Bhimull, the Audrey Wade Hittinger Katz and Sheldon Toby Katz Associate Professor for Distinguished Teaching in Anthropology and African-American Studies, for encouraging her to vocalize her opinions instead of relegating them to the margins of her notebook.
After Guillory graduated in 2016, she got a job as an urban education fellow in Newark, working mostly with high school students of color. At first, the students demonstrated little interest in science, so Guillory decided to show them how important it was.
She took them on a walking tour around Newark and had them count and record the trees, trash trucks, and fast-food restaurants in the neighborhood. When they returned to the classroom, Guillory explained that what they found directly impacted their health.
“If I want my students to thrive, I have to connect with them. I have to make the material connect with them and then also [show them] what are actionable steps that they can be taking to do better and make better choices.”
Guillory loved working with the students, but she disagreed with policies she thought were not in students’ best interests. After a year, Guillory left teaching and applied to graduate school, choosing Drexel University, where she earned her master’s in public health.
At Drexel, she was passionate about the impact she could have on her immediate community.
She became president of Drexel Black Graduate Student Union and began a book club that created a space for community conversations.
Guillory graduated from Drexel just as the pandemic began and used that time to reflect on what she wanted to do with her future. “It gave me the space to stop and think, and think about what I wanted and who I wanted to be. I spent those six months really focusing on myself,” she said.
She began working at Merck in September 2020. In her previous role as a study manager, she oversaw multiple studies across several therapeutic areas, including infectious disease, oncology, and vaccines, helping ensure the actions of scientists aligned with their goals. In her new position, she will help create processes to share more work of Merck researchers with the wider scientific community at conferences, providing her with additional leadership opportunities.
Guillory no longer resembles the student who scribbled questions in the margins of her notebook, keeping her opinions to herself. Now, she advances conversations and seeks to inspire those around her.
“I want to go into being consistently the person I envisioned being, and that person is confident, that person is happy inside and out,” she said. “It’s OK to lean into being uncomfortable, and it’s OK to lean into who you are. I think that’s really important. The sooner you know yourself, the sooner you thrive and do well, and others will love you either way.”
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