From GED to Ph.D., Alumna Mary Daly Excels

Mary Daly, Defying the Odds Alumni Award winner.

Daly Receives Defying the Odds Alumni Award

A lot has happened since Mary Daly first set foot on UMKC’s campus. She has earned a master’s degree and a Ph.D. She has become a leading economics scholar, a respected author and has climbed the ranks of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.

But it’s what she has overcome, as much as what she has accomplished, that makes Daly this year’s Alumni Defying the Odds Award winner.

To help support her struggling family, she began working at an early age, eventually dropping out of school at age 15 to work full-time.  Despite many obstacles, including a chaotic home environment, Daly found adults who encouraged her.  Thanks to that mentorship, Daly eventually earned a GED and enrolled at UMKC.

She worked several jobs on campus to pay her tuition and became the first in her family to earn a college degree.

“Even though I was scared, and very afraid that it wouldn’t work out, those fears didn’t crowd out my determination,” Daly said.

When Daly arrived on campus, she was stunned by the stately buildings, the students and professors who conversed as they walked across campus. More than anything, she was surprised by  the opportunities – academic and cultural – that she couldn’t have foreseen but would soon enjoy.  “It was like a giant buffet.  I was able to partake in all these things that I had never seen before. I did everything I possibly could. I went to lectures on subjects I knew nothing about, and all kinds of performances and sporting events — anything I could possibly do that made me part of the life there,” Daly said.

Daly excelled academically, worked multiple campus jobs, and had an active social life, but initially, she battled the occasional pang of insecurity.

Looking back, she says the welcoming, encouraging atmosphere helped quiet her self-doubt.

“I walked onto the UMKC campus, and I was treated just like everyone else. The people were really focused on my mind and my eagerness to learn, so nothing else mattered,” Daly said.

That encouragement helped shape Daly into who she is today: not just a group vice president and associate director of research for the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, but someone who defied the odds, and is now paying it forward.

Now, when Daly sees people who remind her of her younger self, she tries to do what UMKC, and a few caring adults, did for her.

“I really encourage people to move forward in their education. Taking a step toward your education just broadens your opportunity set. It opens so many doors. I try to be there to help people make that step, because that’s what was done for me,” Daly said.

Each year, the UMKC Alumni Association presents alumni awards to one honoree from each school and five campus-wide awards at its annual awards luncheon. This year’s event, which will highlight the 80th anniversary of the campus and include the presentation of the 2013 Chancellor’s Medal, will be held on Thursday, April 18, on the UMKC campus. For information and tickets for the event, click here.

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