The Golden Ticket
“…Two roads diverged in a wood, and I- I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” Robert Frost’s poem could easily describe Scarlett Harrod’s (JHS 2002) approach to life.
Not only has Harrod, the 2002 valedictorian of Jeffersonville High School, chosen the road “less traveled,” but she has done so at full throttle. Thus, it is only fitting that her current position is with ABB, a multi-national engineering conglomerate whose slogan is “a global leader in power and automation.” (Equally fitting, her company is helping to power the world’s first solar flight around the world, Solar Impulse.) Having completed assignments in Raleigh and Dubai, she is currently based out of Memphis for her third assignment with ABB. At the end of September, she will move to a longer term role somewhere in the company, potentially anywhere in the world she would like to go. Harrod says, “I am in a place where I am independent, financially stable, able to visit family and friends around the world, explore new opportunities, and build any kind of life I choose.”
Let’s revisit the trails she forged to get to the other side of the glass ceiling…
After graduating from JHS, her mother, her aunt, and she loaded up the car and headed to Washington, D.C., where she attended Georgetown University’s Walsh School of Foreign Service, the top program of its kind in the world and on a 100% merit scholarship, nevertheless. It was the first time she had actually been on the campus. As she watched her mother and aunt drive away that same weekend, she jokes that initially she felt she had “landed on Mars.”
She explains, “The socio-economics of Georgetown are incredible. I was dropped into a whole new, big world, and I could feel the difference in the first five minutes. The students there mainly came from the East Coast or the West Coast. Most of them didn’t know where Indiana was and didn’t care.” She says with a smile but in all seriousness, “They might have traveled to 10 countries by the time they were 18, but they didn’t know how to do laundry.”
Coming from a working-class and public school background, Harrod knew not only how to do laundry but how to work hard period (She entered Jeff High with the intent of getting a “good score on the SAT.”). Harrod says, “Jeffersonville High School served me well. I was prepared to see different viewpoints and to thrive in a diverse environment as opposed to developing in a situation where everyone comes from a similar background and often thinks just like you.”
While loading up on classes (She completed her bachelor’s early in Dec. 2005.), she also held a variety of jobs (always with a focus on learning a “useful skill”) ranging from interning at a law office to serving as a research assistant studying agricultural archaeology and land use of the ancient Mayas in Belize to teaching English on the small island of Mauritius. Two summers were spent working at Jeff Boat; one as a laborer and one as a painter.
The year immediately following graduation was spent working in Jacksonville, North Carolina as a field technician for Sovereign Consulting, an environmental consulting contractor specializing in ground water remediation and hazardous materials clean-up
Fast-forward to 2010-11. Harrod was living in her hometown, working for MKCC Financial Group of Hilliard Lyons, and was volunteering at Thomas Jefferson and Riverside elementary schools as a math mentor when she learned she had been accepted for graduate study at both Duke and Yale. The Red Devil alumna traded in her red for blue. Offered a 50% merit scholarship, Harrod chose Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business MBA Program, ranked the number one MBA program in the world. Two years later with her MBA in hand, she was offered a project manager position at ABB. Today she reports directly to the vice president of global market development.
Harrod’s choices of one “less traveled” road after another have allowed her to live and work around the world. Thus far, she has traveled to Canada, Mexico, Belize, Costa Rica, England, France, Italy, Spain, Egypt, UAE, Qatar, Mauritius, India, South Korea, Germany, 35 US states, and Puerto Rico. Yet, with all the changes her college and career choices have brought to Harrod’s life, one thing has not changed — her sense of gratitude.
She reflects, “The Gifted Program was a ‘golden ticket’ for me. It changed my academic trajectory starting at age nine so that I started to be pushed and challenged for the first time, even if it was only once or twice a week. I was comfortable with challenges by the time I reached middle school and was then able to make the transition to ‘advanced’ classes at RVMS. That level of coursework allowed me to continue on the ‘advanced’ path into and through high school, including AP classes. Without that programming and those capable teachers, I would have been bored, had only sports to attempt to keep me busy and out of trouble (not that sports are bad, I loved them and still play!), and would never have been able to gain acceptance to an elite undergraduate institution.”
She continues, “My experience and degree from Georgetown changed the course of my life. I learned that the world, its people, and future opportunities were much bigger than what I came from, and I had the ability to pursue an amazing life. The solid foundation that I learned to build (starting at age nine!), propelled me to apply and be accepted to the top MBA program so that I could make a career transition and focus on my desired field.”
With refreshing frankness, she offers, “Even now, within my company and industry, doors are opened to me simply because of my background and pedigree. I always have to demonstrate that I am actually capable, but the doors are open before I even open my mouth or start work. That is just not the same for people with other educational backgrounds; life isn’t fair, but you can learn to play the game well and pave a path for others.”
She concludes, “What I would say to the kids: It’s not luck, it’s preparation for opportunity and willingness to make smart decisions even if they take you out of your comfort zone, and no one in your family has done it before. And as always, a simple reminder and dose of humility that I was a little girl from Parkwood in a single-parent household who qualified for free lunch and went to public school K-12.”
Note: The GCCS Advanced Program wishes to thank Scarlett Harrod for her time volunteering in the classroom, for taking the time to update her hometown on her latest achievements, and for advocating for high ability students with a call to action for others to volunteer.
Of her time volunteering at GCCS and working with high ability students, Harrod says that the classes she volunteered in were “wonderful.” she adds, “I believe that you can still make whatever you want out of your public school education and that motivated students are more than capable of reaching their potential.” She also sees a critical need for involved, interested adults. “I would encourage people to get to know the community you live in and that helped to raise you. Give the interest that was shown to you to the kids growing up now. We have to let these kids know that they can achieve whatever they are willing to truly work toward in life.”
She refers to her volunteer experience at GCCS as having felt like a celebrity entering the room. “Volunteering was a terrific experience. These kids are so smart. When they pipe up, you realize they really did remember everything you said and taught them from the last session. They are listening, eager, and glad to have someone who takes an interest. It is like you are their favorite person in the world right then. They want to hang out and learn from you.”