The first role Wanda Rogers ’79 held in the U.S. Treasury Department was as a secretary. Rising over the course of three decades to become the deputy commissioner of The Bureau of the Fiscal Service, she now oversees about 1,400 people. Her bureau disburses and collects trillions of dollars in the service of helping the U.S. government run smoothly. Rogers’ work has earned her meetings with Vice President Joe Biden, an award from former Vice President Al Gore and an invitation to a presidential signing ceremony in the White House Rose Garden.
“I knew that I wanted to be the best I could be, but I could never foresee sitting where I am today,” she says. “It wasn’t part of my dream. It happened partly by being in the right place at the right time, but also because the right people saw the value I could bring to the organization.”
Her career is a series of firsts: She was the first African American deputy commissioner of the former Financial Management Service and, before that, the first African American to serve as the assistant commissioner and the U.S. chief disbursement officer within a section of that bureau. She’s also the first African American woman in the bureau’s history to hold a position within the federal government’s Senior Executive Service.
Rogers, 57, attributes her rise, in part, to her upbringing. “It all starts with the fundamentals and values I learned at home in a small community in Pleasantville,” she says of her hometown in New Jersey. “And when I went on to Rider, I learned so many things that helped me be successful in the workplace.”
Those fundamentals, along with her life experiences, forged within her a steely determination to succeed. When Rogers began at the Treasury, she was often the only African American in the office. “This was a time when the opportunities for minorities were better than they had been in the past, but not where they are today,” she says. She grew a thick skin in a sometimes challenging environment. “I resolved to try harder and achieve more, just by putting my head down and doing my job. I got in there and I worked hard and I rose up in the ranks pretty quickly.”
Rogers’ initial career choice was teaching, a goal she set in eighth grade. Three figures she admired in high school (two teachers and a guidance counselor) were all Rider graduates, so when they recommended applying to the University, Rogers was eager to follow their lead. The skills she picked up as an undergraduate would later pay dividends at the Treasury Department, but at the time, she was focused on becoming a teacher, believing her student teaching at Hightstown High School had set her on her career path.
She was establishing her future in other ways, too. As a freshman, Rogers met her future husband, Terry ’79, though the pair didn’t start dating until their senior years. “We’ve been together ever since,” she says, though for a time after graduating they lived apart. “My goal was to come out of college and teach somewhere in New Jersey, probably not far from Rider,” she says, and that’s exactly what she did. She accepted a job teaching at a vocational school for adults in Atlantic City. But with Terry having moved to Virginia, she stayed at the job only eight months, the pull to shorten the long-distance relationship too strong.
She and Terry, a realtor who now owns an independent brokerage firm, split the difference between New Jersey and Virginia and moved to Maryland. “I’ve been living in Maryland now longer than I lived in New Jersey, but I still call New Jersey home,” Rogers says.
After moving to Maryland, Rogers, who was trained to teach secretaries, accepted a job as one with the Treasury Department. She stayed in that position for 14 months before she began ascending the ladder. “If you do your job and do it well, people cannot take that from you,” she says.
In her current role as deputy commissioner, which she’s held since October 2012, five assistant commissioners report directly to her. “They’re responsible for the daily work, and my charge is to provide the leadership, expertise, guidance and resources to get the job done,” she says. “I do have a huge responsibility, so everything they do I have to know about and be able to articulate and defend.”
In 1997, Rogers received a master's degree in human resource management from the University of Maryland University College, earning it while working full time and raising children. Still, even though she recognizes the cliche, she says, “My greatest accomplishments are my three daughters. I created human beings who are able to give back to society. That’s always been important to me and my husband.”
On Rogers’ LinkedIn profile, she omits the numerous awards and recognition she’s received in her professional summary, but includes that she acts as a workplace coach and mentor. Also active in her community, Rogers serves as treasurer to Park Community Development Corporation, a nonprofit based in Landover, Md., that provides economical and educational support to local children and seniors. At the University's reunions on June 7, Rogers will be presented with the Harold L. Conover Leadership Award, given to alumni who exhibit leadership in government service, nonprofits or community agencies.
Wanda and Terry’s community continues to include the friends they made as undergraduates, an extension of their own lifelong connection to Rider. “My roommate is still a friend who I talk to all the time,” Rogers says. “We constantly bring those people into our lives, because that was a great time in our lives.” Rogers’ nephew Anthony Palin also graduated from Rider, in 2010.
Her own experience at Rider was interrupted by a semester at community college. Then, in her final year after she returned, she faced a shortfall in paying her tuition. Lawson R. McElroy, who at the time was assistant director of financial aid and now has a scholarship endowment named in his honor, stepped in to provide help. “He told me not to worry about it and he got the money together so I could finish school,” Rogers says. “I am forever in his debt.”
After securing this assistance, she completed 18 credits the summer before graduating in September 1979. “I’m not a quitter,” Rogers says. “Even if it gets hard, I stick with it.”