Yaa Boakye ’07 reminds us how determination and dedication practiced daily lead to success professionally and personally. She is a Pirate who gives back in many ways and inspires us all. She updated us on how she is working to transform the healthcare industry with AI, while she pursues her MBA at Chicago Booth.

[This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for length and clarity.]

Q: Recently, you returned to campus to participate as a speaker at Symposium where you presented on the AI topic of “Building Chatbots with Personality.” Tell us a little about your journey from Stevenson to now.

Yaa Boakye ’07: My journey from Stevenson to where I am now has been one of pivots and building blocks, with each experience laying the foundation for the next. My time at KSPB radio with my co-hosts Alaska (Alexandria) Wagner ’07 and Morgan MacBride ’07 on our show “Spin it Like It’s Hot” (we loved that song back in the day!) sparked a profound interest in communication. This passion led me to pursue a Bachelor of Science in Communications at Northwestern University, where I focused on Radio, TV, and Film. Little did I know that this early experience would lay the foundation for a career that would eventually lead me to make a meaningful impact in healthcare.

Becoming a registered dietitian allowed me to apply my knack for distilling complex information to help people lead healthier lives. Yet I recognized that to truly bridge the gap between clinicians and business leaders to drive systemic change, I needed a deeper understanding of the economic forces shaping healthcare.

Pursuing my MBA equipped me with the tools to be that linchpin. My background in communications, wellness, and now, business, uniquely positioned me to build out an innovative health tech product at Walmart.

Now, as a Product Manager of an “XX”-million Supplements and Vitamins portfolio at Medline, I leverage my clinical knowledge to inform product development, my communication skills to collaborate cross-functionally and tailor messages to different audiences, and my business acumen to strategize and drive results.

While my path may appear to be a series of dramatic pivots, each step has been an integral building block, equipping me with versatile skills I still use every day. From creative communication to analytical problem-solving to persuasive stakeholder management, the common threads that run through my experiences have woven together to create a strong, interdisciplinary skill set. My winding journey has taught me to embrace the interconnectedness of seemingly disparate pursuits and to view each transition not as a sharp turn, but as an opportunity to layer new knowledge and abilities onto a solid foundation. And I can’t believe it all started with a shared love for a catchy Snoop Dogg song.

Q: And, speaking of Symposium, please share a little about that experience. Any moments that stand out from that day? How was it being back in the classroom?

Y.B.: Returning to campus for Symposium this February filled me with an overwhelming sense of nostalgia – it felt like I had never left. What stood out most was the incredible engagement and vision of the students. Their depth of interests and ambitious dreams for leveraging technology like AI are truly inspiring. It was empowering to see my presentation resonate with them. Being back in the classroom, seeing teachers who haven’t aged a day, felt so natural and familiar. The whole experience reaffirmed the lasting impact Stevenson has had on me.

Q: Looking back on your high school career, are there any teachers or coaches who influenced your professional path?

Y.B.: In my life and career journey, certain figures stand out, each leaving an indelible mark on my trajectory. Mr. Arruda, with his larger-than-life presence, taught me the power of authenticity and the impact of a well-told story. His boisterous personality and ability to captivate an audience showed me that effective communication is more than just conveying information – it’s about forging a genuine connection. To this day, when I am presenting to stakeholders or collaborating with colleagues, I channel Mr. Arruda’s spirit, striving to bring my authentic self to every interaction and to make complex ideas accessible and engaging.

Brett Conneau, through our sessions in Stevenson’s gym, introduced me to the discipline and passion of weightlifting. Under his guidance, I discovered a love for pushing my limits and setting ambitious goals. This sparked a lifelong commitment to wellness that transcends the physical – it’s about resilience, dedication, and continual growth. Brett’s influence has been a driving force in my personal and professional life, inspiring me to take on new challenges, whether it’s competing in bodybuilding or pivoting my career. The grit and determination I cultivated in those early gym sessions have been invaluable in navigating the twists and turns of my journey.

Aimée Bates, with her infectious love for literature and unwavering support, showed me how empathy and understanding can transform the educational experience. As a young student coming from a diverse background, I sometimes struggled to feel like I truly belonged. But Aimée’s classroom was a sanctuary where every voice mattered. She had a gift for making each student feel seen, heard, and valued. Her impact went beyond the pages of the books we read – she taught me the power of inclusive leadership and the importance of fostering a sense of belonging. These lessons have shaped my approach to managing teams and mentoring others, always striving to create an environment where everyone can thrive.

These mentors, among many others, have been instrumental in guiding me through the various stages of my career and life. They’ve taught me that success is about more than just acquiring knowledge or skills – it’s about leading with authenticity, embracing challenges with grit, and lifting others up along the way. As I’ve navigated the winding path from communications to healthcare to business, I’ve carried these lessons with me, weaving them into the fabric of my professional identity.

Today, as a product manager at Medline, I draw upon the storytelling skills I honed under Mr. Arruda’s tutelage to craft compelling narratives around our products and to build bridges between different functions. The discipline and drive I developed with Brett’s guidance fuel my determination to continuously improve our offerings and to push the boundaries of what’s possible in healthcare. And, the inclusive leadership style I learned from Aimée informs my approach to managing my team and collaborating across the organization, always seeking to create a culture of belonging and shared purpose.

In many ways, my journey has been a testament to the enduring impact of great mentorship.

Q: As an alumna, you are, without a doubt, a Pirate who is always there to help and support others. Tell us a little about the different ways you have stayed connected with School and given back to help current students.

Y.B.: During the pandemic, my concern for students on scholarship at Stevenson led me to collaborate with others to raise $6,000 in gift cards to support their needs. I was once a low-income student, and I knew many students were facing higher-than-usual unprecedented hardship.

I reached out to Amy Elmore (director of advancement) and Mia Peterson ’89 (director of alumni relations) and my network of fellow alumni. I rallied a group of passionate individuals who shared my commitment to giving back. Together, we launched a fundraising initiative to provide immediate support to these students in need. The gift cards that we distributed to scholarship students and their families, helped them weather the storm.

The response from the school community was overwhelming. Students and parents alike expressed deep gratitude for the tangible difference these gift cards made in their lives during such a challenging time.

But what started as a one-time initiative quickly evolved into something much greater. Inspired by the impact of our efforts, the school leadership team recognized the ongoing need for expanded support for scholarship students*. They took the reins, building upon the foundation we had laid to create a sustainable program that would continue to provide critical assistance to these students long after the pandemic had passed.

Additionally, speaking at the recent Symposium and engaging with students post-presentation have been other ways I’ve stayed connected, sharing insights and supporting the next generation.

Lastly, I also stay connected simply by being a passionate advocate, promoting Stevenson to others at every opportunity.

Q: And, lastly, for current students and younger alumni interested in pursuing a career in your industry, what advice would you offer them?

Y.B.: My advice is simple: it’s never too early or too late to just go for it. Whether you’re a high school student feeling the pressure to have your entire life mapped out, or a seasoned professional contemplating a major career shift, embrace the uncertainty and take the leap.

When I took a 7-year gap before finishing undergrad and then decided to pursue more schooling to change careers, I had no way of knowing how it would all turn out. But each twist and turn taught me invaluable lessons that laid the groundwork for my next chapter.

Life is not a straight, predictable path. It’s full of surprises, detours, and plot twists. But that’s what makes it such a thrilling adventure. Imagine watching a movie where the protagonist faces no challenges, makes no bold moves, and everything unfolds exactly as expected. It would be utterly boring, and the box office would be empty.

The same is true for your career journey. Pursuing a dream, even if it doesn’t pan out exactly as planned, will inevitably teach you things that will serve you well in your next endeavor. Failure is not the opposite of success – it’s a stepping stone.

As you navigate your professional path, jump into new conversations with curiosity and an open mind. Constantly seek out opportunities to learn, even (and especially) when they push you out of your comfort zone. Adapt your communication style to build bridges with people across different functions and levels of your organization.

Think of yourself as a mini-entrepreneur, always looking for ways to create value and drive change. And when faced with a challenge or a chance to take a calculated risk, remember that smooth waters don’t make great sailors. Embracing the discomfort is what helps you grow.

With a spirit of adventurousness, a commitment to continuous learning, and the flexibility to change course when needed, you can craft a career full of excitement and fulfillment – no matter your starting point. So don’t get caught up in trying to predict every plot point. Just go for it, trust in your resilience, and enjoy the ride. Because if there’s one thing we know about great movies and great careers alike, it’s that the best ones keep us on the edge of our seats.

*If you would like to support the expanded support for scholarship students through the Full Experience Fund, you can make a gift here!