All Systems Go
Shavonne Banks Gordon
Member of the Rotunda Society
pend a few minutes getting to know Shavonne Gordon (Engr ’95), and you’ll likely encounter two themes: a willingness to embrace the unknown and a knack for solving problems. Ask the longtime Rotunda Society member, and she’ll tell you it all started at UVA.
“I can’t tell the story of Shavonne without talking about the University
of Virginia,” Gordon said.
After graduating from high school with a 4.3 grade point average, this first-generation college student landed on Grounds, where she initially found herself in hostile academic territory: as a computer science major responsible for succeeding in courses like discrete math. An advisor recognized Gordon’s affinity for technology and suggested she consider majoring in systems engineering instead.
— Shavonne Gordon
“Back then you had to apply for that major,” she said. “So I went on a talking campaign to my professors, telling them why they should choose me. It was my first experience with presentations, influence, and the elevator pitch.”
Gordon was accepted at the end of her second year, by which time she’d begun metamorphosing into a shrewd problem solver. Leaning into the major’s demanding coursework, she learned to dissect challenges, ask peers for help, and—importantly—be resilient.
“I had to pick myself back up,” she said. “There were plenty of times I could have said, ‘You know what? This isn’t working for me. I’m done.’ But I didn’t. And that’s been extremely important to me throughout my career.”
Gordon landed her first job as a software engineer, a field in which she worked for more than 15 years, first for DuPont and then Capital One. Nowadays, however, she’s a human resources executive at Morgan Stanley, where she serves as Global Head of Diversity for Company and Infrastructure. What led to this seemingly dramatic career shift?
“During my time as an engineer I had noticed there weren’t a lot of people who looked like me—either women or Black women,” she said. “So I started raising my hand and saying, ‘Can I represent us at the career fair?’ I did it for so long that I ended up becoming the person in the industry who was known for promoting diversity in tech.”
In 2014, a prominent HR position opened for which a colleague suggested Gordon would be ideal. While she was reluctant to make the leap, she quickly realized the skills she’d been cultivating were tailor-made for the role.
A problem is a problem, and a human system is still a system. Everything I’d learned—the resilience, the ability to communicate and influence, the ability to solve challenges—that all started in the School of Engineering and Applied Science.
— Shavonne Gordon
“A problem is a problem, and a human system is still a system," she said. “Everything I’d learned—the resilience, the ability to communicate and influence, the ability to solve challenges—that all started in the School of Engineering and Applied Science.”
In addition to her career, Gordon has remained highly engaged with the University, supporting the Engineering School, including the Center for Diversity in Engineering, and the Ridley Scholarship Program, for which she currently serves on the board. She’s also volunteered for reunions and Black Alumni Weekend.
Creating access for first-generation Black students is a cause that’s close to Gordon’s heart. She recently partnered with the Alumni Association to establish the Banks and Bradby Scholarship Fund, which provides annual support for four Black students with financial need who are majoring in STEM.
“I had an academic scholarship myself,” she said. “And I wanted to pay it forward for other Black students who don’t have the financial means to attend so that they can have the same opportunity I did. That’s very important to me.”
Also important to Gordon is the fact that she’s now the mother of a future Engineering School alumna. Her eldest daughter, Kennedy Gordon (Engr ’26), is majoring in computer science, a point about which Gordon is extremely proud. Meanwhile, her youngest, Simone (14), has her eye on the School of Nursing.
“I still stick my chest out about it,” she said. “I immediately told Kennedy, ‘It’s going to be hard. It may be the hardest thing you ever do. But it’ll be worth it.’”
If Gordon’s own success is any indicator, this statement certainly rings true.