Owning the Unfamiliar
Monica Packnett learned to leave her comfort zone and landed in a new city with her dream job.

By Dan Gordon & Nicholas Schmiedicker

Year Up Chicago, Class of 2016 Current Portfolio Management Assistant at Bank of America Private Bank
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During orientation week for Year Up Chicago’s January 2017 cohort, Monica Packnett attended a panel and heard a simple statement that she continues to draw on as a source of strength. “One of the women said she just had to learn to be comfortable with being uncomfortable,” Packnett recalls.

Packnett had never heard it put that way before, but she realized that forcing herself outside of her comfort zone — and being at peace with that discomfort — would be her ticket to a finance internship and, eventually, a career that felt beyond her reach. “Especially as a black woman, there are a lot of spaces where I haven’t felt perfectly comfortable,” she says. “To hear this successful woman say that she feels that way too validated feelings I hadn’t understood and made me feel better about pushing myself.”

Monica Packnett (left) at her family’s trophy shop in Chicago

Packnett was raised in Chicago’s south side, where her parents owned and operated a small neighborhood trophy shop. To indulge his daughter’s love of numbers, at the close of each business day Packnett’s father would invite her to add up the money that came in and write up the deposits that would be going to the bank. “I always felt very close to my dad,” Packnett says, fondly.

But in Packnett’s sophomore year of high school, her father was diagnosed with Stage 4 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and passed away in May.

The next two years were a blur; looking back, Packnett recognized the latter part of high school was saturated in depressive tendencies. Inwardly seething, she stopped caring about school. As her senior year was ending, she found herself showing up to the only course that still interested her, AP Calculus.

It was no surprise when the college rejections started to arrive. Packnett’s strong performance on a standardized test used for college admissions, however, was enough to warrant a second look from Hampton University. On appeal, she noted that she was still coping with the loss of her father, but was ready for a fresh start. Hampton not only accepted her but awarded her a full scholarship, under one condition.

The scholarship that paid for her schooling required Packnett to maintain a grade point average of 3.3, but at the end of her freshman year, it was 3.25. “By any measure, a 3.25 is considered a solid performance,” Packnett says, “but it wasn’t enough.”

With support from her peers and family, Monica went on to complete her second year at Hampton before conceding to tuition costs. She returned to Chicago dejected and without a backup plan. There, Packnett began helping her mother at the shop and taking courses at a community college.

“I knew what I wanted and that I had the ability, but without a diploma or any experience, I didn’t see how I was going to get into the finance industry,” she said. “I craved Wall Street like I craved my father’s knock on the door after a delivery.”

It was while scrolling through a job site when she saw a sponsored link with a description of Year Up and some of the graduate stories. “It said I would go through an educational process, earn credits toward my degree, get an internship, and be compensated through it all,” Packnett recalls. “It didn’t seem possible.”

Through Year Up Chicago, Packnett landed a finance internship as a portfolio management assistant at Bank of America Private Bank (formerly U.S. Trust) Private Wealth Management. Everything was new, and Packnett was eager to learn it all.

Monica Packnett (right) with Bank of America manager Dessie Nash

Impressed by her ambition, Packnett’s manager assigned her to one of the office’s top portfolio managers, Naima Judge.

“Naima has such a maternal spirit and was willing to teach me everything she knew,” Packnett says. “If she didn’t know something, she would brush up on it and then share that knowledge with me. I’m grateful to have my manager Dessie and Naima as mentors and leaders at the Bank.”

Eventually, Judge noted an assistant portfolio manager on the team had recently departed and suggested that Packnett should apply for the position. With her mentor’s blessing, she sent in her application and was, in turn, hired.

Unfortunately, there was still a roadblock: The job would require her to relocate to Dallas, and Packnett wasn’t sure how to afford the move. She turned to GoFundMe and managed to raise enough money to help cover the expenses. “I think people in my life saw that I had potential,” Packnett says. “They believed in me and I’m beyond grateful for their contributions.”

She started working in the Dallas office of Bank of America in February 2017 and hasn’t looked back since. She’s even gone back to school to complete her degree while maintaining her full-time position.

“I still find myself uncomfortable in The Big D,” Packnett chuckles, “but I’ve since become comfortable with being uncomfortable.”

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Monica’s story was made possible by one of our generous donors. Become a member of the Opportunity Society.