Janita Stewart is no stranger to breaking down barriers. As the state Director of the Small Business Administration (SBA) in Mississippi, she helps aspiring business owners overcome obstacles and break down barriers every single day. As the first African American female to lead a federal government agency in Mississippi, she has much to be proud of and share with other aspiring professional women. We’re incredibly proud to have her as a member of The Source Advisory Panel and share her story with you.

What was your first job and what did you learn from it?

JS: My first job was wrapping gifts at Walgreens Drug Store in the eighth grade during the holidays – mainly Christmas. My mother, the first African American to work at Walgreens in Vicksburg during the Civil Rights Era, worked there as a sales clerk. This is why I had the chance to work there and earn a few dollars. This taught me a little bit about “friendly competition,” how to wrap gifts, and how to spend and save money.

What was your college major? Do you use it in your current career?

JS: As a bit of background info, I was a member of FBLA (Future Business Leaders of America) while in high school. I also worked part-time in the afternoon as a student aide at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Vicksburg District. I was approached by the Corps and asked if I was interested in participating in the Cooperative Education Program when I went to college. This meant I would go to school a semester and then work a semester at the Corps, alternating semesters while attaining my undergraduate degree.

This opportunity and choice proved to be an excellent one. I attained my B.S. degree from the University of Southern Mississippi and gained on-the-job work experience simultaneously. While participating in the program did not guarantee a permanent job after graduation, I was, in fact, offered, accepted, and placed in a permanent position upon graduation with the Corps as a Contract Specialist GS-7, GS-9, and GS-11. These opportunities and choices certainly laid a firm foundation for additional promotions and opportunities which have led me to the leadership position I am in now. So, yes, I absolutely do use my college major in my career.

What’s the best professional advice you’ve ever received?

JS: Learn as much as you can. Take advantage of opportunities that come your way. Treat others the way you want to be treated. Above all, trust God always, and never quit.

What’s your trick to managing personal life vs. work life?

JS: It’s important to understand and realize that both are important, each in their own way, and strike the appropriate balance between the two.

How do you stay motivated?

JS: I remember to respect the impact of what the U.S. SBA does for small businesses, entrepreneurs, and people who desire to become business owners. Many success stories have resulted from SBA’s assistance. It is very gratifying to pass businesses throughout this city and state knowing that SBA has helped that business along the way.

Janita’s story is one that inspires us to work hard, break glass ceilings, and help our communities. Our communities are better for all her hard work, and The Source is proud to claim her as our own and share her experience with you.