It was a week before Thanksgiving, and while her neighbors and friends were getting ready to kick off the winter holiday season, a 12-year-old Brittny Helen’a Cole Ferguson was about to go through her first significant life experience. It was the middle of the night, and she woke up surrounded by heavy white smoke. At first, it seemed like a dream, but Brittny quickly realized she was awake, and something was terribly wrong. 

The source of the smoke was unclear, and while there were no visible flames, one thing was certain: her family needed to get out of the house – and fast. She woke up her brother, newborn sister, and mother, and they called 9-1-1. Once on the scene, firefighters tore down the upstairs walls to reveal a massive electrical fire. The damage was significant, and the Kansas City, Missouri, structure Brittny once called home was destroyed along with nearly all their possessions. 

Experiencing a tragic event at such an impressionable age could cause anyone lasting trauma. But for Brittny, it left an unexpected mark. In fact, were it not for the fire, the single mother and banking executive says she may not have become the thriving, independent, entrepreneur and volunteer that she is today. 

“You grow through what you go through,” she notes. 

It’s been three decades since that fateful evening, and since then, Brittny has gone on to realize many of the personal and professional goals she set out for herself.

For the last 17 years, Brittny has worked in the banking industry, and currently is an Assistant Vice President, Micro Market Leader and Branch Manager for U.S. Bank, where she leans on the skills she learned in the MBA program at Ashford University (now the University of Arizona Global Campus) to guide and train her team. In this role, she strives to cultivate meaningful relationships as a leader within her community through financial literacy education, volunteerism, and social responsibility.

An active participant in the volunteer and business worlds, Brittny has added a number of accolades to her list of achievements, including winning the 2021 Junior Achievement Volunteer of the Year Award, being recognized by the San Diego Business Journal as one of San Diego’s Top Business Leaders Under 40 in 2019, being selected as U.S. Bank’s 2019 Community Possible Highlighted Employee for completing over 250 hours of volunteer work, and being selected as a finalist in the San Diego Business Journal’s 2018 Business Women of the Year Awards.
Three years ago, she also launched the company Once Upon Her Life, which centers on helping others purposefully create their life story. At the core of her side business is the 30-day interactive journal for living intentionally, which Brittny wrote and self-published, titled “Allow Me to Reintroduce Myself: A 30 Day Accountability Journal for Living Intentionally.” Since its inception, Once Upon Her Life has garnered nearly 40k followers on its Instagram account, which features financial tips and advice for women, entrepreneurs, and others seeking personal fulfillment and success. 

It’s a fitting role for Brittny, one she has proven she is well equipped to handle. 

“You have to have a blueprint to get started if you're feeling a little lost, and if I can help to provide that, why wouldn't I?” she asks.

Brittny didn’t follow a straight line from house fire to financial guru and volunteer extraordinaire, but as she carved her way to a rewarding career and fulfilling life, she always kept her focus on her why: her daughter. 
“She's the light of my life, and I always have her in the back of my mind and base pretty much any and every decision that I've made since she was born on her.”

Her journey is evidence Brittny has made all the right moves.

UAGC alum of the month brittny ferguson

Left: Brittny Ferguson is named the 2021 Junior Achievement Volunteer of the Year  ; Right: Brittny was named a finalist in the San Diego Business Journal’s 2018 Business Women of the Year Awards.

A Constant Source of Inspiration

Of course, this isn’t to say the fire from her youth wasn’t a major obstacle for Brittny and her family. On the contrary, it resulted in a major life change. Aside from a few possessions, the family lost everything. Despite the gravity of it all, her mother was a constant source of positivity. Witnessing her mother persevere wasn’t the first example Brittny had of her mom overcoming a significant challenge.

Brittny’s parents divorced at age 5, and although she maintained a relationship with her mom and dad, it was Brittny’s mother who raised the children alone and sought her own independence, a trait Brittny was quick to adopt. She watched her mother struggle, but she also witnessed her mother push through obstacle after obstacle, even as an adult. 

Seven years ago, her mother had a stroke, and now Brittny and her siblings take turns as her caregiver. Even in the midst of her disabilities, and not being able to work or communicate effectively, her mother remains optimistic. 

“I continue to watch her navigate life and try to be the best role model that she can be,” she says. “Seeing my mom persevere through some of her toughest challenges inspired me. Those are the things that really stayed with me.”

After completing her undergraduate degree, Brittny gave birth to her daughter but within a year was a single mother herself. 

Invoking her mother’s strength and perseverance, Brittny set out on her path to claim her independence. 

“I wanted to raise my daughter in a positive environment, but I also wanted to take a leap of faith and embark upon a new adventure,” she recalls. “So, I saved up some money, and I took my little girl, and we moved clear across the country to San Diego, and I have never left.”

Once they arrived in San Diego, however, reality set in and Brittny recognized it was time to step up responsibilities that came with being a single mother in a new town where she didn’t know anyone. 

Driven to make it on her own without the help of others, Brittny created the foundation she needed for success. She rented a small one-bedroom apartment where she sacrificed the use of the walk-in closet, instead turning it into a makeshift playroom for her daughter. Money was tight, and the bulk of their meals came from the Dollar Store. But this only provided Brittny with more determination.

“You do what you have to do to get by to survive in the most positive and responsible way possible,” she says.

Eventually, Brittny found a job as a financial manager, and with that came much greater stability. She was in her 20s and making six figures. Brittny was saving money and doing well, but her career and lifestyle was not sustainable. 

“I was making all this money, and it was great, but I could barely spend any of it, or a lot of time with my daughter, because I was literally working seven days a week,” she recalls. 

Once her daughter was in kindergarten, Brittny pivoted again, and returned to her roots in banking, the field in which she worked while a young woman in Missouri.

In doing so, she was afforded a more flexible schedule that would allow her the chance to spend more time with her daughter and eventually give back to her community.

“I was determined to see it through,” she says.

UAGC alum of the month brittny ferguson

Brittny Ferguson is paying it forward through volunteerism, mentorship, and a community spirit that she hopes is contagious. 

Always Paying it Forward

The experience of the fire as a child didn’t just motivate Brittny to grow into a strong, independent role model for her daughter. It also introduced her to another passion: volunteerism. 

After the fire, the American Red Cross adopted her family as its “family of the year.” They gave the family Christmas gifts and provided extra food and clothing. It was the first time she recalls witnessing the power of volunteerism.

“It was one of the first examples that I saw of how volunteers could come through for us and help us when we needed it,” she explains. “It’s what really sparked my passion for it, and I've just loved volunteering.”

Today she is relying on the network she has built during her career along with her knowledge of financial literacy to help others get ahead. While the list of organizations for which she volunteers is long, one of her favorites includes Second Chance, which helps rehabilitate men and women recently released from prison to re-enter the workforce, build their credit, and establish banking relationships. She also is highly active in Junior Achievement of San Diego County, where she is a member of the board, as well as the Nick Cannon Foundation, which seeks to teach children how to create a business plan and become young entrepreneurs.

“I started to see the connection in what I was learning, and how I could give that back,” she says. “All my life I have possessed this internal desire to lift and empower the people around me, and I feel a strong sense of responsibility to serve, give back, and pay it forward every day and in every way.” 

Driven to Succeed

In time, Brittny found her groove in banking and was able to establish a flexible routine that allowed her to spend more time with her daughter. With her career established, her daughter growing into a young woman, and her volunteerism in full force, Brittny set out to take on one more personal challenge: her master’s degree. 

“I've always wanted to go to graduate school, and I wasn’t going to stop that dream because I have a child,” she acknowledges. 

Thanks to a partnership her employer had with UAGC, she was able to earn her MBA on a tuition grant. 

“Taking advantage of that benefit helped significantly from a financial perspective, however as a working mom, the flexibility that the school provided me with was the number one reason that I chose to enroll,” she says. “I was able to control the pace of my degree progress, which really afforded me the work/life balance that I needed within my career and family dynamic.”

In particular, her organizational leadership courses helped Brittny strengthen her skillset, strategic outlook, and knowledge base as it relates to being a leader in corporate America. 

Brittny completed her master’s degree in 2019, yet, even with 15-plus years of experience and her MBA in hand, she continues to encounter numerous barriers in the business world, where she says not a lot of people, especially managers and above, look like her.

“Working in Corporate America and banking, you're competing against a lot of powerful men,” she explains. “I am a Black woman in Corporate America. Sometimes I'm the only face in the crowd that looks like me when I go to some of my corporate meetings. Still, in 2022, I'm the only manager that is a woman that is African American, so, there is a little bit of a different kind of pressure, because I don't necessarily feel like I always belong in every room, or at every table. But I am still there, right?”

Through it all, Brittny maintains her drive to succeed, and has no plans to back down.

 “I am going to continue to try to be successful and improve what I can do,” she says. “I truly believe in the UAGC vision and wholeheartedly agree that ‘achievement belongs to everyone.’”


Written by Erin Ansley, UAGC content manager

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