Georgia Tech Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering (ISyE) alumna Wonya Lucas (BSIE 1983) is a woman guided by vision. Now the Public Broadcasting Atlanta (PBA) president – an appointment that means overseeing WABE, Atlanta’s local NPR station, PBA, Atlanta’s PBS station, and several associated online properties – Lucas has had a wide-ranging career in both engineering and the media and entertainment industries.
Lucas spoke at the Women in Engineering Banquet in 2015 at Georgia Tech and communicated her belief in the power of dreaming big to the young women assembled there. She says, “I spoke of the influence that my mother and father had on me, as I watched them pursue their dreams and break barriers along the way. But, to pursue your dreams, you have to overcome obstacles. You may even have to defy stereotypes to ensure that you remain authentic to your dreams and yourself. Be brave.”
From early on, Lucas’s parents were her biggest role models. Lucas’s mother was a teacher and – perhaps pointing the way toward Lucas’s powerhouse media career – a board member at Turner Broadcasting. Her father was a groundbreaker: the first African-American general manager in baseball with the Braves. Both were first-generation college graduates who, Lucas says warmly, “understood the power of education, hard work, tenacity, and grace. I think of them every day.”
As an Atlanta native, Lucas often found herself on Georgia Tech’s campus even before matriculating as a freshman. She participated in science fairs at Tech and says that she “loved the energy on campus.” Plus, Tech’s solid reputation was a draw. As a student, Lucas chose ISyE for her major because “the IE degree was the most versatile engineering degree. I loved the broad opportunities that IEs could pursue upon graduation.”
Ultimately, Lucas was involved in manufacturing and consulting post-graduation, starting out as a product engineer for Westinghouse Electric. She eventually applied to both MBA and law schools and earned her MBA at The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. While at Wharton, she found that her dreams and interests were moving her away from applied engineering into a combination of her “newfound love for marketing” with an involvement in the entertainment industry.
That said, Lucas’s move into the media industry was something of a surprise. She explains, “Never in a million years, did I imagine that I would be in the media and entertainment world. Surprisingly, I have found many senior leaders in the media world who started with a foundation in ISyE.”
Lucas brings a breadth of media and entertainment branding experience to her PBA role. She was president and CEO of TV One, and prior to that, held several high-level positions at Discovery Communications, The Weather Channel Networks, and Turner Broadcasting, including CNN Networks Worldwide.
She even had the chance to meet and work with Oprah as the Global CMO at Discovery Communications, working on the launch of OWN, Winfrey’s network – an experience many would consider a dream opportunity. As Lucas tells it, she participated in small group meetings with Oprah and her team, which were “like a master class on not only branding but humility, self-awareness, and insight. At one point, everyone was asked to share a life-altering moment, and I found myself literally thinking, ‘Why am I baring my soul in front of people I don’t know well?’” But as Lucas notes, “That is the power of Oprah!”
Despite her heavy media involvement, Lucas hasn’t left her industrial engineering skills behind; in fact, she uses them every day. She explains that explains that “strong analytical skills are necessary to help develop short-term and long-term business strategies. The essence of engineering is the ability to question and seek answers. Creative problem solving enables me to identify changes in the media landscape, including technology disruptors, and consumer adoption. My skills also enable me to create experiential content that may begin with seeking an answer to a fundamental question.”
Lucas has big plans for PBA and her role there. Public Broadcasting Atlanta is already a group of successful media outlets, and she wants to grow and continue PBA’s success by focusing on the wide-ranging community it serves, “touching as many people as possible through our media vehicles, technology, and community engagement.” Like Lucas, who is pretty inspirational herself, PBA “is to be a trustworthy conduit for lifelong knowledge and a source of inspiration.”