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History Alumni Spotlight: Danny Rolls '10

From Salem State's History Department to Dell's director of escalation management in California

What was your hometown, major, minor(s), concentration and year of graduation?

My hometown is Blackstone, Massachusetts. At Salem State, I majored in history with a focus in applied history and a minor in educational studies. I graduated in 2010.

What is your current title and role? What are you responsible for day-to-day?

I’m currently the director of escalation management for Dell Technologies with the responsibility of customer-impacting issues in the western half of the United States.  I’m responsible for ensuring timely recovery for the worst impacted customer issues while communicating with internal and customer executives. I manage a team of managers who have the responsibility of involving themselves in the most difficult escalations and challenging customer problems. My team is engaged when there is the possibility of financial penalties, risk of social media exposure, local news coverage or any other sensitive situation.

What encouraged you to pursue this career?

I came to Salem State hoping to be a middle school history teacher, but a new opportunity that took advantage of my skill set presented itself. I had an immediate offer for a position teaching history, but the company for which I was working part-time during school made me a financially attractive offer. Professor Austin and I sat down and weighed the respective options of the two paths. With Austin’s blessing, I decided to pursue the corporate option, though he made it clear that the university would be ready to support me should I want to return and complete my student teaching.  His wise counsel took me in a direction I had not anticipated and I haven’t looked back. 

What skills did you learn as a History major and how did your time at Salem State prepare you for life after graduation?

As a history major, I learned how to see the big picture. The discipline taught me how to delve into an overwhelming amount of evidence, sort through the fluff and determine the most important elements of the story. People in the corporate world often get trapped in the details and are unable to see the forest for the trees. The history major demands that you ask the right questions, obtain accurate information, and then use these facts to help weave a compelling story.  Historians put a premium on clear communication and the development of oral skills. 

Was there a particular faculty member or class that had a lasting impact on you?

In addition to the aforementioned Brad Austin who literally changed the trajectory of my life, Professor Darien’s oral history class affected me profoundly.  Before this class, I didn’t know how to listen. I was always jumping ahead about the next idea, topic, or question.  I was too busy waiting to speak that I wasn’t listening. This class taught me how to empathize with other people, listen to their words, read their body language, and briefly step inside their experience.

At the same time, I learned how to tactfully regain control of a conversation to steer where I needed it to go. In the corporate world, having these traits gives you a distinct competitive advantage. When you can slow, down, understand another person’s perspective, identify the big picture, articulate the vision, and then lead your key stakeholders down the direction of your decision, it’s easy to remove roadblocks and accomplish your goals.

What is the most exciting professional opportunity you have had since graduating?

There are two that come to mind. Firstly, I was given the opportunity to move to Utah and open a support center. The company knew I had a teaching degree and asked me to create a lesson plan and training course for the job I was doing.

After the plan was developed, I moved to Utah all expenses paid and began to hire, train and mentor the first 90 employees and manager and oversee my department and eventually grow the organization to 180 people. This gave me a tremendous amount of experience in a very short period.  The second exciting opportunity was to travel to Ireland for three weeks and evaluate the same department I had opened and built in Utah.

I was able to spend three weeks with the managers and employees reviewing all best practices and develop a clear and concise “get well’ plan. Both opportunities were aided by the transferable skills I learned in school. Creating and executing a lesson plan came from my EDU classes along with running a classroom. Evaluating an entire department to understand where the gaps were and how to address them in a clearly articulated plan came from my history classes.

What is it like for a New Englander to live in San Diego?

This was something I was certainly worried about when leaving New England. In the world of technology we live in today, many people are leaving home and trying out life in new locations. This has helped me in a few ways.

Firstly, I can stay in contact with my family and friends through all the different social media platforms. I feel very close to all of them still because I can reach out at any time and keep up with live events. Secondly, with all the transplants in the world today, San Diego is filled with Patriots fans. There are a lot more people willing to leave home which means acclimating to a new location was much easier than I would have expected.

Overall, there are times I’m homesick but, in those moments, I just pick up the phone and call someone important to me back home and this recharges me until the next time. For the record, I don’t miss shoveling snow. In case anyone was wondering. 

What advice would you provide to an incoming history major at Salem State? 

Understand that you will be learning transferable skills. Everything you will learn can be leveraged somewhere else in a different field. All the analytical skills you will learn are great in breaking down and understanding complex issues. All the writing skills you will learn allow you to articulate those complex issues. The best example of these transferable skills in my career has been my teaching experience.

As a teacher, you’re taught to evaluate a person’s performance, understand the shortcomings and create a plan to grow and develop that person. It’s the same thing when you manage a team of people. A manager sets the success criteria (a syllabus), aligns the direction of the employees towards these criteria (daily classes and assignments) and then tracks performance (grades). If someone is struggling, I was taught how to have a tough meaningful conversation regarding performance and working together to tighten the gaps. 

Always remember this as you take each class. Just because the class title may be history 101, doesn’t mean there aren’t life lessons and transferable skills hidden throughout.

Learn more about the history department at Salem State University.

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