Aggie Alum Deidra Merriwether talks plight to success

Nakylah Carter, Senior Editor

Aggies are worldwide, with accomplishments that reflect the education they receive at the university. This is true for NC A&T Alumna Deidra Cheeks Merriwether, now the Chief Financial Officer for Grainger, a Fortune 500 industrial supply company. 

Merriwether’s plight to success held multiple twists and turns, but the accomplished Aggie owes her experience in undergraduate education for her current success. 

“The education was top-notch,” Merriwether said. “I didn’t have any issues from my first job to where I am now being able to compete with others based on what I learned here at A&T and specifically in the College of Engineering.”

Graduating in 1991 with a degree in chemical engineering, Merriwether was a McNair Scholar, prioritizing academic success while being a part of the Aggie Women’s Basketball Team. 

“It was a privilege to want to apply for that scholarship but then receive it, especially back when I was a college athlete. I wanted to get it to show people that athletes could also be smart and gain access to scholarships academically and not just for sports,” Merriwether said.  

Being an athlete posed its own struggles, having to balance chemical engineering assignments with a rigorous basketball schedule. 

“There was a lot of pressure on me to try and stay ahead of work and turn work in early versus being given a little bit of extra time because of practice and road trips. But I mean, it all worked out,” Merriwether said. 

During her time as an undergrad, Merriwether interned with Dow Chemical for two summers but had an internship before college being a part of the Inroads Program. 

Although she was able to work for Dow Chemical post-graduation, Merriwether’s first job out of college was at Eli Lily, where she stayed for four years as a Plant and Engineering Manager. After a promotion that tasked Merriwether with more responsibilities, she decided to go back to school. 

“I really didn’t have a lot of financial knowledge but had a lot of engineering and production knowledge, and I felt a little inadequate as it related to managing my budget,” Merriwether said. “My thought process was, I needed to get some education and come back.”

Awarded a master’s program sponsorship from Eli Lily, Merriwether enrolled in Indiana University with a finance and operations management MBA track. By 1997, Merriwether obtained her second degree.. 

Merriwether has been a part of the Grainger family for just over nine years after working at various companies such as Sears Holding Corporation and Kmart Corporations. 

“They reached out to me and said they had a North American position,” Merriwether said. “I actually considered it because then I could gain some experience at a company that was growing, having a strong balance sheet was profitable, and then I would have a role where I would be able to say that I’ve been able to lead not just US operations but North American operations.”

Grainger offers a financial development program for early career members and interns for juniors with the hope of full-time employment in Chicago. 

Senior finance student Erick Harris was a recent intern with Grainger in Chicago this past summer and considers working with the company after graduation after being granted a full-time position.

I definitely enjoyed working for the company,” Harris said. “The work culture and environment is definitely an inclusive environment that promotes collaboration and enrichment. I was thrilled with my experience this summer, so once the return offer was extended; I was sold on working there based on my experience.”

Harris was able to connect with Merriwether during his time in the internship and was inspired by his fellow Aggie’s journey to success. 

“As the CFO, Dee Merriwether was able to present with lessons and advice regarding not only Grainger, but more personalized advice of how the transition from A&T to the business world was for her,” Harris said. “It was great to see an African-American role model that I can learn from in order to maximize my success in the business world.”

Grainger also offers an internship program with more of a focus in sales in their San Antonio office. 

Merriwether’s advice for students interested in the internship program is to “just do the best job you can.”

“Network and get to know individuals within the organization while you’re doing the best you can. You should always be thinking about your next opportunity,” she said. 

To learn more about Grainger’s paid 10-week internship program, visit here.