A business major fell in love with anthropology, and found her career path in the process

Author: Jack Rooney

Madeline Boyer 600Madeline Boyer

As a senior associate at KPMG, Madeline Boyer’s background in anthropology often sparks curiosity. 

“Everybody’s always fascinated,” said Boyer ’09. “It’s an immediate conversation starter for people.” 

But more than that, Boyer’s anthropology major — and her entire Arts and Letters experience — gives her an edge in her career. 

“Having a liberal arts education has really set me apart in my field — I have that different perspective,” Boyer said. “It’s not just that I know different things because I took liberal arts courses, but I also think differently. I ask different types of questions and I challenge us to question assumptions because I have that much broader experience from my liberal arts background.”

Charting her own course

Since Boyer’s time at Notre Dame, business anthropology has grown as field of study and career path. Anthropology majors and minors at the University now can join the business anthropology research and teaching cluster, which includes coursework in global trade, cultural marketing, and design anthropology. 

But during her undergraduate career, Boyer had to blaze her own trail. 

“I had to kind of create my own path when I was taking my courses,” said Boyer, who also majored in management and entrepreneurship, “but everyone was so supportive.” 

Boyer entered Notre Dame planning only to study business. Then, during her second semester, she took James McKenna’s Introduction to Anthropology class to fulfill her social science requirement.

“I just absolutely fell in love with the subject,” she said, as it helped her discover a better way to understand the study and practice of business. 

“I love the world of business — how people work together is fascinating to me,” she said. “Business is my object of study, but anthropology has always provided that lens, the way in which I look at the business world. Anthropology gives me that different way of looking at it than most people do.”

“Business is my object of study, but anthropology has always provided that lens, the way in which I look at the business world. Anthropology gives me that different way of looking at it than most people do.”

A path forward

Anthropology also provided Boyer with a path forward after Notre Dame — she completed a Ph.D. in anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania in 2018.

Boyer never even considered graduate school until her junior year, when she took a social and cultural anthropology course with Associate Professor Vania Smith-Oka, who encouraged her to explore postgraduate studies. 

Madeline Boyer GraduationBoyer on graduation day with Lourdes Meraz ’09.

“The only reason I went to get my Ph.D. in anthropology was because of the professors in the department who were so supportive and encouraging,” Boyer said. “And that set up my whole career, honestly.”

Boyer went straight from Notre Dame to graduate school. And while many of her classmates were older and had more life experience, Boyer said Notre Dame had prepared her well and set her up to succeed in her Ph.D. program.

While pursuing her Ph.D., Boyer also worked with the University of Pennsylvania’s business school and its executive education program, which eventually led her to consulting work. Her work with the Wharton School also gave her experience and material for the book she wrote with two Wharton colleagues. Committed Teams: Three Steps to Inspiring Passion and Performance was published in 2016 and highlights Boyer’s liberal arts perspective, she said.

“I definitely brought my liberal arts education to bear in how I conceived of a team and what a high-performing team looks like, which I think is unique in our book,” Boyer said.

Blending two worlds

For the past year, Boyer has worked as a senior associate in KPMG’s people and change practice in Chicago. In this role, she applies her human-focused anthropology framework to the realities of the business world. 

Madeline Boyer Flag FootballBoyer after winning the intramural flag football championship with her dorm, McGlinn Hall.

“That’s always been my goal with my anthropology, liberal arts background — to bring the focus back to people,” she said. “You can talk about different types of change or initiatives within a company, and you’re thinking about the bottom line and all the economic benefits. But I have a privileged role to be able to say, ‘OK, but what about your people? How are we going to make sure that this transition works well for the people who run the company, that are the lifeblood of the organization, and make sure they don’t get lost in that change?’”

That unique approach, which began with Boyer’s two majors at Notre Dame, now gives her a distinct advantage.

“It felt like I got to be part of two different worlds,” she said. “It was great to have a space to explore those interesting things that sometimes people take for granted about human life and culture. It gives me a broad perspective that I bring into the workplace, with my clients, and that gives me an edge.”

“That’s always been my goal with my anthropology, liberal arts background — to bring the focus back to people. You can talk about different types of change or initiatives within a company, and you’re thinking about the bottom line and all the economic benefits. But I have a privileged role to be able to say, ‘OK, but what about your people? How are we going to make sure that this transition works well for the people who run the company, that are the lifeblood of the organization, and make sure they don’t get lost in that change?’”

Originally published by Jack Rooney at al.nd.edu on April 25, 2019.