Dana Oliver ’93
Dana Oliver ’93 is a problem solver by trade and in her personal life. It’s something she says she discovered in herself at an early age and also what led to her enrollment at Milton Hershey School.
Growing up in a small coal-mining town outside of Hazelton, Pennsylvania, she learned to step up for herself after her father passed away from lung cancer. At the time, her mom was working at a retail store and the district manager was an MHS graduate.
Dana says she never forgot the day her mom came home from work and told her about the school located in Hershey, Pennsylvania.
“At that time, I also had applied to a prep school and got accepted, full scholarship, but my mom’s direct quote was, ‘You’re going to be the poor kid.’ So, the next day, I got the number for Milton Hershey School, spoke with a recruiter, and had him send me materials. I then immediately called back and got information for my brother and I filled [out applications] for both of us!”
Dana said she knew she made the right decision when she came to campus because she described the campus as, “Straight out of a storybook.” But once she opened the pages of that storybook, she felt a little unsure of herself and how she fit in—something that only lasted a few months.
“For the first time I was living with folks of diverse backgrounds and I grew up in a very white, non-diverse community,” she said. “At first, I felt unsure of my footing but having to learn to navigate how to make friends and understand cultural norms certainly helped me with eventually studying abroad, in college, and in what I do with my job today. I’m very thankful for that experience.”
Dana works for Accenture—a global management consulting, technology services, and outsourcing company based out of Virginia. She’s been with the company for more than 20 years and is the Managing Director for U.S. Army programs—a significant business line for the company.
“My job is to make sure the Army is happy with the work we are doing and that includes classified work—things in the mission area, things having to do with warfighting, but also there’s a sales aspect. How are we bringing new and interesting ideas to the Army? Be it through technology, changing Army culture, or using analytics for digital platforms. It sounds a lot like consulting bingo, but that’s what I do.”
Dana rose through the ranks of Accenture’s management consulting. She compared the job to that of a doctor because when you go to a doctor, there is something wrong and you don’t know how to fix it. She does the same thing but for companies, businesses, and currently for the military.
“It’s my job to run a litany of diagnostics to help companies figure out how they can improve. Then we help them improve it. That kind of capability of problem-solving is really what brought me to where I am today. I have spent 20-years solving problems and thinking critically about challenges.”
After graduating from MHS in 1993, Dana attended American University in Washington, D.C., and earned her undergraduate degree in economics and finance. She worked for Accenture upon graduation and left for five years to work for another company that helped pay for her graduate degree from George Washington University in engineering management.
“I’m not daunted by problem solving and challenges,” she explained. “I think having lost a parent very young and having to find my own way and problem-solve my way through Milton Hershey [School] gave me the competence and confidence to do what I do today.”
One foundational skill Dana says she picked up at MHS and still uses to this day is the ability to connect with people. She said because the students and staff at MHS come from different backgrounds and walks of life, she had to learn to find commonalities and be open-minded.
“When I walk into a client’s office, they don’t know me,” she explained. “They might be warm and open, or they might be mad at me or my company for something we messed up. I need to quickly find a way to connect—and I learned how to do that at Milton Hershey [School].”
When asked what drives her success, she said, because of the way she grew up, there is a basic hierarchy of needs that she follows.
“First, I need to make sure that my family is cared for, then my community like my neighborhood and church, and my company. Especially during COVID, I needed to focus on the care of our families and make sure that our workforce was safe and secure. That’s very motivating to me.”
Dana says many of the foundational skills that she uses in her daily life were formed at MHS and not just her educational foundation. She also credits the school for helping her discover her values, and the skills necessary to become a successful leader and citizen in her community.
“MHS provided the educational and moral foundation of my life. Everything is built on it. Had I not done it [attended MHS], and I stayed [in my hometown] what would my life be? What job would I have? What would my life look like? I think it would be very different. Would I have gone to college? Probably. Would I have gone to American University? Probably not. Would I have received scholarships? Probably not. Would I have known to ask for them? Almost assuredly not. Everything is built on Milton Hershey.”
Dana now lives in the Washington, D.C. area. Her brother, Ross Karchner whom she also helped apply to MHS, graduated from the school in 1998. He also lives outside of D.C. and works for the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau in cybersecurity.