In April 2021, Carista Ragan, Vice President Legal at Goldman Sachs, joined SHPE’s Board of Directors. The path she took to end up here could be called unusual. “I guess it’s not a typical professional journey,” Carista says. “But I hope our students can see that all kinds of experiences can give you important and transferable skills.”
Carista’s first career was that of a professional dancer, and she started on one of the biggest stages in the nation. She was selected as an NFL Cheerleader for the Dallas Cowboys. “It was an incredible opportunity,” Carista recalls. “And as fun as the bright lights, costumes, and games were, they weren’t the best part. The best part was who I got to work with.”
Because it was during this time that she met one of her most influential mentors. “I had terrible stage fright,” she explains. “And our cheerleading coach helped me see what I was truly capable of. They gave me the confidence to stand in front of thousands of people and shine. They really changed my life.”
After her NFL debut Carista traveled all over the world performing. “I danced in the Persian Gulf, Korea, Turkey, and Greece. I participated in two USO tours as an entertainer for our troops. Dance was literally my ticket to see the world!”
When she returned stateside, she began pursuing her second passion – the law. She applied and was accepted into the University of Houston Law School. And it just so happened that, toward the end of her first year, the Houston Rockets won the NBA Championship.
“The whole city was ecstatic. It’s the only thing anyone could talk about.” remembers Carista. “And that’s how I heard about the call for auditions to become a Rocket Power Dancer.”
She was paying her own way through law school and was looking for a job to help with tuition. So, she auditioned, and was selected as a Rocket Power Dancer.
“I guess you could say I used my first career to fund my second career.”
Carista spent the next two years in law school also dancing in the NBA. Her last semester, the Rockets made it to the playoffs. “I was studying for finals and the bar exam the same time we were performing at the playoff games. And once the playoffs were over, that was it. No more dancing.”
Carista spent the next two decades and half as General Counsel for various STEM companies. “I’ve always been interested in the intersection of law, technology, and engineering,” she states. And her impressive resume reflects this. She’s held positions at Flowserve, The Weir Group, and StackPath until landing her most current executive role at Goldman Sachs.
“And you know what, I still use the skills I gained while dancing. The courage and poise instilled in me by my Dallas Cowboys coach has stuck with me all these years later. Now, I have to get up in front of 700 people and present on legal policy, but it’s my performing roots that makes it possible,” Carista points out. “I guess if there’s a lesson here, it’s to take your mentors where you can get them, even if they aren’t directly in the field you’re pursuing. Maybe it’s a violin teacher or soccer coach, but you can gain valuable skills and experience anywhere.”
Carista loves serving on SHPE’s Board. She is constantly inspired by the enthusiasm and commitment of board members, staff, and students. “It’s an amazing feeling to all be so focused on one goal. It really feels like a family.”
While she isn’t Latina herself, she grew up in a Hispanic household. “My stepmom, who I love dearly, is Mexican. As are my two half-sisters. I saw first-hand some of the opportunities that were offered to me that weren’t readily available to them – especially role-models. Organizations like SHPE are so important in creating and supporting the next generation of Hispanic STEM leaders. I think my stepmom and sisters are really proud of what we’re doing here.”
SHPE is honored to have the expertise, passion, and leadership of Carista Ragan as a part of the Familia. We can’t wait to see where we go together in the coming years.