Women with dark hair mid neck straight, dark sop, glasses, smiling
Rhonda Morris (B.A., English, ’87) is vice president and chief human resources officer at Chevron.

Alumna and Chevron Executive Broadened Her Horizons at UC Davis

Honors, Achievements and Service 

Among Rhonda Morris’ many honors are selections as a National Academy of Human Resources Fellow; Most Influential African Americans in Business from the National Diversity Institute; Most Influential Women in Bay Area Business from the San Francisco Business Times; and Most Powerful Women in Corporate America from Black Enterprise.

She has served on the boards of Techbridge Girls, the Oakland Athletics Community Foundation, the Bishop O’Dowd High School Board of Regents, East Bay Agency for Children and recently joined the board of directors of the United Negro College Fund and Opportunity@ Work.

Morris helped launch the “Leading in the B-Suite” interview series with Adam Bryant, an author and former New York Times reporter and editor, which seeks to advance the conversation about race in corporate America.

When Rhonda Morris arrived at UC Davis, she planned to major in English and go into education. Both her mother and grandmother were educators; that was what she knew.

“My world view was very narrow,” said Morris (B.A., English, ’87).

She earned that English degree, but also got an education in options. After graduation, she set a specific goal of working in human resources at Chevron. Morris was wildly successful at hitting that target; since 2016, she has been vice president and chief human resources officer at Chevron. She is the first African American woman to hold an executive post in the company’s 140-year history.

“I wanted to work specifically for Chevron,” said Morris, whose grandfather was a laborer for ExxonMobil. Chevron’s corporate offices are in San Ramon, about 30 minutes from Oakland where Morris grew up.

During her nearly 30 years at the company, she has been a leader in developing programs and employee networks focused on diversity and inclusion. 

“Chevron has been supportive of working toward the greater good in these areas,” she said. “We want to keep the conversations going, to have uncomfortable conversations and to talk about race and racism in a constructive way.” 

Broadening horizons at UC Davis

Morris grew up in a blue-collar neighborhood, full of families like hers that had moved during the Great Migration of African Americans from the South to the Northeast, Midwest and West. Nearly everyone in her neighborhood had come from Louisiana, Texas or Arkansas — like her family.  Even though it was in a big city, it was a small, self-contained world.

Coming to UC Davis opened her horizons.

As a peer counselor in the College of Letters and Science she learned about the many areas one could study and career options that she didn’t know about. It also taught her how to communicate well with those she didn’t have much in common with, as did a stint teaching English as a second language. Morris picked up a great deal of knowledge — and multitasking techniques — from her jobs in Davis, which included running the snack bar in a campus residence hall, night shift at a downtown bookstore, and weekend receptionist for a lumber store.

“I was always looking for jobs where I could study and get paid,” Morris said. 

 Chevron has its own cadre of UC Davis graduates who stay in touch with one another and with the university.

 “I always have a soft spot for students from UC Davis and for the entire UC system,” she said.

Overcoming differences for the greater good

While at UC Davis, Morris was active in many organizations and was chair of the dean’s student advisory council. Those experiences were helpful in honing leadership and communication skills. Now, as a leader and mentor, she encourages students to get involved in campus groups. 

“Those skills are transferable to anything. You learn to engage with the academic leadership and manage and influence a group of volunteers who don’t actually work for you,” said Morris, who earned an M.B.A. as an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Fellow at Boston University. 

She learned more about leadership and flexibility after leaving UC Davis when she was selected for a Coro Fellowship, an intensive program in which participants work in several fields including government, media, politics and finance.

“It’s designed to broaden your thinking,” Morris said. “You learn how to work with people with whom you disagree and still make progress.”

 A liberal arts education also does that.

“A liberal arts degree is a place one can hone critical thinking skills,” she said. “It forces you to see that the world is not black and white, it’s gray. We need more people who can see the gray.”

She stays in touch with UC Davis and recently interviewed Chancellor Gary S. May for the “Leading in the B Suite” LinkedIn interview series. Chevron has its own cadre of UC Davis graduates who stay in touch with one another and with the university.

 “I always have a soft spot for students from UC Davis and for the entire UC system,” she said.

— Jeffrey Day, content strategist in the UC Davis College of Letters and Science

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