MADISON, Wis.— As we begin Women's History Month, one UW Madison top scholar never backed down from her dreams of inspiring business students and promoting higher education. 

This month, the university is honoring Dr. Leslie Petty, assistant dean at UW School of Business, with its "Outstanding Women of Color" award.

"I am here, only because someone shattered a ceiling for me to walk through. And I walked into this position, almost eight years ago, as the first Black, and highest-ranked African-American woman at the School of Business." 

But Dr. Petty knows her path would not always be easy, even when welcomed on campus by a UW peer.

"This person said, 'I had no idea that you were Black based on your impressive credentials.'" 

The words haunt her to this day— such unconscious bias, the reason she believes her higher education calling more critical than ever.

"For me, at this point in my career is to pay it forward to give back and pay it forward," she said.

Dr. Petty does just that through her work with the school’s admissions program and a unique diversity equity inclusion project.

She also serves on numerous boards including the Boys & Girls Clubs of Dane County and most recently, the American Players Theater.

"It is so important that we represent, and that we continue to find talent to represent," Dr. Petty said about bringing new views and voices to the table.

She says the award is inspiring and drives her forward. 

"I get to tell my story about being a Black woman and a predominantly white environment. My journey has been a remarkable one," she said.

It's a journey she says was shaped by her late mother’s legacy. 

"We did not have a lot growing up," Dr. Petty said of her childhood in West Philadelphia, but her mother raised her and her siblings while fighting for at-risk children. Her mom helped those kids with everything from emotional to supportive services inside the basement of the community's Catholic Church.

"She taught me the importance of never forget where you came from, and always find a way to pull someone up with you," Dr. Petty said.

Dr. Petty gives her UW Outstanding Women of Color acceptance speech on March 3.