One in five Clarkson alumni lead as a CEO, senior executive or owner of a company. Jennifer Howland ’85 is among them.
The executive of IBM’s worldwide Pathways Program for experienced, diverse technical talent earned a bachelor of science degree in electrical and computer engineering from Clarkson and has been with IBM for more than 30 years as an engineer, manager, and executive. She recently reflected on Clarkson and her career.
What made Clarkson and an engineering career the right choices for you?
Even though I didn't know a lot about what an engineering degree entailed, I liked math and science and had good grades. Plus, I had relatives in the area and my older sister went to Clarkson.
How did your Clarkson education prepare you for your career? In what ways did Clarkson give you an edge?
Clarkson's practical labs each year combined with the theoretical teachings most certainly gave me an edge when I was looking for summer internships between my junior and senior years.
I was one of the very few candidates for a summer position at IBM who had experience working in a hands-on lab environment. Then, when I was looking for full-time positions senior year, the work I had done in the lab the previous summer absolutely made the difference in getting hired at IBM, especially during the massive industry hiring freezes that were happening at the time.
My Clarkson experience gave me a great start into not only my engineering roles but also the roles that followed including team leader, manager and executive.
What clubs or groups did you participate in while at Clarkson?
I was part of the group that brought back the Phi Sigma Sigma sorority to campus as Clarkson's first national sorority. The sorority is still going strong 35 years later. I also played on Clarkson's first women's rugby team for a couple of years. I was also busy working all four years; most of that time for the food service company and then as a teacher’s assistant.
In addition to your education, what helped propel you to succeed?
Having an incredible support structure of leaders (managers, mentors and sponsors) who knew my skills and abilities and who would speak on my behalf when I wasn't in the room, helped make the right opportunities available. That was critical in my advancement.
You’ve been leading IBM’s Women in Technology efforts around the world. What are the most exciting or meaningful advances you’ve seen?
The most meaningful advance, not only for women in technology efforts but also those efforts to support a diverse technical workforce, is the recent focus on unconscious bias training. Truly being cognizant of what it is, understanding the fact that each one of us is unconsciously biased (it is inherent in all of us), and then knowing how to mitigate your own biases is crucial for all leaders, male and female, diverse and non-diverse, in creating an environment that fosters that the best possible collaboration and innovation.
If you could go back to your days at Clarkson and give yourself advice, what would it be?
I would tell myself to stand taller and have more confidence in my skills and abilities.
What advice would you give to Clarkson students today?
Each one of us has the power to make a difference by creating and fostering a positive, inclusive workplace where people's differences are valued and welcomed and where everyone can be their best, authentic selves. Be that person who will make a difference.