As UF gears up to celebrate the centennial of women’s suffrage in the months to come, we’ll be sharing profiles some of the women who make UF great. We’ll also be asking each of the women we profile to tell us about another woman at UF they admire—in a sort of round robin of recognition.
You’re invited to join in the conversation by sharing something about the extraordinary women you know at UF. You can do so by completing our online form and/or sharing via Facebook or Twitter, tagging @UFatWork and #UFWomenatWork.
To get things started, we’ve invited our own VP, Jodi Gentry, to share a bit more about her journey as well as the people and experiences that have made a difference in her life and career. Here’s what she had to say…
Name: Jodi Gentry
Title: Vice President for Human Resources
Professional interests: Throughout my career, I have always been interested in the conditions that allow and encourage people to do their best work. We typically spend most of our waking hours at work—certainly, more time than we spend in our personal lives—and those hours should be fulfilling and meaningful.
Unprofessional interests: I’m a voracious reader of fiction. I’m always reading a novel. I can easily read several novels in a week.
Words to live by: “When someone shows you who they are, believe them …” — Maya Angelou
Runs on: Moderation. I try to eat right, exercise, sleep, be present when I’m at work, and spend time with my friends and family. Of course, I don’t do any of it nearly as well as I should.
Is there an early-career or early-life experience that helped shape who you are as a professional you could share with us?
Early in my career in Human Resources, I was asked to develop a business writing workshop for UF staff. I think it was because I have an undergraduate degree in English; the assignment did not have much to do with the job I was in at the time. I was then asked to facilitate the workshop. I had never done something like that before. A colleague in Human Resources, Bob Willits, observed me when I facilitated that workshop, and afterwards, he told me I might have an aptitude for delivering training, which surprised me at the time. I give him a lot of credit for the career path I eventually took, which has emphasized providing professional development opportunities for faculty and staff throughout my career.
What do you find most gratifying about working at UF?
I love that we are working together to make the world a better place. A functioning democracy requires educated citizens, our research has the potential to fundamentally address pressing world problems and the positive influence we can have on communities and our fellow humans all are very gratifying outcomes—and, in my opinion and experience, every job counts toward achieving those outcomes. I am proud to be part of an organization with such an important mission.
Who have been your greatest role models?
So many people have been great role models for me. At heart, I am a student of people. I watch them, observe how they handle situations, and work to learn from what I observe—both what to do and what not to do in the future. I also have worked with great leaders. It’s been a big climb for me at UF given that my first job was as a graduate assistant; I have learned something at each step along the way and from many, many people.
How do you find strength in the face of challenges?
When I was around 30 years old, I realized that it was easy to be who I wanted to be when things were going my way. The far more important question, I realized, was “who was I when things weren’t?” Dealing with challenges—and really trying to be ruthless in my assessment of myself in relationship to those challenges—has become an issue of personal character for me. I always try to think, “What do I need to learn in this situation?”
What advice would you give now to your younger self?
I’ve always been a bit too concerned about what other people think about me. I would tell my younger self to get over it.
Who is a UF female faculty or staff member you particularly admire and why?
I went to graduate school at UF—that’s what actually brought me to Gainesville. And Mary Ann Ferguson in the College of Journalism and Communications was the chair of my graduate committee. She was (and still is) brilliant, tough and confident—and she pushed me in a way that I had not been pushed before.
I will always remember some feedback she gave me in one of my graduate courses: she told me to stop apologizing or making excuses for my answers. I evidently had a tendency to say “this may not be right,” or “I may not be thinking about this correctly,” or some type of qualifying comment, before I would answer a question or participate in class. Her very direct feedback to me about that tendency has stayed with me throughout my professional life.
Later, I admired her as she participated in the life of her college and UF, eventually serving as chair of the Faculty Senate. I have always been impressed with her—and I know she has touched many lives along the way, as she did mine, throughout her career. Her influence, for certain, taught me that providing direct feedback to others is such an important thing to do. For those who know me or work with me closely, you will have experienced my inner “Mary Ann Ferguson” many times.