Army veteran, college basketball fanatic and Wake Forest alumna Jacqueline Harris (’05), reflects on her passion for people and how she believes in pursuing “the dream team” vs. “the dream job”. Carrie Ross, Associate Director, Alumni Engagement, talks with her about her past experience as a platoon leader, United States Military Academy professor, and how her Wake Forest connections continue to enrich her personal and professional life.
Carrie: How did you find your way to Wake Forest?
Jacqueline: I discovered Wake Forest through a family friend. As soon as I walked on campus, it immediately felt like home. I knew Wake Forest offered ROTC, and that was important for me in my college search. I came to Wake Forest knowing I wanted to be a business major. Wake Forest offered the small school feel with a big name; I valued knowing my classmates and professors. As a college basketball fanatic, becoming a Demon Deacon was a huge perk!
Carrie: You have led a platoon in Afghanistan, taught at West Point, earned your MBA from Duke and now work in the corporate sector. What have you learned? Any career do’s and don’ts?
Jacqueline: To me, the most important piece of career advice is simple – get to know your people. At West Point it was a humbling experience; I was often one of two or three women in the room and confidently knew I wasn’t the smartest person either!
My Army experience taught me to relate to others and to learn their motivations. Find ways to relate to people. You’re not walking in their shoes. You are a far more successful team if you know your team and what does and does not motivate them. My students would often ask me how to earn a platoon’s trust; the answer is, there is no magic potion! You have to earn their trust.
Graduate school taught me the value of feedback, and how important it is to everyone’s growth. I learned to take feedback, without my guard up. In my military career, I often let perfection stop me from failing. I feared failure. So much of my development was done in the Army and, obviously, failure can lead to harm or loss of life. I had to learn in my corporate career to view failure as a positive tool – there is so much learning in failure! I especially took to the quote of General Stanley McChrystal: “Leaders can let you fail and yet not let you be a failure.”
I’m lucky that growing up my dad shared many philosophies with us; the one I prized the most was how to handle the tough things – like failure, mishaps or even a bad day. His philosophy was to take that day and allow yourself the rest of that day to feel bad. But that’s it. The next day it’s over, it’s a new day. Be better for it because it happened. That piece of advice has always stuck with me.
Carrie: You mentioned you were the student manager of the Wake Forest men’s basketball team during the glory days of Coach Skip Prosser. Why is basketball important to you?
Jacqueline: My dad played basketball for Coach K at Duke and was a basketball coach himself. Basketball is in my blood! When I came to Wake Forest, I had the amazing opportunity to work with the men’s team when Coach Prosser led the Deacons, and legends such as Chris Paul, Justin Gray and Josh Howard were on the team. It was an exciting and wonderful time to be a part of Wake Forest sports! My biggest connections were to Roxanne Moody, now Assistant Athletic Director, and David “Sarge” Tinga. Sarge, a Korean and Vietnam War veteran and below the knee amputee, brought me into the equipment room family once he discovered I was ROTC. He ran the equipment room like the Army runs supply. We immediately hit it off and will always be considered family. I took his lessons and those learned with the equipment room family with me beyond Wake Forest.
When I deployed a year after I graduated, there were two incredible things that epitomize Wake Forest that happened while I was deployed. A fellow basketball manager put together a book of pictures and notes from players and staff I had worked with and mailed it to me in Iraq. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect, as it had been a tough few weeks. The package felt like a piece of home. And Roxanne sent infamous Wake Forest Athletics sweatpants to my entire platoon. We wore them together in unity. It felt like a bit of Wake Forest coming to Baghdad – my platoon was my family just like Wake Forest was my family.
Carrie: We recognize Veterans Day in November. As a veteran yourself, what is your perspective?
Jacqueline: I think Veterans Day is an opportunity for all of us to show our support and recognition of some incredible people who served our country. Even the smallest tokens of appreciation mean the most. I have a Wake Forest classmate who sends me a thank you email every year on Veterans Day. It’s the people who take the time out of their day to send a thank you that are special. We don’t do it for the thank you’s or the parade or anything grandiose. I appreciate those with whom I served and it’s very unifying to be considered a veteran. I am immensely proud to be an American and an alum of Wake Forest. My first salute was with Sarge when I was commissioned at Wake Forest. Each Veterans Day I think about him.
Carrie: Talk about work life balance and what you do to stay balanced.
Jacqueline: College basketball just started so I’m back to my balance! I’m also doing a lot of work to feel and reflect on my time deployed. The Army doesn’t give you time to do that – intentionally. The past few years have been about understanding my experience and working through it. I am very grateful for veterans’ organizations that exist to make sure I have the space to do this important work. I’m also grateful to read my autographed copies of Emily Giffin’s books when I need an escape, as I support my fellow Wake Forest connection!
Carrie: What does the future hold for you?
Jacqueline: I’ve put a lot of thought into that question as I reflected on my life. I’m passionate about being on incredible teams. I don’t know that I have a dream job as much as I want to have a dream team to work with. In everything I do I want an element of service tied to it so it’s for the betterment of others. Service is extremely important to me, and I thrive off empowering others. While I haven’t mapped out my future, I know that I never want to stop learning or being on a team. Wake Forest allowed me to be on some of the very best teams and around incredible leaders. I am forever indebted to my teammates and Wake Forest.
Jacqueline is currently Vice President of Business Administration at Vector Solutions and resides in New York.