A Seat at the Table A Q&A with Jessica Taylor White '04 on interpersonal relationships, fearless leadership and lifelong learning.
Why did you want to serve on the Annual Fund Council?
My first job after graduation was for the Development Office as an Annual Fund Staff Associate. I got to learn where the dollars go and saw first hand how impactful Annual Fund giving is to the university community. The Annual Fund contributes about 8 percent of the university’s operating budget each year. That may seem like a small amount, but that amount annually provides nearly $5,000 per student in support. To each student, that matters greatly.
Were there professors at W&L who helped shape your academic career?
There were a number of professors who helped me grow both intellectually and personally. Professor Tim Lubin in the religion department inspired in me a never-ending curiosity about what people believe and why. Every time I attend a yoga class, I think of his courses. Professor Sascha Goluboff in the Anthropology Department helped me see the value in and the importance of carefully studying where we come from and what our cultural practices mean. Professor Julie Woodzicka in the Psychology Department is a teacher I only had for one class, but who continued to mentor and support me outside the classroom in ways she may not even recognize as meaningful — but to me, I will never forget.
What are your reasons for choosing to remain deeply engaged with W&L?
My experiences at W&L have prepared me to be a lifelong learner. The education I received was invaluable and the relationships formed are ones that have enriched my life. I have volunteered with the DC Alumni Admissions Program since 2007. Meeting the impressive students helps me remain hopeful about W&L’s ability to continue to produce engaged, bright, responsible global citizens. That shows me why it is important to continue giving to support the university’s efforts.
What would you like to emphasize to fellow W&L alumni and friends when it comes to giving back to the university?
I give to W&L because what the university has given to me is beyond measure. I think it is important for all alumni to give. We all benefit from the continued success of the university. For those who might be unhappy with changes, I challenge them to consider staying engaged as a way to ensure that your voice is heard. Having a seat at the table is the only way to be a part of the conversation.
What extracurricular activities were important to you at W&L?
I was among some of the first members of the cheerleading team. I was a competitive cheerleader in high school and loved the sport, so it was a pleasure to continue in college. I went on to serve as captain my senior year and as coach after I graduated. I made lifelong friends while volunteering and making an impact on campus through school spirit and camaraderie. It was impactful for me to see so early in my college career that a committed group of students could start something and make a difference. I also had the privilege of chairing the Maryland State Delegation for the 2004 Mock Convention. That experience was one I will never forget. The exhilarating zeitgeist of the convention floor is one that is tough to describe to those outside our community.
What do you consider as the most important qualities of a strong leader, and what would you say to encourage more women to pursue leadership roles?
I think the most important qualities in a strong leader are a collaborative spirit, a strong moral compass and a dose of fearlessness. One of the greatest leadership lessons I’ve learned is that nothing can be accomplished without buy-in and support from those around you. No leader has all the answers. Leading by your values will almost always guide you in the right direction. When a leader grounds each decision in her values and asks, “How does this align with my personal values and the values and mission of the organization?” the best course of action becomes clear. Fearlessness is really important in pursing leadership. The fear of failure can hold so many promising women back. I encourage all women who are interested in leading to consider what the risks of failure actually are. If a bruised ego is the biggest risk — go for it!