Carolina veteran employees: Jennifer Washington

Today is Veterans Day, the day Americans set aside to honor those who have served their country in one of the military branches. Carolina has 306 veterans who are now working at the University, from all branches of service, who retired or were discharged as specialists, generals and many ranks in between. They have served in peacetime and in conflicts in Vietnam, Iraq and Kuwait.

Now that they are civilians again, they are putting what they learned in the military to good use here at the University.

Invaluable skills for process and organization

Jennifer Washington (photo by Jon Gardiner, UNC-Chapel Hill)
Jennifer Washington (photo by Jon Gardiner, UNC-Chapel Hill)

On the morning of 9/11, Jennifer Washington could not contact her sister, a flight attendant on a plane flying from Philadelphia.

“We knew something had happened and that it involved planes, but we didn’t know if she was on one of the planes,” said Washington, business officer for Carolina’s English and comparative literature and America studies departments. Fortunately, her sister was safe, but the events of that terrible day profoundly affected Washington.

“That day changed my thoughts about our country and what I wanted to do in terms of a career. I wanted to travel, and I wanted to do something about what had happened, so I decided to join the military,” she said.

Washington, then a history major at UNC Wilmington, chose the U.S. Navy. After training school, orders sent her to Gaeta, Italy, south of Rome and the 6th Fleet’s home. Washington worked as an administrative postal clerk, processing mail for the base’s 2,000 sailors and 900 more on the USS Mount Whitney and performing logistical and local outreach duties. She even did military police duty and deployed on one Mediterranean cruise. After five years that included getting married and the birth of a girl and a boy, she left the Navy and returned to America.

Washington finished her undergraduate degree and a project-management certificate, then earned a master’s degree before working in UNCW’s business and auxiliary services.

In 2013, she joined Carolina as business manager in Romance languages. In 2017, she started her current job, working with 130 faculty members and directing a 10-member staff in the administration of classes for 4,000 students each year and many academic programs and initiatives. Her combination of fresh perspective, affability and organizational skills serve Carolina well.

“For my job’s scope, the skills I gained in the military have been invaluable. I can’t put a price tag on what I learned there, especially for process and organization,” Washington said. “With so many people here from different place and backgrounds, you have to find a way to synthesize processes so everyone can understand that they are for a joint goal and mission.”

By Scott Jared, The Well

Read the stories of other Carolina veterans.