In the third of a three-part series, Dexis shares stories from staff who think critically and embrace big challenges, all while embodying the Dexis values of ingenuity, integrity, and investment in people.
As a former teacher, Jennifer Shin believes in the importance of continuous learning. After years spent teaching and managing education-related projects in the states and abroad, though, she was at a point in her career where it was time to turn her focus to her own learning and growth. But she wasn’t sure how to find a place that would provide her with what she was looking for.
As luck would have it, a chance meeting in her past played a role in helping her find her future direction.
“A few years ago,” she recalls, “my company at the time signed me up for a hostile environment awareness training, as I was working on projects in conflict-affected regions. An intern and I rode the bus together to the training site and we spoke for maybe half an hour. Later, she moved on to work at Dexis and reached out—sort of out of the blue, really—when they were looking for a Senior Program Manager to oversee the State Department portfolio.”
The opportunity came at the right time for Jennifer. “I was curious and Dexis seemed like an interesting place. The project management aspect of the role was familiar, but the focus of the projects was different and new, so balancing what I knew with an area of growth was interesting to me,” she says.
In her role as Senior Program Manager, Jennifer managed a team of project associates, supervised team leads, and worked on quality control, focusing on improving processes and relationship management with project staff and clients. Her supervisor at the time was proactive in mentoring Jennifer, supporting her in challenging situations and trusting her to apply her past experiences to improve results.
Jennifer eventually transitioned to a key personnel project manager role on a USAID-funded project focused on education research. The client’s priority at the time she joined was to ensure proper dissemination of the products created under the contract. It was familiar territory from some of her past projects. “We wanted to make these products useful,” she explains, “which requires proactive engagement from the initial planning stages of the research to ensure that folks at USAID are aware of the work being done and excited for the final product. We didn’t want the results of our work to just sit on the shelf.”
Under Jennifer’s leadership, the team came up with ways to create more visibility for the research, to drum up excitement for the results, and make sure the products would stick. “We were intentional about that,” she says, “and by the end of the contract, we received a lot of feedback from our activity managers that different teams had expressed interest in getting access to the products and building off the research. This would not have been possible without a collaborative team and a supportive supervisor who was always willing to make time to connect me with resources and act as a sounding board.”
As the end of the project approached, Jennifer again started looking for opportunities to apply and expand her experience. Unexpectedly, the Director of Contracts at Dexis reached out about an opening on that team.
“When I was working on the project management side, of course compliance was always something that guides our work, but I didn’t think I’d be interested in working on the compliance side. But as I learned more about the role and spoke with the team, I not only saw opportunity to grow in that position, but I could see that the director was interested in investing in me and mentoring me,” Jennifer says.
She joined the Contracts team and was pleased to find it was the learning opportunity she’d been looking for, with the right mix of everyday short-term tasks and longer-term initiatives to improve processes, a base of familiarity with the subject matter but plenty of new material to learn, and the opportunity to support projects from the contracts and compliance side.
As she describes it, “It’s very interesting to look at projects through a compliance lens. I used to think compliance was black and white—something is either compliant or not. However, I quickly learned that is rarely the case. There is a lot to consider when interpreting regulations and providing guidance, especially in terms of balancing consistent application with the reality of varying risk levels in different situations.
At Dexis, Jennifer has found her place to grow. She credits the warm, welcoming environment and the culture of the company for that. “From day one, I knew that Dexis was a different environment from other places I’ve worked. Here, it has always felt very collegial and supportive and approachable. When things go wrong, there’s no finger-pointing or blaming. Instead, the teams I’ve worked with say, ‘Let’s figure it out.’”
“Good leadership creates a good work environment,” she says. “For me, a good work environment is as important as doing work I enjoy. At Dexis, I get a great balance of both. My supervisor trusts me to do the job and to seek her support when needed. It’s work for her to invest in me, but she was willing to do it and I’m very grateful for that.”
About Jennifer: Jennifer Shin grew up between the United States and Korea. After graduating from college with a degree in international relations, Jennifer spent two years in the Peace Corps in Turkmenistan, then returned to the United States to obtain her teaching certification. In addition to her teaching experience in the states and abroad, she has supported USAID and State Department-funded projects both on the management and technical side over the past 11 years. Jennifer holds a Master’s degree in International Education Policy.