By Kim Primicerio
Jennifer Duggins, a life-long learner with a strong desire to succeed and develop new skills and experience, is an example of someone who doesn’t settle.
Duggins returned to school two years ago, enrolling in Sacred Heart University’s master’s in human resource management program. “I was nervous; I didn’t think I would do well,” admits Duggins, a 46-year-old Queens, N.Y., native. As it turned out, her nerves were unwarranted.
Duggins attended courses at SHU’s Stamford campus, and she walked at commencement in May at the Webster Bank arena with her peers. Her proud family attended the ceremony with her.
In the meantime, her career progressed with her most recent promotion to assistant director at the Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. She oversees 30 employees and travels frequently.
Professors were impressed by Duggins’ career and saw what she could achieve in class.
“When Jennifer came to SHU, she already had substantial experience in the compliance field,” says Tony Macari, assistant professor of finance at the Jack Welch College of Business. “Our master’s in human resource management added more leadership training and more financial and data analysis skills to her background that will help her in this very senior role she has taken on with the SEC.
“Jennifer was an extremely diligent student and a leader in the classroom, always prepared and always willing to speak up in class. She always kept me on my toes as an instructor, especially if I went over something too quickly in class or I needed to clarify a point,” Macari says. “She was never content with ‘just understanding’ the content; she wanted to master it from different perspectives and make full use of it outside of the classroom.”
Duggins says she was supported and encouraged throughout her studies at SHU, had a better relationship with professors than she did during her undergraduate years and had more life experiences to share. Moreover, she says she enjoyed every minute of her graduate studies and now feels fully equipped for her job.
When she received her official diploma in the mail, she says, she was more excited than when she received her undergraduate degree. “When I was younger, I wasn’t ready; I didn’t know what I wanted to do.”
Duggins and her five siblings grew up in public housing in Queens and were raised by a single mother who worked for the board of education. “My mother always told me think outside of the box,” Duggins says.
Her mother made sure to expose the six children to the arts and, thanks to her connections on the board of education, she often took Duggins to plays, operas and museums in Manhattan.
“My mom was always on me to do well in school,” says Duggins, who attended Catholic schools from kindergarten through eighth grade and then attended the same high school where her mother worked.
After graduation, she went to Springfield College, which her sister attended, to study athletic training and sports medicine. Duggins says she did well her first two years there, earning A’s in all her classes. However, in her junior year, when it was time to apply the skills she had learned, she didn’t enjoy the work. “So I went home,” Duggins says, acknowledging that her action was unprecedented in her family, as all her siblings completed college.
She took on temporary jobs for a year and then enrolled in New York University, where she majored in history. She graduated in 1987 and started working as a marketing assistant for Merrill Lynch. Next she worked at Citicorp for two years as an assistant manager in risk management and at Lehman Brothers for five years as a project manager. She learned skills “on the fly,” she recalls, and excelled at her work. “They saw that I was good and smart, and they mentored me,” she says.
Eventually, her excessive schedule and intense workload left her feeling burned out. She thought about a career in law and tried to obtain work as a paralegal at law firms, but she was met with skepticism. She kept at it until she landed jobs as a senior paralegal at several financial firms, where her interest extended to compliance and human resources.
When she thought about returning to school, she aimed to earn a master’s degree in either business administration or human resources. She saw how working in compliance had many ties to human resources and knew she would enjoy work that dealt with policies and people. In 2014, she started her journey.
“I never took formal accounting or financial classes,” Duggins says. “Until SHU, I never took a statistics class or a finance class.”
Along with having a better grasp on all aspects of finance now, she also understands how to manage and train people. “I feel completely equipped,” she says.
With much support from Macari, Duggins excelled. She landed the SEC job, which she calls the best job she’s ever had.
She has been accepted to SHU’s M.B.A. program, but because of the many demands and duties of her job, she was unable to start this fall. Duggins says she thinks she’ll be able to participate in the hybrid program (both face-to-face classes and online) next fall.
For adults looking to go back to college, but fighting reservations, Duggins says, “Go for it. It’s better and more fun as an adult. You learn differently as an adult learner, and you bring all your experiences to the table. It’s a great opportunity to share and grow.”