Jen never met her biological father. On the day she was born, he was assassinated. Her father came from a well-known political family and was a captain in the Philippines military. One day in 1982, he was called to an emergency conference in Cotabato City. Because his wife was so far along in her pregnancy, he hesitated to go, but the hospital they planned to deliver was in Cotabato City, so he felt more comfortable making the trip.
He brought Jen’s mother, 2 bodyguards, 1 maid, 1 driver and his brother in-law. It was an era of extreme political unrest in the Philippines. There were rebel groups fighting and corruption in the military.
While driving to the emergency conference, armed men ambushed them from the roadside and killed everyone in the car, except Jen’s pregnant mother. She was shot fatally 3 times; once in the head and twice in the back. Shortly after the attack, a car passed by and they were able to get her to the hospital.
When she arrived at the hospital, the doctors performed an emergency delivery of Jen because they thought her mother was going to die. Thankfully, both Jen and her mother survived. Sadly, Jen’s birthday is now reserved as a day of remembrance of the father that she never met and chooses a different day to celebrate herself.
Jen is an incredibly intelligent woman who only makes her brilliance known when she’s called upon. Currently, it feels like we’re bombarded with constant self-promotion and self-advancement, it’s refreshing and inspiring to be around someone like her. When I spoke with her for this feature, I was reminded of the beautiful characteristics that women bring to work culture. Characteristics usually referred to “soft skills”. I believe they should be known as “essential skills”. Through our conversations, I found myself reconnecting to those essential skills that reside within me, and it felt really good.
As early as Jen can remember, she was interested in human behavior. In 9th grade, she wrote a thesis paper about interpreting dreams and personality. While in high school and thinking about college, she considered going to medical school and thought she would study Neurology. Psychology also interested her, but in the Philippines, the career path for Psychology majors leads to school counselor or therapist. Since that didn’t interest her, she researched what Psychology looked like in other parts of the world and she discovered Human Factors & Ergonomics.
She found graduate programs, and was accepted, in the U.S. and Germany. Her mother strongly encouraged her to go the U.S., specifically Louisiana, where her Uncle Jose lived, who played a father figure role in her life.
She graduated from the University of Louisiana with a Masters in Experimental Psychology and continued her academic pursuit at Wichita State, where she earned her Ph.D. in Human Factors Psychology.
While working on her Ph.D., she worked for Dell, Honeywell, Motorola and Coca Cola through consulting projects contracted by the University. When she completed her studies and was ready to play the corporate game, her first stop was Honeywell. There she spent 4 years working on Industrial Automation Systems. After Honeywell, it was Veritas and finally found her way to Target.
Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?
Angela Merkel. She has a scientist background, which is unusual in politics. She led a country that became an economic power and a welcoming place, even though the Holocaust happened there. I think she has emerged as the leader of the free world. She has the guts and political will to stand up to Trump. I want to ask her about her vision for Germany’s future, how did she get there and what her struggles were.
What do you value most in a friendship?
Honesty, as in, the tough love kind of honesty. That’s how I behave with my friends and that’s what I expect from them as well. I also value trust. I have to travel really far to be with many of my close friends, so it’s important that we trust that the friendship is ok even if we can’t speak or see each other on a regular basis.
What is your most treasured memory?
The time I spent with my Maternal Grandmother. She helped us while my mom recovered from the attack. She lived next door and was a comforting presence in my life. When I would have what I call “homework panics” my Grandma would say: “Pause, take a deep breath and write down the steps you need to take.” She’d acknowledge the panic, but set the strategy. I still think about that and use that same methodology today.
Is there something that you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven’t you done it?
Running for public office back home. I want to serve because I have a lot of ideas. I was thinking the other day that maybe the right people aren’t running. I’m still thinking about it. I’ve been trained for it by both my family history and the culture of education in the Philippines. Every year, they recognize 10 outstanding students, with the goal being that these students will return to work on nation building. I was part of a group of 10 after college and all of my “batch mates” are already back in the Philippines doing this work.
Before making a telephone call, do you ever rehearse what you are going to say? Why?
Yes, especially if I’m ordering pizza with people who speak English. If I was speaking my native language, then no.
When did you last sing to yourself? To someone else?
I sing to myself every morning when I’m making coffee. We’re a musical family and I own a Karaoke machine. I make my American friends sing Karaoke when we host dinner parties. Some of my favorite songs to sing are: Zombie, by The Cranberries, Hero, by Mariah and Wind Beneath My Wings.
Do you have a secret hunch about how you’ll die?
I don’t, but I have thoughts about how I want to die. I want to be at home in the Philippines. If I get an illness with a lot of strain, I’d forgo treatment for travel and time with my family.
Name 3 things you and your husband have in common.
We’re both introverts, we like watching Broadway shows and we like to travel.
For what in your life do you feel most grateful?
To be alive. Watching my mom and her strength after what she experienced. It affected how I look at life and it makes me grateful.
If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be?
I wish my mom and grandparents were less protective of me. They loosened up with my younger siblings.
If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be?
To be an awesome skier. I like Minnesota, but I think I would enjoy it more if I knew how to ski.