2019 MBAs To Watch: Jenna Herr, Wisconsin School of Business

Jenna Herr

University of Wisconsin-Madison, Wisconsin School of Business

Resilient and courageous explorer, dedicated to life-long learning and driven to make the world a better place.”

Hometown: Centerville, IA

Fun fact about yourself: I was a straight-A student in high school except for two B’s: Keyboarding and Calculus.

Undergraduate School and Degree: University of Iowa, Finance and Economics, 2013

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? I worked in Community and Economic Development for the City of Waukee, Iowa, one of the fastest-growing suburbs in the nation. My role involved attracting and retaining commercial development, and it was there that I gained a deep sense of appreciation for the role of risk and insurance in the economy, which led me to pursue an MBA.

Where did you intern during the summer of 2018? I interned at AIG in the Financial Lines department, and I have several anecdotes to demonstrate that Insurance is not boring! I gained exposure to some cutting-edge business issues including Kidnap, Ransom and Extortion, Workplace Violence, Employment Practice Liability, and more.

Where will you be working after graduation? I am actively recruiting for roles in Risk Management and Insurance. The right role will be one where I can have a financial and societal impact by communicating the value of risk management.

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School: I served as co-President of the Graduate Women in Business, which was tremendously rewarding. I can reflect with pride that we grew a sense of community among women in the program, focused on important topics like entrepreneurship and diversity and inclusion, and launched a male allyship program. Besides student organization leadership, my most treasured community work is mentoring and supporting first-generation college students through my role as a Young Advisory Board member for the University of Iowa.

I am also actively involved with the Spencer Educational Foundation, an organization dedicated to growing future leaders in Risk Management. I am a recipient of the Anita Benedetti Memorial Scholarship.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I was an “at-risk” kid with very low odds of graduating college—or even high school—but soon I will have earned an MBA, and most of my education has been funded by scholarship. I’m proud of my ability to inspire investment and to turn it into something successful. I’ll be excited to pay it forward in the future.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? In my previous role, I developed and presented a plan to increase women leadership on local boards and commissions. It was backed by current research which demonstrates that gender-balanced boards see better economic gains. Afterward, I saw a noticeable increase in women in decision-making roles, and I was proud to have contributed.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Joan Schmit is my favorite professor and one of the greatest mentors I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. She is relentlessly dedicated to bettering the field of business by growing thoughtful leaders in Risk and Insurance. She exposes students to real-time issues and maintains strong connections with industry professionals, which benefits everyone involved. MBA’s are generally high achievers, and we often receive positive feedback on our work. What I love most about Joan is her “Yes, and” approach to growth and development. She is always positive and always helping us be even better versions of ourselves.

What was your favorite MBA Course? One of my favorite courses was Risk Analytics and Behavioral Science, taught by Professor Justin Sydnor. The course focuses on decision-making under uncertainty and explores the behavioral factors and psychological processes that may generate bias. I could easily recommend it to any MBA because the concepts are directly applicable to business leadership.

Why did you choose this business school? I knew I wanted to be a leader in my field, so I looked exclusively at programs that would allow me to gain both the specialized knowledge I needed and the leadership skills I wanted to develop. Wisconsin’s specialized MBA makes that possible. The curriculum is forward-thinking, and the alumni network is genuine and strong.

What is your best advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s MBA program?

Wisconsin values the whole person, so consider the ways that you will bring value to classmates and future Badgers: through a diverse perspective, relationship-building, and pushing others to grow and improve. The opportunities are endless—find yours and run with it. And don’t take yourself too seriously.

What is the biggest myth about your school? The biggest myth is that we eat cheese curds and drink beer like it’s our job…actually, that is mostly true. What has surprised me most, though, are the bonds we’ve forged through interaction outside of business school and genuine investment in those relationships.

Think back two years ago. What is the one thing you wish you’d known before starting your MBA program? If I could give any advice to my younger self, it would be “You belong here. Behave as if you belong here.” I spent much of my first year feeling like an imposter, and it was crippling at times. When I found the confidence within myself to embrace my differences, I found it much easier to build relationships with others and feel connected. That’s a lesson I will certainly take with me in business.

MBA Alumni often describe business school as transformative. Looking back over the past two years, how has business school been transformative for you? The MBA has been a transformative experience in part because it is such a significant departure from the world I knew in childhood. I am the first in my family to attend college at all, so graduate education was totally foreign to me two years ago. My mother was incarcerated for most of my childhood, and I grew up in poverty, so higher education has opened worlds for me.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Easily, it is my friend Tiep Do. She has overcome significant personal barriers to earn an MBA at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Tiep has a deep sense of personal excellence and commitment to helping others, which drew her to further her education. She might not have known to study in the US except for the example of a friend, and she has demonstrated tremendous bravery and personal sacrifice leaving her family to study in Wisconsin. Tiep is driven to Supply Chain Management by a passion for agriculture and food security for the most vulnerable. She is brave and kind, and her quiet leadership by example epitomizes excellence in the truest sense of the word.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? My first boss, Bill Burch, influenced my interest and passion for business. I began waitressing when I was 15, and Bill worked in finance for the restaurant’s parent company. He exposed me to financial statements and business principles before I even knew what I was looking at, and he was the only person to tell me that I did not have to get married and I could go to college instead. I left Bill’s office one day and applied to over 30 scholarship opportunities, eventually earning enough to fund 100% of my undergraduate education. Mentorship has played a substantial role in my decision to pursue graduate business education, and it was that first encounter with Bill that inspired me to one day be that mentor to someone else.

What is your favorite movie about business? Girl Rising is the most impactful film I’ve seen, and its implications for businesses, managers, and leaders are astounding. The movie illustrates how girls’ education economically impacts communities around the world. The biggest personal lesson I gained from it was ­­­­­­if I invest even a small amount in women’s and minorities’ growth and development, the economic impact is immense.

What was the goofiest MBA term or acronym you encountered – and what did it mean? TAPS—Thursday after Professional Studies. In Wisconsin, this is a standing appointment to drink beer.

If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…looking for other ways to do something impactful while having fun and meeting great people.

What dollar value would you place on your MBA education? Was it worth what you paid for it – worth more or worth less? I know there’s a fancy finance way to do this which accounts for all my future income, etc. Truthfully, the relationships I’ve forged, the internal sense of confidence I’ve gained, and the foundation of leadership I’ve built are incalculable.

What are the top two items on your bucket list? Grow a butterfly garden and live abroad. There are a lot of things I’d love to do for other people, but these ones are just for me.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? “Jenna pursued excellence with integrity and was unafraid to fail; she created a sense of community and friendship among us and we are better for it.”

Hobbies? I read a lot and like to build or sew things on occasion to exercise other parts of my brain. I’m not athletic at all, so my classmates would be surprised to learn that I swim every Saturday morning.

What made Jenna such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2019?

“Jenna Herr is a thoughtful, creative, generous, talented leader who represents the Best & Brightest, seeing what is possible and making it happen. She is a walking representation of the “servant leader,” with her goals incorporating the success of the members of her various teams. Those teams are formal and informal, including initiatives as co-president of Graduate Women in Business (GWIB), as a member of numerous less formal teams, such as her MBA case team, the MBA class of ’19, and her cohort of risk management and insurance colleagues.

As a single mother, Jenna would be expected to spend less time taking on responsibilities outside of the classroom and developing relationships with her colleagues, yet Jenna is one of the most involved students I have known in my more than 30 years on the faculty. Importantly, her young daughter is smart, respectful, funny, well-adjusted, and wonderful. Jenna is both a magnificent mother and an outstanding student leader. We heard from many of her fellow students that Jenna reached out to them individually for one-on-one conversations, listening deeply to them, and developing ideas for their individual and collective success. These students speak to Jenna’s ability to instill courage and determination in others, her deep critical thinking skills, and her gentle humanity.

Jenna has shown leadership in many other domains as well. As co-president of GWIB, Jenna was involved in coalescing the group around a number of relevant initiatives, generating a strong sense of purpose and cohesion. She also has been a teaching assistant for three distinct courses, starting in her first semester in the program. In each instance, Jenna showed preparation, care, thoughtfulness, and attention to detail. Her students speak of her patience and intelligence. They consider her a role model. Similarly, Jenna’s colleagues in the risk management and insurance program speak of her leadership in ensuring that the team came in first for all of the school initiatives, including Special Olympics Polar Plunge, Winter Holiday Food Bank collections, and the annual program video competition. She has organized bi-weekly dinners among the group so that everyone feels welcomed. And she maintains strong contacts with our alumni and Advisory Board.

This semester Jenna has been given the intense responsibility of leading our applied learning project with United Airlines. The project team is comprised of 10 MBAs and 6 undergraduate students. The project involves multi-million dollar initiatives to manage construction risk for United. Jenna communicates directly with the United Risk Manager as well as their brokers and insurers. As part of her own leadership initiative, Jenna has developed an ability to delegate responsibility to others while also offering constructive feedback to team members. Jenna has set timelines, provides detailed agenda, encourages creativity and input, listens effectively to others, and is making significant headway in creating a strong outcome for United. The entire team respects her and seeks to do their best for her. She is offering each member an opportunity to grow and learn.

We will miss Jenna Herr when she graduates, yet of course her influence will live on beyond these two years she has been part of our program.”

Joan T. Schmit

American Family Insurance Distinguished Chair in Risk Management and Insurance


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