I love working for a university. It is a privilege to work alongside explorers mapping the frontiers of human discovery and ingenuity. It is a joy to be part of a campus dedicated to the furtherance of human knowledge and understanding. I love being among colleagues committed to a human vision of human progress and laboring to keep progress… progressing.
Jenny Pool stands in front of the display she created for UNeTech at Heartland Pride. The display asks participants to share their own entrepreneurial stories by wrapping yarn around milestones they hit from first expressing interest in startups to where they are today with that startup.
Jenny Pool (left) and Stephanie Kidd (right) at the ICAN Women’s Conference this spring.
For all I love about working at a university, however, it can be a bit insular. The ivory tower is a real thing but I’m happy to report UNeTech’s found a way to breach it: Jenny Pool.
UNeTech’s community engagement coordinator Jenny Pool is a black belt conversationalist. Though a sparkling wit, Jenny treats conversation like Judo. She can redirect, reposition and with a perfectly timed “tell me more about that” disarm the most defensive sparring partner. With those skills, Jenny creates a powerfully inviting space. I have witnessed the gravitational pull of her ‘talk to me’- ness in faculty meetings, university events, and even rock concerts.
I do not stretch to compare it to one of the four fundamental forces of the universe. It is deceptively simple, mechanistically mysterious, and staggeringly powerful. If UNeTech is going to be an effective ambassador to a variety of communities, then it may require graces at least as powerful as the universe itself. Although UNMC, UNO, and even UNeTech enjoy tremendous support from the community, we could all do so much better. Working with Jenny, I’ve come to realize that it’s not organizational, social, or even institutional barriers that create the ivory tower.
It’s just people.
Jenny puts university programs, projects, and people out in the community in a way that is welcoming and engaging. Jenny designs cool stuff, finds interesting places to display it, and repeats it over and over. She answers exactly as many questions as she can and gets back with answers to the ones she can’t. Jenny is the original author of how UNeTech presents itself to the community and is its most zealous herald. That also makes her a stunningly effective representative of UNO, UNMC, and many other community partners.
That outreach wouldn’t work if Jenny couldn’t effectively approach university insularity. Rather than scold, cajole, or shame inventors and researchers to ‘sell better’ she listens to them. She repeats back their stories, with slight modifications. She doesn’t try to change world experts, skilled professionals, or luminary researchers – she helps them find their voices and tell their stories.
Authenticity. Jenny has authenticity to spare. She could loan it with interest – instead, she loans it with a card catalog. Lord knows I’ve borrowed from that library with nary a late fee.
So, what is UNeTech socially? It’s redirecting the very problems that create the ivory tower into their solution. It’s creating new spaces where wary parties can find new ways to talk and listen to each other. It is treating every interaction – however off-topic or remote – as a new opportunity to grow the community and tell a good story. It is to trust that the fundamental forces of the universe nurture innovation, champion collaboration and cultivate community. I come away from my conversations with Jenny remembering: we all just have to have the courage to be our authentic selves and trust those forces.