Photo by Rachel Lewis-Krisky
This story is a part of our “A Day in the Life'' series that highlights the career journeys of 2U employees across the world. This article celebrates one of our 2020 No Back Row Award winners—an employee recognized for embracing one of 2U’s nine Guiding Principles. Jess Lee was one of two 2Utes selected as the winners of the Be Candid, Honest, and Open award.
Jess Lee couldn’t have asked for a better time to start working at 2U. April 9, 2018 marked her first day as a learning and engagement facilitator—and a few short weeks later, Jess was in New Orleans listening to Michelle Obama speak on the power of education at 2U’s eleventh annual company meeting.
That was only the first of many incredible adventures that lay ahead for Jess and her 2U journey. After a year of working at 2U’s headquarters in Lanham, MD, Jess relocated to our Denver office. And this April, she’s wrapping up a 2U-powered online Master of Science in Management and Leadership from Pepperdine University.
“It’s been a wild three years,” she says. “I’ve gotten to meet so many talented and kind people, everywhere I go.” Read on to learn how Jess has found clarity and confidence through a community of 2U colleagues—and why she’s a firm believer in the adage “it takes a village.”
Jess at the initial immersion weekend for her Pepperdine master's program in January 2020 (pre-COVID)
How would you describe your role at 2U?
As a learning and engagement facilitator in the HR department, my role is to grow the capability of 2Utes through formal learning experiences. I get to support new hires as they acclimate while also developing high-potential employees who are looking to learn and managers who are looking to grow their leadership abilities.
What do you find most rewarding and challenging about your job?
The most rewarding part of my job is when I’m facilitating a live Zoom training session and participants are teaching each other. I firmly believe that my role is to be an expert in creating a learning environment where those open to learning are given multiple opportunities to do so. The most challenging part of my job is knowing that there’s always room for improvement, which means that the work is never done.
Jess in New Orleans for 2U's "Glorious 2 Greatness" 2018 company meeting
Out of everything you’ve done at 2U so far, what gives you the most pride?
The wonderful thing about building relationships across the company in my role is that I’m most proud of what others accomplish. One example is the work that our Business Resource Networks (BRNs) have done in the last two years. Every BRN event that I’ve attended or helped create does impactful work, driving us forward as a company and creating a truly inclusive workplace.
So much makes me proud at 2U. I’m proud when someone I knew as a new, entry-level hire is promoted to manager. When we announce a new partnership, I know the people that made that partnership happen and am proud of their work. I also know the teams that will make that partnership thrive, and am proud of their work. I’m proud that the faculty training team leveraged multiple 2Utes to deliver an equity seminar series to faculty this past fall. I’m proud of the kickass boot campers who have become a critical part of 2U culture and inspire me with their student work. I’m proud of my colleagues Dr. SyLinda Musaindapo, Alyssa Zawack, and Jasmine Crews for leading breakout learning sessions for our Workforce Engagement department. I’m proud of the work we do collectively that would be impossible alone.
As a company, we have an opportunity to learn from our past and focus on ensuring a truly inclusive and equitable workplace. The only way we do that is through being candid, honest, and open.— Jess Lee, Learning and Engagement Facilitator, 2U
At the end of 2020, 2U announced the year’s No Back Row Award winners, all of whom were recognized for their commitment to one of the company’s nine Guiding Principles. What does this honor mean to you?
I’m humbled by this recognition and believe that the honor goes to the community of phenomenal humans around me. This award would not be possible without the 2Utes that have collaborated with me, mentored me, coached me, and kept me human—especially throughout the challenges of the past year. Those people include the entire Talent Management team—especially my fellow facilitators: Jenelle Acosta, Kim Karam, and Dr. SyLinda Musaindapo—the Denver Black Engagement Network team, Jeenie Yoon, Einar Escoto, Iris Gardner, Sheana Abrahams, Maimuna Omar, Jules Schrack, Mario Hernandez, and Beth Tittiger. As they say, it takes a village. I also see this honor as a reflection of my family and friends who have shaped me into the woman I am today.
Jess with the family dog Athena hiking the Colorado Rockies
In your own words, how would you describe the 2U Guiding Principle you epitomize: Be Candid, Honest, and Open?
Most folks see the first word of this guiding principle and move on, thinking, “Be candid. Got it, that must mean voice opinions.” But that’s not the whole picture. To me, this guiding principle is about being open to feedback, having honest conversations with yourself and others, and being candid about what is truly important—especially now.
As the poet and activist Sonya Renee Taylor wrote, “We will not go back to normal. Normal never was. Our pre-corona existence was not normal other than we normalized greed, inequity, exhaustion, depletion, extraction, disconnection, confusion, rage, hoarding, hate, and lack. We should not long to return, friends. We are being given the opportunity to stitch a new garment. One that fits all of humanity and nature.”
As a company, we have an opportunity to learn from our past and focus on ensuring a truly inclusive and equitable workplace. The only way we do that is through being candid, honest, and open about what we’re doing well and what needs to be fixed.
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At 2U, we’re on a mission—to eliminate the back row in higher education and help universities thrive in the digital age. To learn more about who we are and what we do, follow the links below.