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January 2013: Jennifer Zajac

January 14, 2013

Three years ago, while working as a journalist in the energy news industry, Jennifer Zajac set a goal for herself to achieve a master’s degree that would lead to a new career. Today, Zajac is the Communications Manager at Duke Energy and the speechwriter for the chief financial officer of the largest electric utility in the U.S.

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Jennifer Zajac

Zajac, 43, was a member of Cohort IV. She graduated with a Master of Science degree from the Global Energy Management Program in December 2011.

Briefly describe your current role and responsibilities.

I am the speechwriter for the chief financial officer of the largest electric utility in the U.S. and the second largest in the world. As CFO, she speaks frequently at internal functions in addition to local and industry groups.

When the company receives media queries related to financial matters, I am the one who responds.

As a former journalist, I still do some reporting as well: I write internal articles that explain to Duke Energy’s 29,000 employees how a reverse stock split works, what credit rating agencies do, and the negative impact the fiscal cliff could have on not just investors but utility customers and the business, too.

I am also part of teams that write the scripts for the quarterly earnings calls, the Annual Report and Duke Energy’s Sustainability Report.

How has the GEM program benefited you and your company? Have you been promoted since you began the program?

Three years ago, I wrote down my goal to get a master’s degree that would lead to a new career.

During the GEM program, I moved from SNL Energy’s newsroom into the company’s conference and seminar division. I got the job over other internal candidates partly due to the GEM courses I was taking. There, I gained valuable financial and communication experience, as well as a salary increase.

The company benefited through my industry connections and knowledge, which translated into significant contributions to the top and bottom line.

Today, I am in a newly-created position at Duke Energy, pursuing an exciting new career in communications and investor relations.

What were some of your favorite things to do during cohort weekends?

I feel fortunate to have been a part of the loudest—and arguably most enjoyable—cohort to go through the GEM program. My classmates Dave Graham and P.J. Bird organized our social gatherings with classmates and professors.

I also enjoyed quick shopping trips with friends from class and solo jogs along the Cherry Creek biking/jogging path. One weekend, I crashed the Denver Marathon and another weekend I caught a game at Coors Field.

What are some of the things that you never forgot to bring during cohort weekends?

My running clothes, a spiral notebook and my little rock that says, “Listen.”

Please share a story about GEM that will entertain other students.

Professor Andy Bertsch, who teaches leadership, is explaining to the class the levels of self-awareness. He begins with the first and most basic one: physical awareness. As he speaks, he writes each level of awareness a little higher than the previous one, until he reaches the top right corner of the board. He pauses, and with a furrowed brow he emphasizes that the last level of awareness may make some people uncomfortable.

My classmates and I are exchanging glances. At least one turns red at the thought of it.

OK, two, including me.

“Does anyone want to venture a guess what that final level is?”

“Say it…” whispers a fellow classmate.

I shake him off.

“Come on, you know we’re all thinking it. Just say it.”

The professor gazes across the room, looking for a hand.

“No one? The highest level of self-awareness is—“

“Sexuality!” I blurt out.

Professor Bertsch gives me a quizzical look as he says and writes at the top of the board, “Spirituality.”

Why did you choose the GEM program at CU Denver?

I knew I wanted to pursue a business career in energy. I had thought about getting an MBA for years but studying “widgets” didn’t appeal to me. Learning about the science, technology and regulatory aspects of the energy sector sounded more interesting and practical. The fact that I could do most of the coursework online from Virginia also attracted me to the program.

Has GEM changed your perspective? If so, how so.

I haven’t stopped reading business-related materials, particularly on communication and leadership. Before I began school, I rarely read non-fiction books.

I’m more optimistic about my future and the global energy outlook than I was three years ago thanks to a better understanding of our global resources and technology. I’m also more forgiving of myself and others. Professor Bertsch cited a quote from a book by legendary basketball coach John Wooden that will stick with me forever:

I am not the one I used to be

I am not the one I am going to be

I am not the one I want to be

I am not the one I ought to be

But

I am happy knowing that

I am better than I used to be

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