Since graduating from the U.S. Air Force Academy, Jennifer Potts (’17) has had a varied career in the military and the private and public sectors. She served as an Air Force captain from 2005 to 2011, a period that took her to Kandahar Air Force Base in Afghanistan and Elmendorf Air Force Base in Alaska. She went on to earn her master’s degree in secondary education and teaching at the USC Rossier School of Education before earning her MBA at UCLA Anderson. Since 2015, she has been a program manager at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in Laguna Niguel, California.
Q: What do you do for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security?
I’m an acquisitions project manager for civil infrastructure projects. I am essentially the project manager for various U.S. Customs and Border Protection construction and technology projects, paid for with appropriated federal funding.
Q: What prompted you to seek a career in the military and government?
I grew up in a military family. My dad was in the Marine Corps for nine years and served two tours in Vietnam. My grandfather was career Navy and served in World War II in the Pacific Theater [of Operations]. My other grandfather was a MASH [mobile Army surgical hospital] helicopter pilot in the Korean War. Growing up with those stories made me want to do something that was bigger than myself, something that I could take pride in. I spent four years at the U.S. Air Force Academy majoring in atmospheric science and meteorology and an additional six and a half years as an officer in the U.S. Air Force, which included a tour in Kandahar, Afghanistan. It was during these years that I learned valuable lessons about teamwork and leadership.
Q: How did serving at Kandahar AFB compare with serving at Elmendorf AFB?
Serving in Kandahar was one of my biggest accomplishments in the military. It’s a job I actually had to apply for. It was my experience serving as an executive officer in Alaska that qualified me for that position. My time in Afghanistan taught me a lot about navigating cross-cultural issues, how to juggle various responsibilities under duress and how to manage difficult schedules and responsibilities. My commanding officer was a great mentor to me during my time there, and since.
Both places had their own unique characteristics. In Alaska, it was sunny almost all day in the summer and completely dark for most of the day in the winter. It took some work to get used to the seasonal uniqueness. Because I worked in an intelligence vault, in the winter I would arrive at work in the dark and go home in the dark, seeing daylight only on the weekends.
Q: You earned your Anderson MBA while working full time for Homeland Security. How did your studies guide you on that career path?
I had already been working in the private sector when I started at Anderson, but the program provided me with a springboard to bridge the gap between civilian and military training.
Q: What might your fellow Anderson alumni not know about you?
I grew up in a small town on the outskirts of Louisville, Kentucky, where the public school system was excellent. It was there I learned how to work with people from all walks of life. It really played a major part in the person I am today. I keep my ceremonial sword and diploma from my USAFA graduation on the wall as a reminder of where I came from.