Jennifer Rose is the Executive Director of Enterprise Project Management for gas projects at Consumers Energy. Listen as she discusses everything from mentorship to what it means to be an Asian American.
William Krieger: The views and opinions of the guests of the ME YOU US Podcast do not represent the views and opinions of Consumers Energy.
William: Hello everyone, and welcome to ME YOU US, a well?being podcast. It’s another well?being Wednesday here at Consumers Energy, and I’m your host Bill Krieger. Today, my guest is Jennifer Rose, and she is the executive director for Enterprise Project Management for gas projects here at Consumers Energy. Jennifer, if you’d introduce yourself, we’ll get that conversation started.
Jennifer Rose: Hi, Bill. It’s a pleasure to be here with you today. Thank you for having me. As you mentioned, I am Jennifer Rose, I’m executive director for Enterprise Project Management for gas projects.
In my current role, I have oversight over the project management activities, which includes planning and execution of gas projects across our compression storage, transmission, and distribution system.
William: The whole ball of wax, then for gas.
Jennifer: It’s not the entire gas capital portfolio, but we do manage over $600 million of capital investment per year, so a large portion of our capital portfolio on the guest side of the business. That’s right.
William: Sounds like you’re a busy person these days.
Jennifer: That’s right. Yes. I lead a team, an amazing team, shout out to them, of about 40 co?workers, mostly project managers. They all do a really amazing job in the planning and execution of these projects, low, medium, and high complexity across the board.
William: I have to ask the question, though. When little Jennifer was growing up, was she thinking, “Hey, I’m going to be an executive director of Enterprise Project Management?”
Jennifer: Oh my gosh. When I was a child, it was a while before I even knew I was even thinking about how does electricity and gas get delivered to our customers. Growing up, I was always…well, how did I get here, basically, is what you’re asking me.
Growing up, I always had a really natural affinity for science, mathematics, anything technical. I had a natural inclination to move towards the engineering discipline. Growing up, I was just pretty enamored and fascinated with science in general, had a natural affinity for that.
I don’t think I understood at that time how electricity or natural gas is made, or delivered to our customers. Thinking about it now, I’m pretty fortunate to have this career where we deliver an essential service to our customers. This touches every part of everyone’s lives. That’s pretty amazing to think about that.
William: Are you an engineer by education, then?
Jennifer: Oh, yeah. I should have gone back and said that, yep. By discipline, I am an engineer. I went to the University of Michigan, graduated from there, Go Blue, back in 2001. It’s been quite a while. By degree, I am a chemical engineer. I think if I had to go back and do things over again, I probably would have gone back and would have done…
If I had a better understanding of the different engineering disciplines, I think I’d go back and probably explore more industrial engineering. Chemical engineering is my background. I graduated in ’01. I also have my master’s in business, as well. My MBA, I received that back in 2007. It’s been a while.
William: Congratulations, though. That’s a pretty good combination to have, especially with what you do. I do want to ask, though, I’ve been at Consumer’s for a couple of years now. When I first got here, engineering was really a male dominated sport.
When you thought of engineers, you thought about these guys over these drafting boards smoking cigarettes. That’s really changed. How was it for you, going to school, knowing that you’re going into engineering? Were there any challenges to that or was it just amazing and everything worked out?
Jennifer: Gosh, it was definitely a different world back then. I graduated, what, 22 years ago. I do hear stories about how things were, even prior to that, prior to me coming to Consumer’s Energy.
University of Michigan, a very diverse school to begin with. Definitely more male dominated in the engineering discipline, but a good amount of females, as well. It was really awesome to see, even now…
Now especially, but back then we had the Society of Women’s Engineers. Very supportive of women exploring and growing in the engineering discipline. I was a part of that. I’m very proud to be a part of that.
Coming into Consumer’s Energy, I joined the company in 2001 right after I graduated from college. It was a very different world, a different culture back then. I’m really excited and proud to see how far the company has come over the past two decades since I’ve been here.
William: I’ve talked to a lot of people in the engineering field. I think of people like Holly Bowers, who I’ve worked with in the past, and the amazing work that she does. I’m so glad that people have had the opportunity to do those things.
Jennifer: Yeah, definitely, Holly. There are so many wonderful female mentors I’ve had over the years. I am fortunate enough to now be in a position here, 20 years later…
I’ve been with the company 22 years, to now have been here long enough where I feel my purpose is more to give back and be that mentor for other younger engineers, those starting out in the field, starting out with the company, and share my perspective.
Not necessarily the right perspective. There’s no right or wrong. Just to share my experiences and my journeys and help others so that they can thrive and grow in this company. Give back to, as a way of saying thanks for all the great female mentors I’ve had over the years.
William: Let’s talk about that for just a minute, because I talk about this a lot on the program. No matter where we’re at in our career, we would be silly to look back and go, “I did that.”
Really, there’s a whole lot of people I think that have helped us along the way. To pay homage to those mentors for doing that, I hear you say that you’re giving back and thinking of yourself as a mentor.
Are you in any mentorship programs where you’re currently helping people? How are you doing that?
Jennifer: When I think back on my career, there are so many great leaders that I will acknowledge for being my mentor. I think it’s important for people to have different mentors.
What I found was that I needed different mentors for different reasons and different purposes and stages in my career. Some a little bit more to provide that mentorship from a personal standpoint and some that provided different mentorship from a professional standpoint.
Over the years, I’ve had a number of them. Many of them have since retired, but forever grateful for their mentorship. I’m in the position now where I do have a lot of informal formal mentor/mentee relationships.
Like I said, some informal that I’ve grown over the years. People have reached out to me and said, “Hey, you know, I’d like to meet quarterly or on some regular cadence just to stay connected.”
Then, also, I really take advantage of the formal mentoring programs that the company offers through our minority advisory panel, for example. I’m in my second mentor/mentee relationship right now. Second or third now. I’ve lost track.
I’ve had a couple over the years. It’s so awesome to see how my mentees have flourished over the years and grown their experiences, grown different career paths. They’ve gone to several different roles. It’s been nice to help them through those transitions.
William: We like to think about mentorship as being altruistic, but we get something out of that, too, I think.
Jennifer: Oh, definitely. First and foremost, I’m in the gas side of the business right now, but my current role is I started it in June of last year. Prior to that, I’d always been on the electric side of the company.
When I had started a mentor/mentee relationship several years ago with a gas engineer in the company, it was a great experience for me, selfishly, because I was learning a lot about the gas side of the business, which I had never experienced before.
He was going through some transitions between the engineering disciplines, but also taking on a role within operations, as well. It was a way for me to learn and grow my experience and understanding of the business, as well, without me actually having to be on that side of the business.
There’s definitely benefits both ways. I get a lot out of it, too. I try to make it clear, well, with my mentees that it’s mutually beneficial, for sure.
William: It is interesting that you mentioned this. I guess I didn’t know this. Our careers are kind of similar. I spent nearly…probably over half of my career on the electric side of the business. Started out in dispatch and was also a manager.
Spent some time on the gas side of the business in distribution. I understand that. You think from the outside this is all one company, but the electric and gas businesses are very different business models and culture and all of those things.
Jennifer: It’s been a very interesting year for me, the past year, now being on the gas side of the business. I like to say Consumer’s Energy, first of all, is such a wonderful company. We’re a large…It’s the right size company in the sense that we’re large enough where you can grow a whole career here. I’ve done just that over the past 27 years.
I’ve stayed here long enough where I can move in different roles and continue to grow my career. It’s also a small enough company where you get that direct line of sight to the company goals. You’re meeting with leadership.
It’s not too big where you lose sight of your connection to the bigger purpose of the company. What I found is even though I spent most of my career on electric and now I’m in gas, yes, there are definitely some ways totally different.
In many ways, also I found there are definitely a lot of parallels as well. Even physically, the way the system is set up, transmission, distribution, down to the customer. Electric has their grid modernization, and on the gas side as well, we’re doing things to modernize our system. There are a lot of parallels.
Then definitely from a process perspective as well, I’m finding that a lot of the same challenges we might have on the gas side from a process or technology perspective. It’s very similar on the electric side. I see a mix of both similarities and differences. I’m learning a lot and I’m loving it. It’s a fun place to be right now.
William: What was it like for you, that first day stepping into gas? Because I remember my first day. I was just wondering, what was that like for you that first day where you’re not on the electric side anymore, and you’re now going to have to learn gas?
Jennifer: It’s a little scary. The most important thing for me coming into a new role last year was just the recognition of a lot of the new relationships I had to build with people. I had been with a company a very long time and know many people. I have a lot of great connections, a lot through the years on the electric side.
In many cases, I had to start to build a lot of new relationships with people that I just never had the great opportunity to work with over the years. I’ve spent a lot of time over the last year especially focusing on the relationships piece the people and getting to know who are my key stakeholders. What is my biggest interest to them? What’s most important to them?
How can I be a great partner to them across engineering operations? Because EPM, our project management team, is right in between the two. I spend a lot of time on the relationships piece and it’s still work in progress. We have such great people here, so it’s been easy and fun at the same time.
William: Absolutely. When you speak to relationships, that’s where work really gets done. That’s where things happen is through those relationships. Not relationships to get work done, but having that real transparent relationship that helps get you where you need to be.
Jennifer: Our company has just done a tremendous job. We’ve always had such a great culture. We know that for decades. That’s why we have such long?tenure people here.
We’ve always had such a great culture, but especially within the last 5 to 10 years, there’s just been such a great movement of intentionally growing our culture around our culture values, and a big part of it is centered on the people and building those relationships, making sure that we are aligned fundamentally on our cultures and the things that we stand for together.
When you’re aligned at that value standpoint, it just makes things so much easier. It’s a lot easier to work with the people. You all have the same mission in mind. You understand the ways of working together. The culture piece is the biggest thing that has brought us all together in terms of working with…
William: Speaking of culture, you did mention MAP or the Minority Advisory Panel. Can you talk a little bit about what that is? For some folks who don’t work for Consumers, even some folks who do, they may not understand what the Business Employee Resource Groups do.
Jennifer: The Consumers Energy has a number of, formally called Employee Resource Groups, now Business Employee Resource Groups, BERGs, as you had mentioned.
Minority Advisory Panel is one of them that I’m involved with, but I support all of our BERGs really and attend the events whenever I can, Women’s Engineering Network, Women’s Advisory Panel, PACE as well, and GENERGY, a number of our Employee Resource Groups. Minority Advisory Panel is one that is near and dear to my heart.
Over a podcast, it’s hard to see this, but I’m a minority myself. I’m an Asian American. I just love any opportunity to support those groups that are helping minorities, women, females, those groups that traditionally might have been underrepresented and really could use the extra support system, that extra connection, and support to grow within the company and feel that sense of belonging.
William: You mentioned that too that you can’t see on a podcast, so we talked [inaudible 14:50] . It’s great because when we talk on a podcast, it eliminates an area of bias. All we can do is hear people. We don’t see them. That helps people listen. Talking about that for a moment, you are Asian American.
Jennifer: That’s right.
William: As this will play out during Asian American Pacific Islander Month, I’d like to ask, what that means to you? I’ll be very clear on this. You and I talked a little bit beforehand and many times people will ask me questions about, “Hey, what do middle?aged White guys think about this?”
What I tell people is, “I can speak for Bill Krieger as a middle?aged White guy. I can’t speak for all middle?aged White guys.” When I asked you the question, it’s about you and your personal thoughts around this. Not, “Hey, we’re asking you to represent all Asian Americans.”
That’s not fair because we’re all individuals. What does this month mean to you, and how do you celebrate it, if you do?
Jennifer: I am Korean. I’m 100 percent Korean, but I was born and raised in Michigan. I identify as Asian American. My parents immigrated over here to Michigan in 1977. My sister was born in Korea. I was born here in Michigan.
When I think about Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, first of all, it’s wonderful that our company as well as other companies, the industry, the nation really celebrates these month.
AAPI Heritage Month is just, in my mind, of course, it’s a great spotlight on the great achievements that Asian Americans have had over the years, past and even present, and it really shines a spotlight on those achievements and shines a spotlight on a group of people that again might have been traditionally underrepresented.
Just like Black History Month, just like National Hispanic Heritage Month later on in the year, Women’s History Month, more than anything, what Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month means to me personally is just another way of shining a spotlight and bringing light to the great achievements that are delivered to our communities, to our people, to the world, as a result of diversity.
To me, it’s just a broader conversation around diversity and inclusion, which ultimately is just centered on a sense of belonging. For me, it’s all about helping people feel like that diversity is celebrated. It’s a wonderful thing and we should be recognizing and celebrating, but also, it’s just a way to help people feel like they belong.
When I started with this company, I can’t remember that AAPI Heritage Month was really celebrated. Maybe it was, but I wasn’t as aware as I am now. It’s just one of those things that helps me feel like diversity is valued here as a company. That we are being very intentional in creating that culture where people belong because I didn’t have that.
I’ll go into a little personal story growing up, and to your point, this is just my experience growing up, but for a good portion of my childhood, I didn’t have that sense of belonging probably the first 10 years of my life, elementary school age.
Middle school and high school as well, but in that first 10 years of my life, I was in a community that I stood out. I felt different and it was very apparent. I didn’t have that feeling of belonging. It’s amazing how that really changed and shapes who you are.
That feeling just carried through, and created this insecurity in me over the years in my middle school, high school years. To this day I look back on it and I know that that’s how it shaped me. I’ll say when I went to college, it was a very different experience.
I went to University of Michigan, extremely diverse university, and that was the first time I really looked around, and I felt like I belonged. There were people that looked like me and were celebrated, and I wasn’t the outsider. I just felt like it belonged.
Having gone through that, I just realized how important that is. I know my experiences and my hardships probably don’t even compare to many others, but I can relate to how important that sense of belonging is. That’s what it means to me personally, is just really celebrating diversity and recognizing that everybody has something wonderful to contribute, and we all belong.
William: In going back to having that feeling of not necessarily belonging, I’m going to ask a couple of questions. One, it’s no secret to people who listen to us all the time that I was the fat kid in junior high school, and so I never felt like I quite fit in with everyone. Every once in a while as an adult, that fat kid will be in my head somewhere. I’m just wondering. You have a wonderful life.
You’ve gone to college, you have a great education, you have a great job, you work for an amazing company, but every once in a while, does that kid get in your head that didn’t belong, or is that all in your past now?
Jennifer: Oh my gosh, it stays with me. I have two boys. They’re 12 and 13 years old. It comes up more so now in how I think about parenting. As a parent, you worry about…I’ve gone through that hardship. I’m much stronger now, but as a parent you worry about those same insecurities with your kids.
My husband and I have conversations about this a lot. He’s half?Mexican. He had his own insecurities growing up as a minority, as well. We talk about it as parents. We think, “We don’t want our children ever to feel that way.
We’re grateful we live in a very diverse community. It was very intentional that we sent our kids to the schools that they go to because it is very diverse. They look around them and they see that they’re not the only biracial, multiracial children around. There are people that look just like them.
Those insecurities do come up. I think about it a lot as a parent. Thankfully, my kids are very resilient. They don’t deal with the things that I had to deal with. Maybe a little bit, here and there, but it’s not even in their mind to the degree that it was for me. I’m grateful for that.
William: I’m glad that you said that. I remember, in raising my three children who are all out of the house now but they’re never really out of the house, which is a good thing if they’re listening. It’s a great thing. Don’t worry about that.
You’re right. There’s this part of you as a parent who does not want your child to go through those things. There’s this other part of me, as a parent, that thinks they need to go through some of this stuff so that they are resilient, so that they do grow up to be adults who have been able to handle these things.
What are your thoughts on that, because it’s very easy to be that parent who doesn’t want anything bad to happen. Sometimes, you have to be there to help them, I think, anyways. What are your thoughts on that?
Jennifer: I will say, my husband and I balance each other out pretty well. I am the mother that wants to protect them from everything. My husband is a great balance to say, “Just throw them out into the world. That’s how you build that strength, that armor, that resilience.”
I definitely agree with his parenting style. It’s just hard for me, personally, to see kids go through pain. I think, more than anything, we don’t want to teach them that them being different is a bad thing. It’s the differences that really bring us together, so we highlight the fact that they’re half?Korean or a quarter?Mexican.
We have all these different dimensions of diversity. That’s great. That’s wonderful. We talk a lot about differences, not only with them but their friends, as well. We talk about it in a way to celebrate…Isn’t that cool that so?and?so has this unique ability. That’s what makes Bob Bob, is that’s who he is.
We talk about it in a way…We’re not trying to diminish and say that everybody’s the same because that’s not what we want. It is those differences that really brings people together.
William: You mentioned, too, after high school, going to college, and not being the only person who looked like you there. What do you think the value is in representation and making sure that there are people out there to look up to who look like me or who look like you so that I know I can do those things.
What’s the value in not being the only one in the room?
Jennifer: You hear the expression representation matters. It really does. I can’t say that enough. Whether it’s at work, or in your community, at your schools. Sometimes you don’t realize how much it matters until you realize it’s not there or when it suddenly is there and you realize what a difference that makes.
Again, I’ll go back to parenting. My kids, not unlike other teens, preteens. They’re really into social media. They see the world. It’s a different world for them. I love representation in social media and celebrities and all that really does matter.
It’s made such a difference for them personally because if you think about the celebrities, for example…Even recently, a lot of the Asian Americans…a couple Asian American celebrities just won Oscars, Academy Awards, and had some historic achievements recently.
That was so cool for my kids to see. They see that. It’s important for them to see that there are people that look like them who are achieving these great ambitions and these great dreams. They’re not…
In Hollywood, for example…I’m going to go back to movies. You see Asian Americans or Asians in movies. Many times they play these side characters or tropes. It’s nice to see them in more prominent leading roles. It’s been nice. I can see it’s made a difference for my kids when they see that.
Especially, both of them are boys. I think there are a lot of gender stereotypes, a lot of racial stereotypes about Asian females or Asian males. They’re getting to the point in life where they are aware of some of that. It’s nice when there are very positive examples and representation out there in the world that they can see and connect to and think, “That’s really cool. I can achieve that, as well.”
William: Also to understand that stereotypes are just that. It’s painting a group of people with a broad brush rather than getting to know the individual. It’s so good for them to want to understand that and to see that it doesn’t matter who you are. You can be successful.
Some people have to work harder. I guess it’s a question I have for you. Did you feel, at any point, that you had to work harder than anyone else to get to where you’re at? Not necessarily at the company, but throughout your life.
Jennifer: That’s a good question. I think, just by nature, I’m wired to always want to work hard. I think, more than anything, it was just me pushing myself. Of course, my parents, my mother, pushed me a lot, especially growing up. My mom and dad.
I don’t want to say that my hardships where…I definitely had hardships in my life, but when I look back, I’m fortunate. I’ve had a pretty fortunate life. I’ve been well?supported by my parents. I went to a good school and I’m proud of my achievements. I think I pushed myself as best as I could.
I think I did have some extra hurdles to have to overcome, in some cases, because many people have parents who help them along the way and help pave the way. One of the challenges I had growing up is my parents didn’t speak English very well, hardly. Very well at all.
I remember very distinctly going through elementary school, middle school, high school, trying to figure out my way without having that parent to help me along the way. I relied a lot on my older siblings.
There were definitely some barriers there when your parents are still trying to assimilate themselves and figure out their own way in this culture. There was definitely something there, yeah.
William: The question is, are you multilingual? Do you still speak Korean? I’m just curious.
Jennifer: I’m so embarrassed. No. One month, many, many years ago in my childhood, we spent a summer in Korea, a month and a half or so in Korea. That’s probably when I spoke Korean the best coming back. Then, over the years, I lost it. My mother, she’s very fluent, of course, but we speak to each other in half?broken English, half?broken Korean, so I’m not fluent.
I can get by in broken English, broken Korean. I wish that I had kept with this so that I could teach my kids. This is one of the problems when you have the sense of going back to the set not having a sense of belonging. Growing up, I was so insecure about being Korean and feeling so different. There was a part of me that rejected my culture because I wanted to be like everyone else.
I regret that now. I have a lot of regret in terms of not embracing my culture more. Now, again, going back to parenting, I love that my kids are excited about learning how to write their name in Korean. My mother comes over on the weekends and she’s not teaching them Korean, but they have enough interest in it where they want to learn more about the culture.
They’re practicing their names in Korean. They can say some words. This is all wonderful for me because I wish I didn’t have the insecurity I had growing up, and I wish I had embraced things more. A long?winded answer to say, no, I can’t speak Korean very well. [laughs]
William: It’s a great answer. I only ask because my wife is 100 percent Greek. Her grandparents actually came over from Greece. Both her parents come from parents who were 100 percent Greek, but she grew up going to Greek school. She’s probably going to be mad at me, but she takes adult tap dance now.
When my kids grew up and got done with school, I thought I don’t ever have to go to a dance recital again. I do because she takes tap dance. I say all that because, as part of her growing up, she had to learn Greek dance because they had to do all the festivals and all the Greek stuff because it’s a very tight community. Her whole life she wanted to tap dance, but her mom would not allow it.
Now, she goes and does tap dancing. When we travel, she speaks just Greek to keep us out of trouble. She says the same thing that she wished you would have kept up with it because it’d be so much easier to continue rather than to try and learn it over again.
Jennifer: I’m still young. I could still probably learn it. [laughs] I’m focused a little bit more on my kids now, embracing it more, and I’ll learn along the way. I mentioned my mom comes over on the weekends and she cooks us amazing Korean food.
I wish I had also learned how to cook better Korean. There’s a lot of that I regret in terms of not embracing things more when I was younger, but…
William: It’s never too late, Jennifer. It’s never too late.
Jennifer: No, it’s never too late. Definitely not.
William: We are getting close to the end of the podcast. Time flies when you’re having fun. Before we go, I would just like to ask you, is there anything that you would like people to take from our conversation today?
Jennifer: From our conversation, I would say, have the courage to find your way and be authentic, be true to yourself. As I was reflecting and thinking about this podcast ahead of time and thinking about where the conversation might go, I kept going back to my personal experiences. I’m 43 now and I look back and I think.
I’m always constantly learning. The one thing I’ve learned so much over the years that has helped me is just building the confidence in yourself and staying true to who you are, and not worrying about what people think about you. [laughs] Relying on others as well to be that support system if you have fears or if you need help.
I’m going all over the place here right now in this conversation, but I’ve noticed I felt like in the last three years during the pandemic, especially I’ve spent more time slowing down, reflecting on who I am, and reflecting on who I want to be.
Then, as a parent as well, I think a lot about how I want my kids to grow up and see the world. I just want them to be confident and true to themselves. Be good people, take care of each other. Imagine what the world would be like if we all cared for each other. Just genuinely care, without judgment, and supported each other. That’s the kind of world that we all need to work towards.
William: It’d be a much better place for sure. Thanks for agreeing to come on the podcast. I’ve really enjoyed this time that we’ve had together and look forward to talk to you in the future.
Jennifer: Thank you. It’s been a pleasure. Thanks, Bill.
William: Thank you to the audience for listening in today. The “Me You Us” podcast is proudly sponsored by Consumers Energy, leaving Michigan better than we found it. Remember, you can find the Me You Us podcast on all major podcasting platforms. Be sure to go out, find us, and subscribe.
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