Marketing grad joins small organization with big connections

Jessica Forrester shakes hands with former President Bill Clinton
“President Clinton gave an amazing speech at the Healthy Schools Program Forum that made me teary-eyed. Imagine getting to hear such an incredible speaker discuss the gravity of the issue you work on and the importance of the work you’re doing. After the speech, the new employees got to meet him and get their photos taken.”

One month into her first job as a new Pamplin graduate, Jessica Forrester (MKTG ’09) found herself at a meeting with 11 other people, including the CEO, to discuss major strategy issues for the team. “The plans we made we would launch across the country,” she says. “It’s very cool as a brand new employee to be able to dream up projects that can be launched on such a large scale.”

Not your average entry-level position

Forrester has met President Clinton and traveled to New York, Little Rock, and Portland, Ore. Her organization also works closely with the First Lady and such celebrities as basketball star Paul Pierce and TV chef Rachael Ray.

Her job at the Washington, D.C., office of Alliance for a Healthier Generation, which she joined in December 2009, isn’t your average entry-level position, she notes. “We were founded five years ago and still have fewer than 100 employees across the country. For me, that meant when I was hired, I was needed!”

Web is critical

Forrester, whose title is youth mobilization manager for the web, works on web strategy and outreach for the empowerME Movement, a youth-driven branch of Alliance. “We provide guidance and resources for young people who serve as leaders in the movement.”

Given her target audience, the web is key for outreach efforts, Forrester says. “It’s my job to make sure our website ( has fresh content that is consistent with our branding and goals, and that we are using the web to increase access to our programs and provide support wherever possible.”

Motivated youth

Of the projects so far, she says: “We’ve had teens and tweens across the country host public forums to draw attention to important health issues and demand changes in their schools and communities. They’ve gotten soda machines removed from their schools, added salad bars, and planted community gardens. They’ve taught their peers about healthy living and exercise.”

Forrester finds herself constantly impressed by “how strong, smart, passionate, and professional” her young constituents can be. “We’ve been really successful in motivating a powerful youth force. It’s exciting to see the things they can accomplish!”

No-email zone

Her colleagues are another reason she loves her job: “They’re a truly passionate bunch of over-achievers, and I feel lucky to have them as coworkers and friends.” The organization as a whole is very tight-knit, she says, and the Kids’ Team is particularly close. “In January, I met everyone in the organization at our annual All-Alliance meeting. When I got to the airport, I could tell who was an Alliance employee — because they were all hugging!”

The work culture is very team-oriented, she says. “Much of what I do requires at the very least group consensus, if it isn’t developed by the group in the first place.” Employees work from home at least part time and many work entirely from home, says Forrester, as Alliance is a virtual organization.

“I have an office that I work out of most of the time, but I do work from home occasionally. I recently moved only two miles from my work, so I go in most days. When you can work from anywhere, it’s hard to turn work off sometimes, but the Alliance is very good about emphasizing work-life balance, even sometimes announcing a ‘no-email zone’ over holidays.”

Power to make positive change

How did she land in the non-profit sector? “Honestly? I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do,” says Forrester, who is from Winchester, Va. “I wanted a lot of things. I wanted to make enough money to live comfortably but didn’t need to be rich. I wanted a job that I could get excited about, I wanted to do work that was more than a paycheck to me, and I wanted to do something creative.

“I’m afflicted by something my Dad calls “Save-the-World-Syndrome” — something my mother has as well. But I hadn’t thought to work for a nonprofit until Professor Ozanne brought it up in class one day. She believes in the power of business to make positive change, and she mentioned the value business skills can give to a nonprofit environment.”

Marketing professor Julie Ozanne taught her a lot about how businesses and nonprofits work together and about consumer behavior in general, says Forrester, who emailed her former teacher last spring to thank her and update her on her career. Ozanne, who regularly receives the strongest student evaluations in the department for her teaching and has won many teaching awards, including the university’s William E. Wine Award in 2000, has said that her teaching goal “is to change the way students see and understand the marketplace and their role as consumers.”

The courses she teaches or has taught include Marketing, Society, and Public Interest; Advertising; Marketing Management; and Consumer Behavior.

The perfect fit

Her marketing courses at Pamplin, Forrester says, taught her a great deal about target audience, analytics, strategy, partnerships, and branding. The project-management skills she developed in her second major, management, have been essential to her work. “It’s my job to manage all things web-related for the Kids’ Team, so as we discuss programs, solutions, and strategies, I chime in with how the web will fit in. It’s up to me to keep the ball rolling on various web-focused projects, so it’s extremely important that I manage my time well and work around my coworkers’ busy schedules at the same time.”

When some of her friends report being bored “doing busy work” at bigger organizations, Forrester feels lucky that she has “the best of both worlds,” working at “a small organization with big connections.”

“The Alliance turned out to be the perfect fit for me. I work for people whose philosophies are similar to mine, I do work that makes a real impact, and I get to stretch my wings and fly into new territory on a regular basis.” Not bad indeed for an entry-level job.

Virginia Tech Pamplin College of Business Virginia Tech Pamplin College of Business Magazine Spring 2010

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