Growing up, Jennifer Howland always had a talent for math and science. But a career in engineering wasn’t her first career choice. “I also considered hotel management, and I loved music. Actually, I wanted to be Julie, the cruise director on The Love Boat,” she laughs.
But Howland opted to forgo a career on the high seas and instead got a degree in electrical and computer engineering at Clarkson University, where her older sister had also studied engineering. “There were 12 of us from our high school at Clarkson — 11 guys and me. But nobody gave me a hard time because I was female,” she says.
A summer internship led to a full-time job at IBM in Poughkeepsie after college. Over the years, promotions kept coming. “Each time, I said, ‘I don’t want to be a manager!’ But my mentors convinced me I could do it, and I love being in management.”
What piece of advice would you like to share?
“Seek advice and listen to suggestions from others; they may see something in you that you don’t have the capacity to see on your own.”
Howland, who received a master’s degree in manufacturing systems engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, now heads IBM’s Pathways Program, a worldwide initiative to bring mid-career women and minorities into tech executive positions at the company. “It’s the most rewarding thing I’ve done in my 33-year IBM career,” says the Red Hook resident.
Howland also recently created the Tech Re-Entry internship program that assists women in returning to the workforce. So far, it’s offered at 16 IBM sites, and has expanded to several countries, most recently India.
Another obvious source of pride is her two grown daughters, both of whom — surprise! — studied engineering. “One is an environmental engineer; the other has a dual degree in industrial engineering and graphic design,” she beams.