Working For a Purpose

Sometimes you have to open your mind to the unplanned, because it is there that you can often find what you really need and more. Like JJ Cawelti, the Albuquerque native who found herself at WT for her undergrad and hopes of riding on the equestrian team more than 20 years ago, and then coming home to roost for her MBA in Marketing. She completed her MBA in 2009, and her career has taken off.

“I’m the VP at Girls, Inc., in Dallas,” she said, “and I am also the Director for the Texas Interscholastic Mountain Bike League.” In addition, she finds time for her family in their Dallas area home. JJ started with Girls, Inc., this last May, after a stint as an executive over community engagement at DFW International Airport. Prior to that she spent seven years with Bell Helicopter, both in their Amarillo and Fort Worth Locations, and immediately after her MBA, as a Development Office in the College of Business.

It was at Bell, and later at the airport, that she made the transition from the relative smallness of Amarillo and Canyon—where she knew everyone from the Mayor on down—and discovered she could know everyone in her new sphere of influence. At Bell Fort Worth, she traveled internationally, and learned the role of taking the public affairs lead. The airport, which is jointly owned and operated by Dallas and Fort Worth, and happens to sit on land within the boundaries of four different suburbs, presented other challenges. This caused her to leverage her many skills in new ways.

“I was essentially in local and government relations,” she continued. “I worked with the Mayors and City Council members of Dallas, Fort Worth, and those four cities.” In so doing, she came to realize that she had transitioned well. Balancing the needs of six different cities, as well as the enormous economic impact, was no small task.

The WTAMU MBA prepared her well for all of these roles, but in ways she did not expect. “When I was in my MBA I would have told you I wanted to be an executive in marketing for a huge corporation.” She was like many others at her stage in professional development.But she was so successful in her role at Bell and the airport that other employment opportunities appeared on the horizon. “I had lots of opportunities, but they just didn’t feel right,” she said in retrospect.

After some soul-searching, she decided to take a different path. “It was time for me to do purpose-driven work. My time at WT prepared me to be able to shift and to make that decision,” she affirmed. That’s one of those skills you don’t know you have until you find yourself doing it.

And so she moved over to Girls, Inc.” We basically do programming for girls who are from low income households. Most of them are minorities” JJ explained. “These are girls who have the odds stacked against them from the beginning. We focus on helping them achieve their goals and provide the support system they may not have at home.”

So rewarding has her time already been at Girls, Inc., that she added the mountain bike association, also a non-profit.

JJ is happy that she chose WT both for her undergraduate degree and MBA. “I had my heart set on a big university somewhere else. But somebody [at WT] reached out and said they wanted me to visit. There were professors who invested time in me.” As a first-generation college student in her family, she appreciates the fact that professors were there to help and lend an ear as needed, at both levels of her studies.

She waxed philosophic about her academic career. “My entire college experience, you go into it thinking that the coursework is the most important thing to do, but I got so much more out of the experience. You learn how to learn, and you learn how to work with people,” a takeaway that seldom ever appears in course catalogs.

Quick to provide sage advice with her voice of experience, JJ encourages students to seize the opportunities that are in front of them.  “When I first got out of college I had a really hard time getting a job. I turned down opportunities that didn’t match what I thought I wanted,” she mentioned. “If I had tried to map this all out, it would never have looked like this.”

And that’s all good for the woman who came to WT from Albuquerque to ride horses, and has instead found her career galloping like she never could have imagined.