Helen Pent Jenkins ’08, associate director of philanthropy at The Nature Conservancy, is responsible for raising major gifts for conservation projects around the world. Helen currently lives in Missoula, Montana.
Travis Moore `11 talked to her about her time at Northland, how she is still being a change agent after Northland, and the fall out of the 2008 financial crisis.
TRAVIS: How did you decide to attend Northland College? What factors influenced your decision?
HELEN: I chose Northland for a few different reasons. I really loved the small college population, the student-to-staff ratio, and the rural character of Ashland. I also received a generous academic scholarship to help offset the cost of tuition.
TRAVIS: What were some of your best experiences during your time at Northland?
HELEN: I like to think that I became who I am at Northland. There were several experiences that led to my personal growth, and I think academia aside, that’s one of the things that makes Northland stand out and above the rest. It’s an incubator for adolescents to become adults. So, all of my experiences from protesting the invasion of Iraq, to working in the community garden, to participating in Book Across the Bay, to sledding in the middle of the night, all of them contributed in their own way to making me who I am today.
TRAVIS: Which professors were most impactful to your learning and understanding?
HELEN: I think Kevin Schanning, professor of sociology, was one of the most impactful instructors at Northland for me. He is thoroughly engaging and always challenged us to think creatively about complex social situations. I also really enjoyed David Saetre as a professor, mentor, and guide. He is an incredibly thoughtful and compassionate person.
TRAVIS: Did you travel or study abroad while at NC?
HELEN: Three separate times. The first was a semester abroad in Switzerland with SIT World Learning. I took classes at the UN and focused on international organizations and diplomacy. The second time was a summer abroad in Ecuador with IES Abroad. I took classes at Galapagos University and studied Ecuadorian ecology. And finally, my senior year, I took May Term with Northland professors to Italy and studied renaissance art history, religion, and Dante’s Inferno. That trip was a great ending to a wonderful four years.
TRAVIS: What is your most memorable NC experience either academic or non-academic?
HELEN: Like today, there were a lot of negative things happening in the world when I was at Northland College. Northland served as an incubator for ideas about resistance and civil disobedience. I bring this up because I gave the commencement addresses as NCSA President at graduation and I talked about hope. About how rare it was and about how Northland gave us and taught us hope. My most memorable NC experience was giving that address. It still feels relevant today.
TRAVIS: How did your time at Northland shape your career trajectory and how has your education helped you to advance your career?
HELEN: My academic time at Northland made me a critical thinker. That’s a skill that stays with you forever. It’s also a skill that is important when attending graduate school and navigating our complex world in general. I will say this: when you are in high school getting into a great college is a big priority, but in reality a BA can be obtained almost anywhere. Employers generally don’t care where you obtain an undergraduate degree. So why not go to a college that offers you a community of support and growth instead of a heartless giant institution? For me, the answer was obvious. Northland was a great fit.
TRAVIS: During your senior year you were the president of the Northland College Student Association. What skills did you acquire and what accomplishments were made while leading that organization?
HELEN: Being NCSA President was one of the best things I did in college. The NCSA president is charged with a variety of administrative and political tasks that I really enjoyed. It was my first taste of politics and even today, I’m vice president of the Missoula City Planning Board, a professional board that works on urban design issues in the city. I’ve considered running for city council too, and would like, someday, to run for mayor. I credit these interests to my first taste of politics as NCSA President.
TRAVIS: You were in a student leadership position during the 2008 financial crisis and the associated fiscal problems at Northland. Given your career in development, any lingering thoughts on this?
HELEN: I’m glad you asked this question. A lot of what gets written about millennials overlooks the impossible days of the 2008 financial crisis. It was tough to graduate in 2008 with debt and not find a job because, quite literally, no one was hiring. The days of getting a BA and a job in your field upon graduation totally died that year. Students that attend any liberal arts college today need to make sure they know that that expectation is unreasonable. Most of my fellow graduates went on to graduate school, myself included. They are currently spread all over the world doing awesome things but the road to career recovery has been slow and for many, painful. That being said, we should all get used to the idea of having many careers in our lifetimes and re-training many times over. Myself included.