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Profile - Jen Simon Espire
Hometown: Jackson, Wyoming
Degree Program: MTS (currently, anyway...)

Tell us about your work prior to coming to VDS:

Since graduating from Colorado College, Jen continued the social service and social justice work that she did throughout high school and college as a volunteer. Her interest in this work started during high school when she dropped out for a year out of frustration at the academic program. When she returned to school, she was offered a chance to do a three-month research project sponsored by a National Fellow at the Hoover Institute at Stanford. The research Jen did there, including talking with Milton Friedman and Terry Moe, resonated with her experience as a former dropout and sparked a particular passion for ensuring educational access for all people.

After graduating from Colorado College, this interest translated into a year as an AmeriCorps Member teaching in inner-city Philadelphia and then a year as a VISTA (Volunteers In Service To America) Volunteer in Jackson, Wyoming, establishing a children's literacy program. Subsequently, Jen spent six years as the director of Teton Literacy Program expanding its offerings and outreach into a broader segment of Northwest Wyoming. Teton Literacy program was honored for its leadership under Jen's tenure and became a model for independent literacy programs in the region.

Later, Jen took what she learned at Teton Literacy--organizational management and development, strategic planning, board dynamics, professional leadership, and fundraising--and opened a consulting firm. In addition to numerous non-profits in Wyoming, Jen also worked with the Salvation Army of Dayton, Ohio, to help them develop a literacy program for their Kroc Grant Proposal, with NeighborWorks America helping develop regional community housing trusts, and with BoardSource on governance issues. Her consulting allowed her to travel nationally and even provided some forays into politics managing various Wyoming campaigns. It was during this time that Jen worked with the equipoise fund to found Womentum, a women’s mentoring program in Wyoming.

In 2006, The Nature Conservancy (TNC), a global conservation organization, approached her to develop a comprehensive fundraising strategy for second-homeowner markets. Jen accepted the offer to learn about conservation and science and to work for a global organization. From 2006-2009, she traveled for TNC working with donors and scientists and expanding the exposure of their programs. She enjoyed traveling to remote locations with donors and scientists, but her greatest accomplishment at TNC was the development of the Women’s Conference on Sustainability which debuted in 2008.

What led you to choose Vanderbilt Divinity School?

The strong tradition of and foundation in social justice. When I visited VDS, everyone located their work and their scholarship in a larger context. Whether it was within their community of faith, within Nashville, or within a larger national or international movement, everyone talked about their pursuits and saw themselves as part of a larger whole. That's an incredible quality for a school; it just doesn't exist in most other places.

Favorite course this semester and why?

Hard choice! I actually enjoy the way all four of them have been weaving together so seamlessly. But if forced to choose, I have to say Victor Judge's The Incarnational Art of Flannery O'Connor because it ends up being the one that pulls the other three together. Victor's incredible respect for his students, his passion for the material, and his extraordinary ability to make theology accessible through literature all make this my favorite course.

Tell us about your work as a fellow with the Cal Turner Program for Moral Leadership in the Professions.

The Cal Turner Program was actually my introduction to Vandy in general and to three of our classmates at VDS. Because of my past work with non-profits and my interest in interdisciplinary interaction, it is a great fit. At the moment, I am working with students from Nursing, Peabody, and Owen to organize a women's leadership panel and meal for April at the Div School. We are hoping that it gets enough momentum and interest that we can ensure it happens annually and even expands into a conference. When we came together, we noticed that there were not as many programs featuring women as speakers and, often, they were not as well attended. So we are working to change that and to change the perception of women in leadership roles. 


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