The Feature is Female: Jenna Crabtree

“Be the leader you need.” – Jenna Crabtree

Never underestimate the power of fate. Our lives have a funny way of taking us to places that we never intended, expected, or even wanted to be. For this month’s Feature is Female honoree, Jenna Crabtree, that unexpected path was a role in leadership.

As the Dean of Enrollment Management and Business Manager at Blessing-Rieman College of Nursing and Health Sciences, Jenna Crabtree knows a thing or two about what it takes to provide excellent healthcare to an entire community. It’s her roots, however, that were the first to truly show her what it means to be an integral piece to the healthcare puzzle. “I have several nurses in my family and several people who work in the medical field, so I knew for sure that I never wanted to go into the medical field,” states Crabtree with a laugh. “I didn’t want to work in a hospital or work with patients. It just really wasn’t my thing, so I went to Concordia University in Chicago, and I double majored in marketing and management with a minor in accounting.”

Upon graduation, Jenna chose to stay in the Chicago area and begin her career in the collegiate world, but this time, it was with an online university. “After I graduated, I lived up there for a little bit and worked for an online university, but I never fully loved it, because of how impersonal it was,” recalls Crabtree. During her time with the online university, Jenna knew that not only was that job not the job for her, but Chicago also wasn’t fulfilling her needs, so she chose to pack it up and move back to Quincy.

While on the hunt for a new job, it was Jenna’s sister that presented her with the opportunity that would forever change the trajectory of her career. “My sister, who is a registered nurse, jokingly called me to tell me about the opening at Blessing-Rieman. My first thought was I’m not a nurse, but when she told me it was actually for admissions and recruitment, I was still wary,” remembers Jenna with a laugh. “All I could think was that I really didn’t want to work in a hospital! But at the time, I had student loans to pay, so I applied for the job and eventually got it.”

Jenna Crabtree’s career at Blessing-Rieman is one that has seen as much growth as the students who enter the college’s doors on day one and leave on graduation. In her 16 years at the college, she’s gone from admissions and recruitment on the ground floor to a much different version of that. “I started in admissions, and then marketing was added as an addition to my role. I was in that role for a while when the college decided to add an Admissions Coordinator position, which was essentially a Director of Admissions,” recalls Jenna. “I was in that Admissions role for 10 years, and then in 2017, the Dean of Enrollment position became available. I had honestly never thought of being in leadership, but I was loving the work I was doing, and I enjoyed coordinating the team and assisting with the marketing, and just being really hands on, so even though I did apply for the position, I do feel like it really did just fall in my lap.” 

Before she took her new role, the Dean of Enrollment Management got an overhaul on what all it would entail from the person who occupied it. “Prior, the position was called an Assistant Dean, and they really did change the role to encompass a few more business management pieces, and really focus on enrollment, as well as providing support to our support staff,” states Jenna. “My main role is to lead those who are not faculty. These include registrar, IT, library, admissions, student services, campus counselor, financial aid, just really all the pieces that don’t teach but support the students in their educational journey, so my job is to lead them.” Jenna also puts her accounting degree to good use by helping be a business manager for things such as the budget, monthly expenses, and college revenue.

As someone who’s end goal was never to be a leader, Jenna Crabtree wasn’t sure of the exact style in which she leads others, but what she’s come to realize is that her leadership style was planted within her at a young age. “Growing up, I was in Beta Club which was a volunteer organization, and we always had a saying that was ‘Let us lead by serving others’, and that always stuck with me. As I’ve grown and moved into different roles, I’ve realized that that really is what I’m here for, to serve the staff and serve the students. They are the experts in their field, and they need support and they need resources, so on a weekly basis I’ll ask them ‘What do you need from me?’ I always want to know what I can do to make their jobs easier. I try my hardest to have a serving mentality,” states Crabtree. “It’s the same with the staff as it is with the students. I’m here to help the students meet their educational goals, so I do whatever I can to help serve them and help them reach their full potential.”

As not only a female leader, but as a female leader who is a mother, Jenna works hard to ensure that the team she leads always feels supported in their own personal parenting journeys. “Being a mother in leadership is a huge piece to how I lead. Not only am I a working mom, but I’m a working mom in leadership, and that’s a whole different perspective. For me, I know how important the Halloween parties, Christmas programs, and volleyball tournaments are. You can’t put a price on those moments, so anytime I can work with my staff to have that work-life balance, so that they can be there for their kids, it’s an extremely important part of the job, and I think being a female, I have a different perspective on that,” states Jenna.

When asked about her leadership style in comparison to that of her male counterparts, Crabtree was honest with the fact that she hasn’t had many men, especially in leadership roles, to base an answer off of, but what she has had is a group of great women to help shape and mentor her. “I feel like I was raised by female leaders. Even in my high school job, working at Domestic Etc, I worked for Joy who became my first mentor. She taught me about running a business and customer service, and she showed me how to be proud of the work you produce. When I moved into my current role, my one up was a female, the college president was a female, and the president of the hospital was a female, so I really have had a lot of great female mentors along the way,” proudly states Jenna. 

As part of the admissions team, Jenna was able to look at things from a different perspective, and what that perspective gave her was the inspiration to help make the college the best it could be. “I think what really inspired me was that I saw there were areas of improvement, and I wanted to be a part of the change,” states Jenna. “I really wanted the chance to get in and work with a team to improve processes and workflows to better serve the students. Working in admissions, you get to see how the processes work, and I could see how there were silos, so it wasn’t necessarily one person that inspired me, but the chance to improve the process of how things were working.”

Admittedly, Jenna Crabtree wasn’t looking to lead anyone, but as time has gone on, she has become one of the area’s brightest and boldest young leaders. With leadership being the furthest thing on her mind, it took getting in and seeing things from a new perspective to help Jenna realize that leadership was where she was always meant to be. “I got a whole new perspective when I started as the Admissions and Marketing Coordinator. You start to have the full view of how everything works rather than always focusing on just your job. From there, I got really excited about how I could make changes, improve processes, and move the college forward. There was nothing wrong, by any means, with what the college was doing, but times were changing and processes were changing, and we needed to continue to move forward. That inspired me to continue to keep moving forward myself,” states Jenna with a smile. 

As a female leader, Jenna is no stranger to the barrier that comes with it, but for her, the biggest thing holding women back in today’s workforce is the lack of work-life balance. “Leadership is typically seen as you work 7 days a week, 12 hours a day, and I’m fortunate to be part of an organization that doesn’t view things that way, so I can have that work-life balance, but I think work-life balance is what keeps most women from going into leadership roles.”

When it comes to advice, Jenna Crabtree advises the next generation of female leaders to embrace exactly who they are. “Any podcast or leadership things that I listen to that are coming from the female perspective discuss how we shouldn’t be willing to hide or diminish our softness. We should be proud that we’re women. I may put too many exclamation marks in my emails, but I need you to know I’m not angry,” jokingly states Jenna. “I’m not afraid to add in a smiley face on an email or put a cute, fun image on the bottom of an agenda, so instead of trying to conform to what men have done in their leadership roles, I just choose to embrace my feminine energy while also maintaining a leadership role.”

Motivation to continue to be the best leader she can be stems from many areas, but it always comes back to one place for Jenna Crabtree: her family. “I work hard to provide for my family. I want to show them that you can do both. You can have a family and you can work as a leader,” states Jenna. “I also look at the healthcare in our community and how important it is to have excellent healthcare professionals. Me, my family, my parents, we all use the healthcare here in this community, so it motivates me to try and produce the most competent healthcare professionals that we can, because my family and many other families depend on that care.”

Sometimes life puts you where you need to be, and for Blessing-Rieman’s Dean of Enrollment Jenna Crabtree, life led her down an unexpected path, but in the end, it was the path she was always meant for. 

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