Administrator - US Defense Contractor

A Communication & Spanish Double Major, Jennifer traveled the world as part of her job in executive security before shifting into training and administration for a major U.S. defense contractor.

Name: Jennifer Ashton
Name at SMC: “Jenny Scarry”
Major: Communication & Spanish Double Major
Graduation Year: 1999
Hometown: Shingle Springs, CA

Fondest Memories of SMC / Communication Department:
One of my fondest memories of both SMC and the Communication Department was the first day of Oral Communication with [the late] Brother Ray Berta and his famous vocal warm-up of “Tongue-Teeth-Lips-Jaw”, with an animated face and an attitude of “you can say anything you want in this course, except for ‘um’, ‘uh’, ‘like’ and ‘you know’.”  While Br. Ray is not with us anymore in body, his spirit lives on at the College.  He was my first exposure to the Communication Department, and coincidentally let a first semester freshman in his Oral Communication class.  His enthusiasm for a liberal arts education and for the Christian Brothers’ Mission, indicated to me from day one that the Communication Department is where I would find my home at SMC . . . and of course I loved communicating so much that I had to declare a double major so I could communicate in English and Spanish!

What do I miss about SMC?
The world outside Moraga and SMC is truly only what you make of it, and it can be cruel at times.  There are definitely times when I miss the safe and secure hills of the Rheem Valley and the embracing attitudes of the College.  When I wanted to pursue anything at SMC (specific courses, employment, on and off-campus events coordination, studying abroad, and even learning to drive!), the faculty, staff, administration and fellow students always were there with encouraging words and support to help me find a way to make it all happen.  I loved that, while nothing was just given to me, if I showed the initiative and motivation for a cause, my enthusiasm was reciprocated by the professors, especially in both of my disciplines.  No topics were taboo in any of the courses I took, as long as I communicated my thoughts and beliefs openly, honestly and in a respectful manner to others.

My biggest transformation at SMC? How did I get there?
I grew up in a small town in a lower middle class family with six siblings, and I knew that if I wanted to go to college, it would be by the grace of God and my own hard work in high school to get academic scholarships and find the right opportunities for financial aid.  I had already been introduced to SMC since one of my older brothers (Phil Scarry) graduated in 1992, and subsequently my younger brother (Tom Scarry) graduated in 2007, and my parents were big advocates of the College.  In spite of my wanting to venture out to other universities further away from home, my parents knew that SMC is where I belonged to make my transition into the world.

That transformation began right way with finding an independence you don’t always get to find in a large family.  Living in the residence halls and learning time-management, self-control and personal accountability in my first few years definitely grew me into a responsible adult.  So much so that I became a Resident Advisor for two years and grew up even more with the situations presented in the realm of Residence Life.  With attending courses, living in the dorms, and working in a variety of offices on campus, I learned a passion for communicating with EVERYONE, from the College President to the Groundskeepers.

I think the final part of my transformation (not literally the final part . . . as I’ll be the first to tell you that I grow and learn everyday), was traveling to Spain for a Jan Term course and a Summer Abroad with the Modern Language Department.  After my travels I returned with a new found understanding that there is life beyond Moraga, and while different out in the world, all the concepts I was learning at SMC were more applicable than I ever could have imagined.  The Communication Department and my Advisor Rebecca Carroll helped me embrace my discoveries and encouraged me to incorporate my experiences into my Honors Senior Thesis in fulfillment of my Communication Major.  With the support of both departments, I produced a thesis (“Education Before Entrance: Cultural Training Impacts Study Abroad”) that has repeatedly served as a writing and research sample for several successful job interviews in my life.

So . . . my transformation at SMC?  By just living and being open to the world,  I became an independent, inquisitive and responsible world traveler who has striven to keep others safe and secure.  Keep reading and you’ll see how this has played out in my life since SMC . . . .

All time favorite class?  Why?
I enjoyed so many courses at SMC that I really could list nearly my entire course transcript.  Of course I cannot choose just one, but I think there is a tie between two courses that immediately come to mind when I think of my time at SMC…and the winners are: Interpersonal Communication with Professor Sue Fallis and Management Communication with Professor Rebecca Carroll.  Neither course was easy by any means, since both professors have high but realistic expectations that if you listen, learn and apply yourself you can master the material, but I have applied the concepts of these two courses everyday in my life all around the world.  From Interpersonal Communication, understanding how humans interact in the realm between Psychology and Sociology has proven beneficial every day.  From Management Communication, learning how to structure presentations, discussions and arguments for the business world has proven its worth time and time again, and the “Bubble Outline” concept presented by Rebecca from Barry Eckhouse’s book is invaluable.

My husband will be the first to tell you that I probably spend too much time thinking about how interpersonal communication shapes my life and the lives of those around me, but I find it absolutely fascinating.  In fact, in May 2011, I became an Instructor of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, an assessment based on psychological type that, among a variety of purposes, can be used for self-understanding and development to then communicate more effectively with those around you. (FYI . . . for those of you who are familiar with MBTI or interested, I am an ESTJ.)

Now that I’ve identified my favorite courses, let me backtrack by saying that one or two courses alone did not make woman.  These courses may stand out since they interested me so much ( . . . and took a considerable amount of effort to get an A!), but without the context of all of my other courses, I would never have been able to integrate any concepts into my life.

I’ll refer back to Br. Ray Berta now, as he taught be about the Gestalt Theory and the concept that “the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.”  I believe this theory captures the essence of who I am as a result of my four years at SMC and beyond . . . who I am is greater than just the sum of the courses and experiences I have had.

First job out of SMC . . .
Of course like many other undergraduates, I thought I had a plan before graduation . . . to go to graduate school for a Masters Degree (and hopefully eventually a PhD) in Spanish at Middlebury College in Vermont.  Somewhere along the way (i.e., right before graduation), despite having been accepted, I couldn’t get enough loan money to attend.  So with a quick change of plans, SMC came through for me again and I was hired to work in the Registrar’s Office helping students with course scheduling, recording grades, and even helping to arrange SMC’s first Semester Abroad program to Spain.

Other jobs between then and now . . .
After working in the Registrar’s Office for just under a year, I followed an opportunity to work as a Human Resources Generalist for the Esprit de Corp. Headquarters in San Francisco.  Unfortunately, when Esprit USA decided to close its doors, I had to move on again and found myself working as a Project Assistant/Business Development Consultant with a boutique Human Resources Consulting firm also in San Francisco.

After a few years in consulting, I decided to take a leap of faith and start working in private investigations, where I met some retired Secret Service and FBI Agents who introduced me to the world of Executive Protection (EP).  I had spent nearly a decade working in protective services, protecting a spectrum of individuals and their families, from corporate CEO’s to celebrities all around the world.  I most recently spent five years working with ITG Consultants, Inc., a company for which I wore multiple hats: Instructor in the  Training Division (for Protective Services training, defensive tactics, evasive driving and firearms), Protection Agent and Operations Manager (for the Operations Division) and Security Consultant (for the Consulting Division).  My work with ITG allowed me to use my degrees from SMC to the fullest, and while not always in the conventional sense, I have been able to successfully communicate with individuals around the world at all levels.

The self-motivation I discovered in myself at SMC has come in handy as I’ve worked for several small businesses where I’ve lived the mantra that “an entrepreneur will work 18 hours a day to avoid working 8 hours for someone else.”

Current position . . .
Recently, I left working full-time in EP and have shifted my love for training to more of a hobby that I can share with friends rather than a source of income.  I now work in an administrative role with a major US Defense Contractor and am enjoying not traveling for weeks on end to work long days without much sleep.

Other than work, what is your life about? What kind of person are you?
Outside of work, my life is about family and living every day as an adventure.  For quite a few years after college, my life was mostly about career and “living to work.”  Then that all changed when I met a wonderful man that I married in 2008 and now have two fabulous step daughters and the cutest grandson ever (with another on the way)!

As I mentioned before, I followed a path to become an Instructor in many different disciplines, and while a bit unconventional for what SMC might have expected from a graduate (let alone a Communication/Spanish alum), I thoroughly enjoy instructing on such soft skills as Myers-Briggs and Protocol/Etiquette as well as hard skills such as NRA Law Enforcement Firearms Courses and Self Defense/Defensive Tactics.  These talents, while I no longer train them every day now,  were my life for many years.  Now my husband and I have shifted our priorities from work to family and we now “work to live” rather than “live to work.”

While I still put 100% into everything that I do, I have learned to enjoy hobbies like cooking and going for motorcycle rides to watch the seasons change, and to just learn to appreciate what is around on a daily basis.  I am the type of person to embrace opportunities to the fullest, including jumping at the chance to work at the Great Wall of China and a variety of exotic vacation destinations while protecting people, just because I know I may never get the opportunities again.

"Of course through everything, I can relate all of it back to SMC, and being encouraged to take on challenges and adventures when they present themselves.  Also, you just never know when you’ll run into another Gael.  Granted, I didn’t meet one at the Great Wall, but I have in Japan, Spain and Switzerland . . . what a small world!"

Advice for Current Students . . .
Well, I guess I’m back to “if I only knew then what I know now."  Here are a few thoughts for you current SMC students:

Study hard, but not too hard, as college is not just about learning a trade, but learning how to live, think, grow, laugh and love.
Enjoy a party or two, but not too many.
Live for today but plan for tomorrow.
Take walks to the SMC, the Cross, the Redwood Grove and the Statue past the Grove (if they are all still there) to listen to your own thoughts.
Be your own person, but allow others to be themselves too.
Sometimes life is about you, but sometimes it is about others as well.
Always remember, especially in a Seminar Course, that you can be “adamantly wrong!”
Take your studies seriously and get your money’s worth.  The SMC Community is there for you, so if you don’t take advantage of it, you can only blame yourself.

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