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Murray Journal

Murray’s Jessica Miller hones political savvy with WLI training

May 02, 2019 02:25PM ● By Jennifer J Johnson

The Utah System of Higher Education is strengthened by Women’s Leadership graduate Jessica Miller’s “stepping up” to attend the political training and career development series. (Jennifer J. Johnson/City Journals)

By Jennifer J. Johnson | [email protected]

Half of the state’s public colleges and universities are captained by women.

And nearly half of the group which governs those institutions, the Board of Regents, are also women.

The writing, spelled perfectly and neatly, is on the wall at the Utah System of Higher Education (USHE): Women leaders have arrived.

Such is the perfect climate for Jessica Miller, a six-year employee with USHE, to have asked her manager for permission to attend — and the associated discretionary budget to fund — the recent Women’s Leadership Institute (WLI) political development series. 

Miller is one of 43 women across the state to have completed the most recent training and appears to be the only one from Murray to have participated in that session, which was recently honored on the floor of the legislative chambers and in the Capitol rotunda by WLI CEO Pat Jones and Utah Lieutenant Governor Spencer Cox.

WLI: elevating the stature and talents of Utah women

WLI is an innovative organization whose mission is to elevate the stature and talents of Utah’s women. Elevating the stature of women is accomplished through an annual “ElevateHer Challenge” for businesses and board rooms to explore their policies about gender diversity. Elevating talents is accomplished by offering two development programs — a career development training and the political development series. 

Julie Hartley, USHE assistant commissioner for outreach and access and Miller’s boss, is pleased with the impact of the WLI political training and is now encouraging Miller’s completion of WLI’s career-development program as well.

“The work we do is very related to the legislature,” explained Hartley, underscoring the synergy between the WLI training and Miller’s position as director of completion initiatives for USHE.

The confidence to ask by presenting it as an organizational benefit

Miller theorized that, prior to taking the training, she “may have struggled to say, ‘I want to run for office.’”

Being able to ask for opportunities is a key takeaway from her affiliation with WLI.  

“The biggest thing I gained was the confidence to ask,” she explained. It is also not just the confidence, but understanding the incredible impact of what her gaining knowledge has on the organization, and indeed, on the state as a whole.

After attending the six-session WLI political-development series, Miller suggested she “shadow” recently-promoted work colleague Spencer Jenkins, whose position requires significant engagement at the legislative session on Capitol Hill. 

Miller noted it was not presented to management as a question, but more as a promise: “You really need me to attend the legislative session” was the positioning to her boss, Hartley, and to Jenkins, associate commissioner for public affairs and chief of staff. This value-added proposition is a much different consideration for management, versus “Can I go shadow Spencer Jenkins on the Hill?”

Women’s Leadership Institute and women’s innate journey in informing decisions

Understanding Miller’s role with USHE makes it fairly easy to guess one of her key issues — education funding. 

After learning about her being a mother with a young son, another one of her top issues also becomes clear: air quality.

A few years ago, as Miller attended a political training about air quality, she heard data indicating that breathing Utah’s air on a “red” air-quality day can have the equivalent health impact of smoking half a pack of cigarettes. As she listened, her mind’s eye pictured her then-newborn son, Isaac, looking intently at her with brown eyes.

“I want to set a good example for my son,” she sighed, and then paused. “There are so many intelligent, health-minded people in Utah,” she reasoned, “we should be able to get this.”

Women in leadership and in the household

While having a child has informed her attitudes and activism, Miller also acknowledged that caring for a young son makes it “harder to do things” and said she is “pretty much [stretched] to the max” in terms of her time to contribute to political causes outside of her work day. 

USHE and her husband help significantly. 

USHE entrusts Miller to work from home one day a week. Husband Paul pitches in by arranging his schedule so that now 3-year-old Isaac only spends three days a week in daycare.

That extra support is perhaps just the thing needed to enable Miller to successfully “juggle” work-life-politics and serve an ambassador for the Voterise challenge, where 1,000 women ambassadors are each responsible for encouraging and enabling 20 women to register to vote in the 2020 election. 

Her boss, Hartley, is supportive of Miller’s future. “I am hoping that Jessica eventually runs for office,” Hartley said.

Miller is already carrying the mantle of a political candidate, noting that, while observing testimony during the recent legislative session, she became “frustrated” by being limited to merely observing in the gallery. “Nobody asked the questions [that should have been asked],” she recalled, followed by a sigh.