The Last Word
Interviewed by Erica Lindsay
J acelyn Swenson (BSJ, 1981) retired in 2022 after more than 25 years with IBM. Most recently, she lead the Strategic Events team and IBM's Global Speaker's Bureau. Before that, she worked on the IBM Corporate Marketing team where she led global brand programs and created social, digital and immersive experiences. Her career began at a worldwide public relations and advertising agency, and she held leadership positions at GE prior to joining IBM.
How did you discover WVU? Did you know that you wanted to major in journalism/communications, or did you start in another field?
I’ve always had an insatiable curiosity about people and the world around me. Growing up I was exposed to the techniques of great storytelling — simplifying the complex and creating an emotional connection with one’s audience. Communications was a logical career path and the accreditation of what was then the WVU Journalism School captured my interest. I chose Broadcast Journalism as my major and opted to capture news and events from behind the camera where I felt the magic happened.
What are some special memories from your time at WVU?
I have many! The experiences I received from internships every semester at the local radio and television stations — in the field and in the studio — gave me invaluable experience. Professor Frank Kearns, former CBS News foreign correspondent, believed in me, which gave me the confidence to pursue my career path. I was in the Chi Omega sorority, active in the WVU Ski Club, and a member of the WVU Marching Band. I was just feet away from John Denver when he performed at the inaugural halftime show at the new WVU football stadium.
You’ve had a long, successful career, including eight years with GE and more than 25 years with IBM. Is this the career you envisioned?
Not at all! I quickly discovered at the time that there were minimal entry-level opportunities available at mid- and major-market television stations (this was long before cable and streaming). In the spring of my senior year, the Washington, D.C., office of an international PR agency offered me a position as receptionist/ assistant account executive, and I started the day after I graduated. I leveraged my broadcast journalism background to help launch a spokesperson and media training studio within the DC office. Preparing our clients for Capitol Hill testimony and media interviews ultimately created a revenue stream for the firm which set the wheels in motion for a career in marketing and communications.
I imagine you’ve been involved in many amazing projects. This is a two-part
question: Can you identify a specific career-defining moment (when you
knew you were doing the work you were meant to do) and a favorite and/or
most impactful project?
I’d reach back to a pivotal opportunity early in my career. While on an extended assignment in London, I established the internal marketing and communications teams and external PR agencies for GE’s regional offices across Europe and created a speaker and media training program for the global executives. My communications and connections skills became invaluable in working with different cultures, norms, time zones and languages. I was an impassioned listener and was able to set expectations and deliver results. The country teams recognized my leadership and management skills which led to acceptance and trust. These very skills contributed to one of the most rewarding experiences of my IBM career — being selected by senior leadership to provide STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) education to young, diverse women and disadvantaged constituencies around the world. I worked closely with astronaut Sally Ride and many notable scientists and inventors and saw firsthand STEM’s transformative power for the younger generation. It later led to a partnership between IBM and 20th Century Fox on the release of the Oscar- nominated film, “Hidden Figures.”
How would you describe yourself?
Optimistic. Extroverted. Self-aware. Compassionate. Diligent in cultivating and maintaining relationships, motivating teams and building consensus in the pursuit of excellence. Curiosity is my superpower. I am committed to the support and defense of the Fourth Estate and enjoy helping others realize the best version of themselves.
What does post-retirement life look like for you? Hobbies? Consulting?
I enjoy my craft and am currently weighing opportunities that tap my skill sets and experiences. As a lifelong racing sailor, I am looking forward to competing more and cruising on our boat with my husband, family and friends. I have a lot of trips planned to make up for lost travel time during the pandemic. I am dedicating more time to writing (I have several books in mind) and to running, yoga and overall conditioning to stay on top of my game.