Five Questions with Jennifer Cole

Jennifer Cole strives to be present in every moment.

Name: Jennifer Cole
Position: Director of Career Development, Department of Maternal and Child Health
Years at Gillings: Eight



Jennifer and her son relax in their backyard hammock.

What I do at Gillings (and why I love it): I provide resources, tools and support to our masters and doctoral students, as well as to alumni, for career planning at any stage. I always say our students do the work of angels and I feel incredibly fortunate to contribute to their work in a small way by helping them achieve their professional goals.

One of the best things about my job is helping students realize how incredible they are. They tend to take their own abilities and achievements for granted, and I love helping them identify and name all their skills that appear so immediately obvious to me. There’s a great moment when that light bulb goes on and they realize that they already are accomplished, that they already are making real differences in the lives of women and children.


Outside of work, I: am a roomparent at Carrboro Elementary School. I support teachers and staff in their jobs, which can range from tutoring kids who need help to organizing other parents to supporting school events to soliciting donations for the annual school fair. I’ve been doing that for eight years. I also act as the unofficial photographer for my kids’ events – they’re active in cross country running, soccer, taekwondo and Ultimate Frisbee. Let’s see… I also like to exercise, dance and am currently taking a photography course.


If I could have one superpower, it would be: the ability to always be present. I say that just because life is so full and there’s always so much going on, which makes it pass too quickly. I try to meditate and be mindful, but it’s not a natural gift. I would love to experience the richness of being present in every moment, especially when it comes to my relationships. There’s spending time with people, and then there’s really being with people. Since this isn’t my superpower, it can be hard, but I truly believe that happiness takes action and intention.


The biggest influences in my life are: definitely my kids. I view the world very differently since they came into my life. They make me want to be the best person I can be, so I try to be kinder, better informed, more curious, accepting and more present. They also serve as wonderful teachers and seem to be teaching me continuously. My husband [epidemiology professor Stephen Cole] is also a huge inspiration. In particular, I draw from his incredible passion for his work. He is energized by research puzzles and finds his work fun which is motivating and a joy to be around. I am also influenced by the strong, caring, compassionate women in my life. I am fortunate to be surrounded by these intelligent and kind women who by being themselves, encourage me to live life fully.


The best advice I ever received is: “Be yourself, because you won’t be anyone else well.” That can take some bravery. Every day, when I drop my kids off at school, I tell them, “Be Melody! Be Levi!”