Because Class 11 wasn’t able to travel to Washington, D.C. for the grade’s much-anticipated annual trip, their teachers decided to bring the city to them. Thus, on June 2, Class 11 Dean Sarah Rutledge welcomed the morning’s special guest, alumna Jennifer “DJ” Nordquist ’85, who has 25 years of distinguished experience in public policy and government and is currently the Executive Director of the D.C.-based World Bank.
“She knows the ins and outs of Washington better than anyone,” added Ms. Rutledge, who is also the Head of Upper School Arts and Integration.
“I’m a proud Chapin graduate from the Class of 1985,” Ms. Nordquist declared, joining the Zoom gathering from her home office. She revealed to the students that, after Commencement, she accidentally left her laminated diploma on the radiator. “Don’t do that!” she cautioned with a laugh, setting the tone for a warm and illuminating conversation that focused on her remarkable career, while touching on her Chapin years.
“Chapin was a fabulous experience,” Ms. Nordquist said, recalling the “comradery” and “sisterhood” she felt there. She was editor of the student newspaper “Limelight” and excelled at Model UN, two activities that helped shape her path forward.
With a B.A. from Stanford University and a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University, Ms. Nordquist told the students that after getting her start working for two lawmakers on Capitol Hill, she went on to serve in leadership roles for the U.S. Department of Education, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), the Office of the Federal Coordinator for Gulf Coast Rebuilding, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Brookings Institution and the Council of Economic Advisers. She also worked in the private sector in Thailand, France, and Sweden.
During these eventful years, she married and had three children, a son and two daughters, who are now in high school and college. “Juggling motherhood and my career was very hard,” she shared.
With this impressive roster of professional accomplishments, it wasn’t surprising to learn that that in 2019 Ms. Nordquist was unanimously approved by the United States Senate to assume her current position at the World Bank (www.worldbank.org), an international financial institution that provides financial and technical assistance to developing countries around the world. This extraordinary partnership, composed of 189 member countries and five institutions, advances sustainable solutions to reduce poverty and help citizens’ build brighter futures for themselves and their communities.
The Bank’s extensive work, which addresses areas like infrastructure, clean water, health and education, climate change, women’s empowerment and gender-based violence, has been impeded by Covid-19. “We’ve lost decades of progress eradicating poverty,” she stated, leaving lasting scars on the global economy.
Eager to interact with her audience, Ms. Nordquist left plenty of time for questions. “Please turn on your camera and raise your virtual hands,” instructed Ms. Rutledge before calling on the first person. “What does your day-to-day job look like?” the student asked.
“It varies from day to day,” Ms. Nordquist responded, adding that twice-weekly Board meetings, forming coalitions with like-minded countries, fiduciary and oversight responsibilities, and voting on various projects, take up a considerable amount of her time and attention.
Another student asked, “How has your ‘Limelight’ experience prepared you for what you do today?”
“I learned to hone my writing skills and distill information quickly and accurately,” she said. “It was great training for life.”
“Have you had to grapple with any ethical concerns about loaning countries money?” asked a third.
“Yes, we deal with lots of ethical issues,” she commented. “There has been a longstanding debate over whether multilateral institutions as well as bilateral aid simply perpetuate dependence.”
“Have you experienced sexism or gender bias at college or work?” another student wanted to know.
“I’ve had people say inappropriate things to me,” she said. “There are only five women out of 25 on the Board of the Bank. We try to support each other.” She also pointed out the low representation of women in fields like economics and engineering. “I hope we can change that. We have a unique opportunity to strengthen STEAM programs and increase the pipeline of women entering these fields.”
Imparting a last piece of advice, Ms. Nordquist encouraged the students to draw on the “girl power” they learned at Chapin to be “strong women, stand your ground, and assert yourselves.”
Before she signed off, this generous and thought-provoking alumna took a moment to acknowledge the challenges these juniors – and all students – have faced as this unusual school year comes to a close. “Hang in there. We’re going to get through this. Better days are ahead.”