Alumna's career achievements and leadership defined by graduate experiences

August 14, 2017

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — When Jacquelyn S. Fetrow was named as Albright College’s 15th president in October 2016, a member of the presidential search committee remarked that her numerous professional achievements were sustained by her “gifts of intellectual curiosity, skillful communication, strategic vision and humane understanding.”

An Albright College alumna who received her doctorate in biological chemistry from the Penn State College of Medicine in 1986, Fetrow credited her graduate education with enhancing the development of each of those qualities. In particular, skillful communication has been a milepost of paramount importance at every stop along Fetrow’s career pathway.

“My department at the College of Medicine was pretty diverse,” Fetrow said. “We had molecular biology, computational biology, carbohydrate biology and chemistry, as well as biochemistry and neuroscience. We took classes across all of those areas. We weren’t as narrowly focused as some graduate programs. That focus across multiple areas definitely helped to increase my curiosity.” 

Fetrow noted that the communication skills of graduate students in the Department of Biological Chemistry were also enhanced through required presentations of research to members of the department on a regular basis, in addition to presentations offered to classes, clubs, lab groups and research groups.

“It was a very dedicated, intentional part of the educational experience,” said Fetrow, a native of Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, who served as provost and vice president of academic affairs at the University of Richmond before accepting the presidency at her undergraduate alma mater.

In 1999, Fetrow co-founded GeneFormatics Inc., a biotechnology firm that leveraged genomic data to predict protein structure and function. Throughout her distinguished career in higher education and business, Fetrow has maintained her belief that the ability to communicate effectively across disciplinary teams is an essential characteristic of productive team members in the workplace.

“I think some graduate programs are very narrowly focused, and what you end up doing is creating people who can only talk within their narrow discipline,” she said. “That is not going to help students develop their communication skills.”

At GeneFormatics, Fetrow said an effort was made to hire individuals who possessed a depth of understanding that they were capable of communicating across disciplines.

“We had scientists, computational biologists and biochemists who understood proteins really well,” she said. “We had systems engineers who were creating the software that would allow us to do some of the studies we were conducting, and then we had database administrators who understood the underlying data, the structure of the database, and the data definitions. What I learned from hiring folks is that, if someone had a very deep understanding in any one of those three areas, but could not communicate to the other two areas, they were less effective as team members simply because they could not communicate their skills across the team.” 

Effective communication is a core element of Fetrow’s leadership style, which includes the “walk-around” approach. At GeneFormatics, Fetrow would engage employees in conversation in their workspace, gaining insights into individual performance and group dynamics. 

“In that company, in that environment, it worked really well, and I would learn a lot by doing that,” said Fetrow, a 2015 recipient of the Penn State Alumni Fellow Award, which recognizes outstanding leaders in their professional fields. “I tend to do that to this day. I like to get out. I like to have my meetings in different places, so I can see people where they are.  

“I have also come to realize that others would describe my leadership style as values-based leadership: helping a community to develop a way to articulate a shared understanding of their values, and then to determine how they want to implement those values.”

Encouraged as a Penn State graduate student to embrace opportunities for the development of communication skills across disciplines, Fetrow now provides the executive leadership for an institution that is renowned for its focus on interdisciplinary education and cross-disciplinary communication, with a foundation in the liberal arts.

“At Albright College, we are helping students to develop the skills to work in and communicate effectively across disciplines,” Fetrow said. “I think that is something we have done for a long time and we do uncommonly well. It is something we will build upon in the future.”

  • Jacquelyn S. Fetrow

    Jacquelyn S. Fetrow

    IMAGE: Ken Bennett
Last Updated August 14, 2017