May 30, 2017
Jennifer Rockwell, a 2008 Master of Science in Industrial Relations and Human Resources (MSIR) graduate from the WVU College of B&E, comes from a long line of strong female leaders. Her maternal grandmother joined the U.S. Army at age 52 as an Army nurse, retired at 62, earned her Master’s in nursing, then worked as a nurse at a women’s prison and eventually became a travelling nurse.
Rockwell, who currently resides in a West suburb of Chicago, Illinois with her husband, Ryan, and two daughters, Maggie and Marie, is the director of human resources at PepsiCo. Originally from Upper Marlboro, Maryland, she graduated high school in Winchester, Virginia. Then, she became a Mountaineer, earning her Bachelor of Arts in Foreign Languages with an emphasis in Spanish and a minor in business administration in 2007.
“My grandmother was always told that she couldn't do things, and she did them anyway. She was told she was too old to join the Army, and she graduated second in her boot camp class with a bunch of 21-year-olds at the time. She was in Desert Storm. She was always one to really pave the way. Even in high school I can remember really looking up to her.”
Rockwell’s paternal grandmother was a teacher, and she says she really instilled the empathy she has for people.
“Always looking at people in different situations and appreciating where they came from, and the teaching – it was innate. I always kind of felt like I was a teacher, which is I think what draws me to HR – you’re doing a lot of continuous learning, training people,” she said.
Similar determination, strength and compassion shines through in Rockwell’s life and career. During her undergraduate career, Rockwell worked at Sbarro in the Mountainlair. Beginning as a cashier, she worked her way up to server, pizza manager and eventually co-general manager. Upon graduation, she really began thinking about her next steps and weighing her options. She attended an open house for the MBA program where she met Dr. Randy Elkin, retired professor and head of the MSIR program, and Dr. Neil Bucklew, former president of WVU and also retired professor and head of the MSIR program. Conversation sparked, and she realized human resources was the perfect fit for her.
“It was more around employee relations, training and development. A lot of things that are in HR intrigued me more, and I actually had a lot of application from Sbarro and as an officer in a sorority. I think drove me to that degree,” she said.
In 2008, Rockwell earned her MSIR degree and promptly began her career with PepsiCo. Starting as a HR representative, she has really climbed the ladder. Throughout her nine years of practice with the company, her responsibilities and favorite aspects of the field have changed.
“I think now, what I really enjoy, is the talent and career development. So, really focusing on how we build careers for people at Pepsi – what are their skills and their knowledge gaps? Then, how do we kind of close those gaps? It’s a lot of coaching,” she said. “I've enjoyed doing executive coaching recently. Prior to that, I enjoyed the just employee relations and labor relations pieces because I feel like there you really see the impact that you're making on the business.”
In her current role, she manages everything HR-related for three markets within the Midwest region – all the locations in Wisconsin, the Chicagoland area and Northwest Indiana. Representing such a well-known brand is a lot of work, but Rockwell said she enjoys seeing the reach.
“I love being close to the day-to-day operations. You can really see your impact. You go into the store and you see it on the shelf. We have really cool innovation that comes out different products. It’s interesting to see a lot of the growth of the company, especially on the nutrition side, what’s coming out with Quaker and Tropicana, Gatorade, what new Pepsi flavors are coming out,” she said. “All those things have been interesting and probably what I enjoy most, anywhere you look, you know that you have an impact and a seat at the table.”
Rockwell is not only making waves within her career path, but she is channeling her strong female role models. With a passion for working moms, she partnered with a coworker to launch a women’s leadership platform for PepsiCo in Chicago.
“One of the pillars was around how we can better support mothers who return to work after maternity leave. We helped push for extended maternity benefits, which we did get company-wide – an additional four weeks of paid maternity leave. We also focused on mother support through pumping with a lactation room at all of our facilities. We have spaces to pump, which is a requirement by law. We did more around mother support groups,” she said. “I think it’s a great retention tool for females. Companies are always looking to attract and retain top female talent, and the more support we can provide, especially to working moms, I feel like that becomes a retention tool for us.”
As she reflects on her time at WVU and B&E, she recalls her graduate assistantship and the academic common market for financial aid. It is those reasons she wants to help current students reach their dreams through the generous gift she made to the MSIR program.
“I feel like that’s the least I can do is to give back and hopefully impact even just one student to try to achieve the goals they set out to achieve by going back to earn a master’s degree, which is a huge time commitment; it’s a huge financial commitment, and they’re really taking a chance in going back and getting a graduate degree,” she said. “The MSIR program has given me so much and even post-graduation with the ability to go back to campus to work with the MISR program. From there, it led me to the B&E Young Professional Network. The opportunity to give back to the school is something I really enjoy doing.”