This week’s MIL employee highlight for our celebration of Black History Month is Ms. Jacquelyn Cunningham who supports the U.S. Department of State in Charleston as a technical writer on the Systems Coordination and Implementation (SCI) team. Jacquelyn is originally from Cross, SC and has an eclectic collection of accolades and achievements from every stage of her life. After graduating as the Valedictorian in high school, she earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Mathematics (magnum cum laude) from South Carolina State University, and then her Master’s in Technology Management from University of Maryland. Jacquelyn holds a variety of professional certificates which demonstrate her ability to liaison across functional and technical fields to provide expertise and direction in problem-solving and creative designs.

Jacquelyn recognized her talent for connecting dots and patterns over long periods of time and creating viable solutions without having to see an example of a product or design concept. She prides herself in her ability to navigate various industries as a problem solver and credits her ability to listen (and hear) her customers’ requirements and quickly identify viable solutions and the resources needed to resolve any issues or challenges. This includes her greatest challenge over her many years of professional experience: often being the only female in a room full of engineers, academics, or corporate leaders—as well as the only African American. Her natural ability to ask thoughtful and detailed questions and then provide creative and effective solutions has led her to be sought after on high level projects, college administrations, and corporate decision-makers.

Jacquelyn has found that most of the time, the problem has nothing to do with personnel, but with technology…whether it was an email not sent, a server issue, or the end user not understanding the full capability of what the technology could do, she is able to help them articulate the problem and then transfer her experience from one industry to another. She has experience as a mathematician, scientific programmer, and most recently, technical writing for the SCI Team and DoS, Charleston. One of her greatest achievements includes identifying the basic need for portable mass storage while helping to build one of the first computer labs at University of South Carolina. Realizing students using the newest technologies would need to save images, documents, and spreadsheets and be able to transfer those pieces from the lab to the dorm and back to the lab (pre-internet era). She pitched the concept to a major design group and helped create the first generations of mini-disk—starting with the ability to store a whopping 128k of data, and eventually up to 1 gig! Jacquelyn founded the INFOTECH conference which brought IT users together with technology and technologists to launch university-wide innovations across various functions and disciplines.

Her advice to young professionals coming into their fields of expertise is, regardless of your background, identify your natural talents and leverage those to gain experience, education, skills, and opportunities.

She credits the challenges in her life for putting her in interesting positions which led to opportunities and professional relationships. Jacquelyn urges young professionals to marry their natural talents and abilities to their education and professional training—two things that nobody can ever take from you. By building skills which allow you to connect to others in an authentic way will open doors, and ears, and a continuous chain of opportunities.