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Powerful Women: Let's Talk – 84: Jill Hinton Wolfe

Jill Hinton Wolfe
Jill Hinton Wolfe
Jill Hinton Wolfe

Jill Hinton Wolfe, Grand Valley State University’s first Military and Veteran Resource manager, joins us for this edition of Powerful Women: Let's Talk.

Jill Hinton Wolfe is Grand Valley State University’s first Military and Veteran Resource manager. She previously served as a mentor for GVSU’s Michigan Veterans Entrepreneur Lab and is a founding executive committee member of GVSU's Veterans Alumni Association. Through her work as the Military and Veteran Resource Manager Jill provides additional support to military-connected students and dependents while expanding GVSU’s visibility, partnerships and pipelines within the community.

Powerful Women: Let’s Talk is created by WGVU NPR and made possible by WGVU NPR sustaining monthly donors. Become a sustaining monthly donor now at wgvu.org/donate to support WGVU NPR’s local programs, including Powerful Women: Let’s Talk.

Full Transcript:


Narrator: Produced by women about women. Powerful women. Let's talk is a series of interviews with women who are trailblazers and have helped shape our world transforming who we are and how we live in.


Jennifer Moss: Hello, everyone. Time for powerful women. Let's talk. Thanks so much for joining us today. I'm Jennifer Moss and it is a pleasure to bring you today's powerful woman, Jill Hinton Wolf. She's Grand Valley State University's first military and veteran resource manager. She previously served as a mentor for GVSU’s Michigan Veterans Entrepreneur Lab in the e-lab is a founding executive committee member of GB issues, veterans alumni Association previously she worked as a seasoned corporate marketing professional. And at as a professor in advertising and PR. An entrepreneur and as a military intelligence soldier for the U.S. army. We're so glad to welcome Jill Wolfe, powerful women. Let's talk.

Jill Hinton Wolfe: Thanks, Jennifer. I'm really excited to be here.

JM: and we're excited to have you, I want you to know a little bit more about Jill just before we start our conversation. So, in 2021 Jill was awarded the Michigan Veterans Affairs agencies, veteran educational advocate of the Year award and is a 2022 Myra fellow. She serves as vice president of the Kent County veterans services advisory board and is on the Michigan Hall of heroes’ board. Also, she is a lifetime member of the American Legion veterans of foreign wars and the women veteran’s alliance. And, she and her hubby lives here in Grand Rapids, with 5 kids. And you're also active in the legally blind community. So again, welcome, Jill, so nice to have you here.

JW: Thank you.

JM: So, you have powerful woman written all over you and everything that you do. First, let's start with talking about your work at Grand Valley, State University, the first military and veteran resource manager that shows a big commitment and support to military connected students, dependents as well, right?

JW: Yes, I took the job in July 2020. So right in the middle of the pandemic. And I think it really shows the commitment of President Mantella to this population of students that we didn't really have a military program to speak of at Grand Valley before that, I was an undergrad at Grand Valley way back when, I started in 1994 and then to 3 years in the military before coming back and finishing my degree. And when I came back after the Army, I thought I was the only veteran on campus and we've since changed that. And we now have an incredible community of students, faculty and staff, all who have served in the military as well as a large contingency of dependents and spouses and kids who are also in their own ways sort of served in the military. So, it's a huge commitment. We have 2 veterans lounge is at Grand Valley, which I'm not sure any other state school or private school in Michigan could say. So there's a great commitment both from the community and the senior leadership team at Grand Valley to support these incredible community.

JM: Absolutely. And as a resource manager and having those lounges and that the whole unit.What is the type of support that you provide to the campus?

JW: Right. So, I sort of support them from the beginning when they're looking at Grand Valley even as coming back to school. It's a scary thing for a lot of veterans, right. They've been in a certain environment where it's very hierarchical. We're very clear on who is in charge. What we're doing. The mission is very clear usually when you're in the military. So, when they get out, a lot of them aren't quite sure. You know how to make that transition to a university setting where everything is kind of up to you, right. You no longer have somebody telling you what close to where to show up or how to work out or where going even all that stuff. So, it's a big transition. They start with the application. I can help them everything through that to applying for their bill benefits and getting them enrolled, making sure that they have everything they need to be successful at the universities. Often, it's, you know, talking with faculty members and staff about what it means to be, you know, former military and you know, also helping them with scholarships emergency funds applying for leadership positions, helping them decide which major to be and it’s like I'm the single point of contact for the students. And I'm not always the one that ends up eventually helping them. But I know where to point them to so I'm basically creating a community here where they feel supported. There does tend to be a sort of imposter syndrome with a lot of veterans coming to school. I don't belong here. I'm older than everybody else. So just creating an environment where they feel like they're valued and that they can they can learn here without barriers. As is. That's my job in a nutshell.

JW: That's being said in some cases it might even be just convincing someone. Hey, take the leap come to Grand Valley come to school and take up your education right now. I was just telling an Air Force met yesterday. I've been working on and off different places and I've been thinking about my degree by it. You know, maybe now is the time and it's my job to say now is absolutely the time and whatever you're worried about we can work through it together. We can figure that out. I'm not saying it's going to be easy, but it is going to be worth it so that I love having those conversations with students.

JM: Wonderful. And so of course you have quite the accomplished career. You're here at Grand Valley now at the resource Center. But you are of course, are a veteran.

JW: I'm here as well as having done so many of the things that we talked about at the top of the show.

JM: So are you enjoying your journey?

JW: You know, I've gotten to play all sorts of roles when I came back from the Army. I got my degree in advertising and PR firm Grande Valley and then went out and worked in the corporate world for 10-15, years and I loved that. And that taught me a ton about, you know, working in the corporate world working in an organization by it. I'd always wanted to start my own business. And so, I took that which was amazing. I still miss a big part of you know what you do. So, I did a couple different things. I started with a passion project which is still around today called outdoor book club, which is taking women outdoors and doing backpacking trips, hiking kayaking and bringing a book along that we discussed the themes in the on the road book club. Yeah, very much.

JM: Yeah. Cool.

JW: It was very cool. And from that sort of more corporate initiative came hours actually running corporate scavenger hunts. So, we worked with companies like Nike and Home Depot and Pfizer and really found out what their corporate values and their products were and created all these fun challenges for their teams, their employees to go out and, you know, implement them into pictures and videos. And as you can imagine, that all went away. High-fiving strangers when Covid hit. And that just happen to be the exact time that this position opened up and I'll tell you, it will be 2 years in July since I've had this position and I have never been happier at work like this job has so much meaning and purpose for me. And I get to one day work with again, a student that has not sure about whether he wants to go back to school and these are incredible students. We can talk more about that but I get to work with them one day and the next day, I'm working with the senior leadership team and president men Tele. To figure out how we can do even more to help the students. So, it's just it's an incredible job. I love it.

JM: So, the exciting journey continues.

JW: Absolutely.

JM: And really on the right track here, too as we talk about powerful women. You know U.S. veterans through the volunteer involvement in the mentor ship for all women, veterans.

JW: See, yes, I'm very active in that organization.

JM: So, what's your work there?

JW: So, the group of women I think WINC originally stood for women in combat, but they felt that was a little bit exclusionary because maybe in some way we've all been in if not like, actually in out in, you know, the war zone and so working with them, there's a lot of women out there that are really struggling, that transition out of the military was very difficult for them. I think for women in particular, we're already sort of conditioned to give so much of ourselves to the mission. Whether that mission is our family, our jobs and the military just completely reinforce that. And I will say that women veterans to a lot of times we can feel sort of invisible, right. When you think of a veteran, you think of maybe guy in the hat or big guy with a beard and tattoos. You don't often think of a female.

JM: You feel excluded right?

JW: Yeah. Yeah

JM: Off the side, right?

JW: Yeah. I remember one-time parking in a CVS parking lot. And I out of veteran’s plates and an older gentleman said, hey, did your husband serve? And…

JM: I knew you were going to go there

JW: Yeah, that was me. And these are incredible women like the guts that they have shown to have to sign up for military service and to swear to protect their country and to do this work in an environment where, let’s face it, there can be a lot of toxic masculinity there. These are incredible women and they deserve to be held up and given the tools they need to be to be successful. But unfortunately, it doesn't always happen either because they feel they don't deserve it or just society. Just not seeing women veterans in the same way that we see male veterans.

JM: So you continue on with the mentorship there and help…

JW: Absolutely especially comes to like starting businesses and stuff. I love women veteran entrepreneurs, They're my favorite people in the whole world.

JM: So let's look at the even more personal side. So as you travel and have traveled your careers path and on your journey. Have there been any, as we talk about that you just mentioned one actually, any barriers that you've encountered on long your careers path and you know your life's path.

JW: Right. I think definitely and my military service. Sometimes people don't always know what to do with that. You don't look like he's been an army that kind of thing. I think there's always that self-doubt too, like no matter what you dine, you're always sort of worrying about the future. And so those barriers have been difficult as I try to show up in the world in a way that people can. You know, I hope that those students that I work with a look to me as an example of what's possible because I was in their shoes 10, 20, years ago. So that's been a barrier. I also, in 2017 was diagnosed with a rare genetic disease that is basically taking away eyesight and probably will take away all of it. Right now. I have about 12 to 15% of it. And so yeah, that's been a curve ball that life through that I was not expecting and I've had to sort of navigate - and I will say that, you know, for all those women out there that are struggling with something that just seems insurmountable that you have it within you to be able to deal with us, but you can't do it alone, right. We didn't do it alone and army. We had medics and truck drivers and cooks supporting our mission. You can't do it either alone. And I will tell women veterans and people also struggling with vision loss reaching out and finding those people that you can trust independent and being willing to be vulnerable about that. We'll get you well on your journey to being able to meet your goals and do things that you never thought you would be able to do.

JM: I would say everyone needs that village, everyone needs a village. We talk about those obstacles, those barriers. So what did it take for you to find your own voice and all of that because, you know, sometimes it takes a minute to because we do encounter things that are challenging a new you'd like you said, sometimes you could feel invisible in depending on what walk of life whatever's happening in your world individually. How did you find your own voice to be comfortable in your own skin, so to speak?

JW: For me. I've always first of all, been really uncomfortable is emotional pain. So I can only sit and wallow for so long before I have to do something. Luckily my, you know, for a lot of people that outlet often ends up being addiction. And for me, fortunately, I haven't had that. But I certainly have family members and friends that have struggled with it. And I understand that. I'll say one of the scariest, most embarrassing thing I ever had to do was pick up a cane. I felt like I could see but couldn't see, but I was running into things and I would have to explain to people after the fact. After I'd knock things over. And so for me, the decision to pick up a cane and just tell the whole world that I couldn't see was the single most embarrassing and scary thing I ever had to do in my life. But once I did it and owned it and saw that it wasn't that bad, then I felt like I could kind of do anything after that. So I guess in a nutshell it's practicing being brave even though you don't necessarily feel brave and just practicing it over and over again until suddenly, it's just no big deal. And you've done it.

JM: Kind of conquering that fear and facing it head on is kind of what you did. Well, that's amazing. So as you look at with all your work at Grand Valley and beyond. I know you encounter a lot of people. You work with a lot of people. You've got a couple of teams that you work with what kind of what type of leadership skills to look for in those that you work with, perhaps even those you mentor?

13:45 Sure, there's a great book out by a Navy seal, Jocko Willink, and it's called Extreme Ownership. And it's it's a little bit on a sort of tough military side but I love the idea of whatever is happening, whether it's good or bad - but, you know, it mostly the applies when bad things are happening- is you take ownership for it, right? Like you may not have been the one to cause the problem, but you need to be the one to take responsibility and fix it. So I look for people that have that similar sort of way of looking at the world that, you know, I may not have caused climate change or may not have caused, you know, racial inequity by I'm here to be part of the solution. So I really look for people that are interested in doing that work, also I love curious people. So people that want to ask questions and want to go a little bit deeper in are just interested in all sorts of different kinds of things. I think that that's a really good combination in a leader.

JM: How have you managed because you're very busy. You you've done and have accomplished quite a lot. How do you manage your work life balance. What does that look like, as you've got 5 kids?

JW: So, 3 of them are bonus kids and 2 of them are my own. The oldest is 23 and the youngest is 16 and I will tell you there's nothing like step kids to hold a mirror up to, you know what you're doing to make you really sort of come face to face with where you might have some work to do. So, the thing that that I find the most beneficial as I'm trying to navigate this world to make big changes and an impact people is to get outside the Outdoor Book Club was kind of that, that was my sort of way of bringing that to more people. I also love being on the water. I love sleeping outdoors. I love hiking, I don't write my mountain bike as much as I use to. But we've got a tandem bicycle and I use that tandem a sort of an explanation of how I may not be able to do everything that I used to do in the exact same way. But I find ways to continue to be outdoors and do the things that I love. So yeah, being outside is how I make it day to day.

JM: And Hannah helps you out too, Hannah's here. You can’t see Hannah. But Hannah’s over there.

JW: Yeah. My German Shepherd Hannah, she loves being outside too so, She's up for anything which is great.

JM: That is awesome. So my favorite question, what makes you laugh because you have a buoyant personality. Very serious but committed. So what a makes you laugh at the heart of it all?

JW: It's weird. I was thinking I'm about this the other day and I think my husband and I are actually turning into my parents because I think my husband is hilarious. Our kids don't necessarily think he is…

JM: I get it. We laugh a lot.

JW: He makes me laugh every single day. And we have so much fun together. But, you know, my kids make me laugh too, my daughter, the 23-year-old is in Syracuse. And so getting to talk to her on the phone. She's always got something, some observation or some funny, she’s just got a very dry sense of humor that just cracks me up. So, yeah, my family.

JM: Absolutely. When you say you're turning into your parents. Not like the commercial, you know, going to the store and you're like picking out and different things?

JW: Yeah. Like have the, you know, the “Joy” sign and all that stuff. Yeah, not quite that bad. But as far as like my mother thought my father was hilarious and we thought he was kind of lame and yeah, that sounds absolutely turning into my parents.

JM: So, tell me in this world that we live in today. What do you, you know, we're always looking for some sort of word of encouragement. You provide that a lot clearly through the Resource Center in a lot of your work. But do you by chance have that may be a favorite saying, quote or something that you use yourself that encourages you or that you use to encourage others to do?

JW: I use this all the time, and it's been so helpful for me. And that's the quote that. “If the bus doesn't stop at your station, it's not your bus.” So this idea that there are opportunities that arise and we try, you know, maybe we apply for that scholarship or we apply for that job or we try a new sport. And if it just if that doesn't work out, it doesn't say anything about you. In fact, it's probably just means that you need to try something else. And so, not to take these kinds of things too personally and just continue to look for your bus because your bus is going to come up very, very soon. And you don't want to miss it.

JM: So we just keep waiting right. Jill Hinton, thank you so much for joining us today on Powerful Women Let’s Talk. I so appreciate this conversation.

JW: Thank you. It was absolutely my pleasure.

JM: And thank you for joining us for another edition of Powerful Women Let's talk. I'm Jennifer Moss do enjoy the day.


Narrator: Produced by women about women, these powerful podcast focus on powerful women and how their strength transforms who we are and how we live. Want to hear more “Powerful Women: Let's Talk?” Get additional interviews at WGVU dot org or wherever you get your podcast, please rate and subscribe. Powerful Women Let's Talk is produced by WGVU at the Myer Public Broadcast Center at Grand Valley State University, the views and opinions expressed in this program do not necessarily reflect those of WGVU, its underwriters, or Grand Valley State University.


Jennifer is an award winning broadcast news journalist with more than two decades of professional television news experience including the nation's fifth largest news market. She's worked as both news reporter and news anchor for television and radio in markets from Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo all the way to San Francisco, California.
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