Jera Oliver (ΦΒΚ, Kent State University) is the Director of Development at The Ohio State University Office of Diversity and Inclusion (ODI) and co-founder of the Growing and Growth Collective, a volunteer initiative that promotes BIPOC engagement in urban agriculture. As a graduate of Kent State University and Washington University in St. Louis School of Law, Jera pursued a career in fundraising in order to leverage philanthropy as a means for civic engagement and social change.
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
During elementary school, I wanted to be an astronaut because I was (and still am) intrigued by the beauty of the stars and the existence of galaxies beyond our own. Later, I became interested in architecture. I was able to study it and industrial design during high school at Fort Hayes in Columbus, OH.
What was the most transformative course from your undergraduate education?
My most transformative course was Economics of Poverty with Dr. Kathryn Wilson, because it peeled back the layers of systemic challenges that I saw playing out around me but did not have the vocabulary to describe prior to the course. My passion for promoting meaningful access to educational opportunities budded there.
What role has your liberal arts education played in the development of your career? Why do you think Phi Beta Kappa and a well-rounded arts and sciences education are important in today’s society?
Liberal arts taught me the value of interdisciplinarity. Studying public policy issues through multiple social science lenses and extending this reflection into creative inquiry established comfort with nuance, problem solving amid complexity, and out-of-the-box thinking. I also got a lot of practice with scholarly and persuasive writing.
Phi Beta Kappa is committed to embracing a framework of inclusive excellence that emphasizes broad access to the arts and sciences. How do you define inclusive excellence on the Ohio State University campus?
At Ohio State, inclusive excellence is both a goal and a practice. We are encouraged and expected to maintain diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging, and justice at the forefront of our day-to-day work and collaborations. It is everyone’s responsibility to contemplate and press for access, positive change, and safety across the network of campuses and constituencies, especially being attentive to the needs of those who may fall through institutional cracks due to systemic bias, historical underrepresentation, and challenging life experiences. This is a continual effort, but it is the foundation for true success in teaching, research, outreach, and the provision of student support services.
What does the day-to-day of work being a development professional entail? What do you enjoy most about your career?
Every day I strive to bring alumni, friends, and representatives of corporations/foundationions into the ODI community. I nurture these new or existing relationships and communicate the urgent need for philanthropic investments of time, talent, and treasure into the mission of Ohio State. I enjoy opening people’s eyes to options for giving that may not have been known to them. It is exciting to help someone see themselves as transformational philanthropists either now or in the future.
What was the best advice you were ever given and who gave it to you?
My mother did not allow “half stepping” in her household, or in other words, she required my best effort in all spaces (work, school, etc.). My standard for personal excellence was established early, thanks to my mom.
Phi Beta Kappa’s motto is “the love of learning is the guide of life,” and we are dedicated to life-long learning. What do you want to learn next?
I want to refresh my math skills. I made it to Mathematical Optimization at Kent State and took Mathematics for Economists at Duke, but I want to see how far I can go. I also want to become conversationally fluent in a second language, likely Spanish. For work, I will continue to study charitable gift planning.
What book(s) are you reading right now? Are you listening to any podcasts or watching any shows? Anything you'd recommend?
Oh my, yes. I have a habit of reading multiple books at once. Currently in my hard copy rotation are The State Must Provide: Why America's Colleges Have Always Been Unequal―and How to Set Them Right
and Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents
. I will start Song of Solomon
soon to add in a fiction book. I am listening to Braiding Sweetgrass
as an audiobook and I follow several podcasts, especially Girl Trek’s Black History Bootcamp
, Setting the Table
by Whetstone Radio, and Small Doses with Amanda Seales