Sept. 26, 2013

Challenge yourself, Change.org leader advises students

Jennifer Dulski
Robert Barker/University Photography
Change.org COO Jennifer Dulski '93, MBA '99, talks with students about career opportunities.

The video that Jennifer Dulski ’93, MBA ’99, showed last week at Cornell about her company Change.org features Julie Bluhm, a 14-year-old reader of Seventeen magazine. With the help of a petition on Change.org, Bluhm convinced the editors of the magazine to stop photoshopping models.

“It started as just a petition,” Bluhm says in the video. “But now I think we’ve grown into a whole movement.”

Growing businesses or movements through her leadership has been Dulski's mode of operation since her days at Cornell, when as coxswain she helped the women’s crew teams to national titles and later on became the first woman to sell a business to Google.

The president and COO of Change.org returned to campus just before Homecoming Weekend to share her story with students through talks sponsored by the College of Arts and Sciences’ career services office and Entrepreneurship@Cornell, as well as class visits and dinners and conversations with students.

“I always thought I wanted to be a teacher, but I had that entrepreneurial itch from the beginning, too,” said Dulski, who added that her experience as a psychology major has proven valuable over and over again. “It’s a great skill to know how people will react in different situations so you can understand them and work with them.”

Dulski was one of the first 500 employees at Yahoo, rising in the ranks during her nine-year tenure to a leadership role as group vice president and general manager of one of the company’s six business units. In 2007, she left Yahoo to become co-founder and CEO of The Dealmap, a mobile, location-based deals site that Google acquired in 2011. She stayed at Google for nearly two years as a senior executive before coming to Change.org.

During her Cornell talks, Dulski shared 10 pieces of advice that students could use now, as well as 10 that could be helpful during their careers. Some overall themes were the importance of building relationships, taking on challenging tasks and staying the course, even during tough times.

“Surround yourself with people who are different, people who will push you,” Dulski said. As a new manager, she spent a good chunk of time at Change.org talking with employees one by one to find out about their lives, their careers and what motivated them.

“There is this expectation that women have more ‘take care’ qualities, while men have the ‘take charge’ qualities,” she said. “But I’ve found that the way you are able to more effectively take charge is to first take care.”

“She was able to stay true to herself and her priorities,” said Niajee Washington ’14, who attended the lecture. “I’m impressed that she could always reflect on those no matter what her position.”

Dulski said a key to her growth as a leader has been putting herself in uncomfortable and challenging situations. Rather than spending her semester abroad studying art history in Italy as planned, at the last minute she decided to go to South America to study Amazon rainforest ecology. Living in a small hut in sometimes dangerous situations helped her gain confidence in other new situations throughout her life.

“She gave me a new perspective – that the problems that seem so large to us right now aren’t really that difficult,” said Gizem Sakalli ’14, after the lecture; Sakalli has started her own company, Red Pencere, which offers services to international high school students interested in applying to U.S. colleges. “It’s so great that so many successful alumni come back to interact with students,” she said.

Dulski was the Munschauer Career Series speaker. The series was endowed by former Cornell University Career Center director John Munschauer to bring graduates of the College of Arts and Sciences to campus to benefit current students’ career education.

Kathy Hovis is a writer for the College of Arts and Sciences.