The Coleman Foundation is pleased to announce the addition of Jennifer Oh to our team as Program Officer. Jennifer will be working in the program areas of health and intellectual/developmental disabilities. Recently, CEO Shelley Davis sat down with Jennifer and asked her a few questions about her journey to becoming our new Program Officer.
Shelley: Can you tell us a little bit about your background and how your career path has led you to your current position?
Professionally, I’ve worked as a mission-driven and social change agent in the non-profit field for over 11 years and built an extensive background in public health with roles involving community engagement, philanthropy and program management. Most of my work in public health is from my former role at the University of Chicago Medicine’s Center for Asian Health Equity (CAHE). CAHE is a unique academic and community partnership that investigates health disparities disproportionately affecting Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders (AANHPIs).
Just prior to joining Coleman, I was with Arabella Advisors, a social impact consulting firm where I provided thought leadership and a wide array of operations services for client projects driven by foundations and donors. Becoming a Program Officer felt like a natural next step for me in my career, given that I have worked in both health and philanthropy, and I’m so glad it’s with The Coleman Foundation. During my first month, I learned so much about the impactful work our grantee partners and peers are doing in greater Chicago, and I am honored to join this community of changemakers.
Shelley: What influenced you to raise your hand to join our team at the Coleman Foundation?
Jennifer: I was inspired by how the Foundation’s history, mission, and values reflected my personal and professional commitment to addressing health disparities and building communities through philanthropy and innovation. I was also drawn to the Foundation’s grantmaking areas through personal connections to them. I am a daughter of Korean American immigrants, and my father has been an entrepreneur and a small business owner for nearly 40 years. My mother courageously battled cancer and passed a few years ago. I was her primary caregiver, and it was an honor to be by her side every day and see her fight. When times are tough, I remind myself of her strength and resilience to push through obstacles.
Furthermore, I often think about the limited options my parents had, and how their zip code determined what resources and opportunities they had access to. This has informed my work in the social impact sector and fuels my efforts to empower communities as a capacity builder and advocate. I believe that when we invest in organizations that support our local communities, we make Chicago a better place to live and thrive. I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, and I have lived in the City of Chicago for over 10 years.
Shelley: As a new program officer, do you have advice from mentor(s) or any guiding principles that you will rely on as you acclimate to your new role?
A piece of advice from a mentor during my former days in public health which has stuck with me is to always do things the right way and thoughtfully, no matter how difficult the process may be. It seems simple, but it isn’t always easy when you have competing priorities, the engagement of multiple stakeholders or unforeseen circumstances. For instance, I remember re-writing or scrapping grant proposals many times because the collected data wasn’t compelling. This is why I feel very strongly about the disaggregation of data, especially as it relates to analyzing disparities in health and access to healthcare and services. When you separate information into smaller units, you can unveil underlying trends and patterns. I am also particularly interested in learning how social determinants of health contribute to these disparities. I look forward to supporting and collaborating with our grantee partners in identifying these determinants and eliminating them to reduce health inequities in our communities.
Another guiding principle for me is to build relationships through authenticity. I aim to build spaces which will allow grantees and peers to share opinions with us in an honest way, encouraging sincerity and empathy in our words and actions, and collaboratively making decisions that align with our values and beliefs.
Shelley: What do you in your spare time to relax and have fun?
I love everything related to food, especially dining out. I have a hard time answering the question “What’s your favorite restaurant?” because I have too many and love many different cuisines. I will try anything once. I also love being a tourist in my city and neighborhood. I have done the Chicago Architecture River Cruise several times, and every time I do it, I feel like it is my first time because our city is so beautiful. Additionally, I moved to Pilsen last year because I love the vibrant culture and small businesses. So far, my favorite restaurant is Taqueria Tayahua, and you will often find me getting coffee at Café Jumping Bean during the weekend. I also love traveling and the outdoors. My bucket list is to visit every national park in the U.S., and I have barely made a dent, so I hope to change that in the near future.