Gina Siemieniec, Ph.D.
Executive Vice President
ECRA Group, Inc.
Although Gina was a bright honors student graduating from high school a year ahead of schedule, she had no interest in going to college. As she launched herself into adulthood, she encountered unexpected obstacles and soon discovered a plan alone isn’t enough.
- Wanting a career that matched her life-long passion for travel, she sought a job in the airlines. But this was the early ‘80’s and the airlines were hard to get into. She learned she didn’t stand a chance versus her competition.
- Pursuing another track, she worked hard and excelled - until the lack of a college degree got in her way.
- After embracing education late in life, she hit another wall when the Ph.D. program she had pinned her hopes on rejected her.
This all happened, but it isn’t Gina’s story. Fortunately, Gina sees setbacks and failures as learning opportunities and stepping stones along the way, rather than as dead ends. She tells us it’s about having the right mindset. You can get discouraged by the struggles and give up on your dreams, or you can embrace and learn from setbacks and keep working toward your goals.
- Leaving O’Hare Airport with her dream of working for an airline in tow, the rental car courtesy buses caught her eye. Not to be deterred in her pursuit of a travel career, she hopped on the Hertz shuttle. She was hired on the spot and started the next day, learning quickly and advancing to Union Steward. Ironically, her airline dream came true four years later when United Airlines acquired Hertz.
- She continued to advance at United Airlines, navigating her way into mid-level management. When a colleague admiringly noted she “had everything but the degree”, Gina realized she was ready for school. She enrolled in community college, balancing two children, a demanding job, frequent travel demands, and night classes filled with bright-eyed, young students. After earning her two year degree, she was asked to be the commencement speaker at her own graduation. She then went on to earn a BA in Psychology and MA in Industrial and Organizational Psychology.
- Recognizing how valuable a Ph.D. would be in the field she had chosen, she applied to a competitive program at Northern Illinois. Only 2 or 3 applicants get accepted each year, and Gina didn’t make the cut. Not taking no for an answer, she immediately set out to improve her odds for the next year. She sought advice from a professor who recommended Gina enroll in a class as a student-at-large. Gina enrolled in two classes, including one taught by an influential professor on the selection panel. This effort showcased her talent and tenacity. She was accepted the next year.
Today, Dr. Gina Siemieniec serves as Executive Vice President of Service Delivery at ECRA Group, an established leader in supporting school systems in the areas of assessment, research, executive search and planning. She has served as an adjunct faculty member in the Department of Psychology at Elgin Community College, and is published in The Journal of Business and Psychology. It’s a long way from the 17 year old girl who rejected college, and it’s undoubtedly a long way from where she’ll end up as she continues to follow her passions and carve her own path.
In our research interviews, countless women advised that success isn’t linear. Gina’s journey is a real life example of how careers can stop and start and change direction. In fact, the detours led her to where she is today. The key for Gina was to keep learning, figure out what she wanted, and find a way to get there without waiting for someone else to make it happen. It’s easy to get discouraged when we face tough barriers. Many of us grew up with ample counsel to form a plan. We were told to choose a major and a school, and then given data on jobs in the field. Much less time was spent on preparing us for the reality of life’s ups and downs and the problem-solving needed to navigate through the setbacks. Gina’s story is an inspirational reminder that overcoming challenges is part of the journey.