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IT project management meets advocacy and leadership with Courtney Terry

Courtney Terry, assistant director of IT, New Jersey Medical School

From jumping out of a plane to jumping into IT project management, Courtney Terry has always been one to take a risk and step outside her comfort zone – both in her role at Rutgers and in her personal life. “I’m always looking for challenges,” says Terry, who is the assistant director of IT at the New Jersey Medical School in Newark. “Anytime I start to notice my job going in the direction of getting stale, I reinvent my position and try new things.”

Terry has been working in IT project management at Rutgers for over twenty years and is a graduate of Rutgers herself. She manages and supports academic systems and educational technology for the medical school as well as the School of Graduate Studies.

Beyond her role in IT, Terry has been a force in the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) space for many years. Her strength as a diversity and inclusion leader, as well as her contributions in this area at Rutgers and in communities throughout the state, have led her to recently receive a Chancellor’s Award in DEI. Outside of work, you might find Terry hiking, running, or even skydiving. She also sits on a number of committees at Rutgers, within the Association of American Medical Colleges, and other organizations.

What made you get started in IT?
My major at Rutgers–New Brunswick was Public Health Administration and I learned very early on that my strong suit was project management. Even though I work in IT and am considered a “tech person,” my job is about taking projects from start to finish, implementing them, and everything in between. I find it’s important to have both an analytical and technical mindset in this position.

What’s your favorite project you’ve been able to work on or lead in your role at Rutgers?
It’s a homegrown course management system that we created from scratch called the Education Management System (EMS). It is very customized for our school but was also later adapted by the School of Graduate Studies. This project was unique, complex, and involved a lot of components. While it wasn’t always fun, it helped me establish my footing here at Rutgers, and it was rewarding to watch something go from a thought to a system we’ve been using for years now.

How did the pandemic impact your job?
The pandemic was a life-changing experience and a critical moment here at Rutgers. It was intense as we had to quickly transition everything online, and we worked very long hours to do that. At one point during the pandemic, it was time for the Liaison Committee on Medical Education to come evaluate the medical school, which made it more critical that everything was transitioned smoothly to ensure we received our accreditation. It was a time where we were all really just doing our best to make a seamless transition from the actual classroom to an online learning environment, and I’m very proud of everything we accomplished.

What is a challenge you have faced in your career and how did you overcome that?
Earlier in my career I was trying to find my way in such a big institution. I remember I was in a meeting once and someone made a joke, a racist remark actually, and it was just very insensitive. And once that person made a joke, it allowed others to make jokes too. I was worried that if I said something I could get fired or face retaliation, but I couldn’t sit there long.

So, I voiced my opinion, and it actually was the best thing that I could have ever done. At that moment it gave me a voice. And it forced me to not just have a voice but to speak up for myself. It was an important learning experience and, even though it was an unfortunate situation like that, it taught me to choose integrity over a job.

How do you feel about receiving a Chancellor’s Award in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion? What does this award mean to you?
It’s an honor to receive an award in an area I’ve worked so hard in over the years. I feel like I’ve been pouring my soul into Rutgers ever since I started here, and I really always try to give my 100 percent. What I do in the DEI space here is a passion. It’s not a job to me – it’s something that started from that one interaction earlier in my career and it’s something that needs to happen.

This world needs to change and there’s no more just sitting on the sidelines – everybody can do something. As long as I have a voice, I’m going to be an advocate, and any opportunity that is given to me where I can help someone or help to do something that will benefit others, I’m going to do it.

What are some of your hobbies outside of work?
My main hobbies include hiking and running. I have completed several half marathons and one full marathon, and I recently participated in a local fundraising event, a 6-mile hike for the HBCU Scholarship Fund for graduating students in Newark who plan to attend a historically black college or university in the fall. I’ve also been skydiving and loved it!

You jumped out of a plane! How was that experience for you?
I was terrified when the plane door opened yet a calming peace came over me as I took the step to jump. It was scary yet exhilarating. I had set a personal goal to go skydiving and doing it helped me realize that I can do hard things in life.

Any advice you’d like to share with the Rutgers community?
Keep reinventing yourself, keep being open to challenges and new things, get out of your comfort zone, and pay it forward. Don’t just come in and do your job – you’re more than that! Whatever you can bring to the table, bring it, and don’t be afraid to bring it.

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