Yezenia Ramos, WG’09, always thought about volunteering as a first responder, but a tragic hiking accident motivated her to make that a reality.
“During a hike, a member of my hiking club collapsed from an underlying medical condition that we didn’t know about. We called for help and I tried to give her CPR, but she later died at the hospital. I wanted to have the skillset to save a life if faced with the same scenario again,” recalled Yezenia. Putting thoughts into action, she applied to become a member of her local rescue squad and started riding with an EMS team a few weeks later.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, she has been a frontline responder. “At the beginning, it was scary because the virus was new, and we weren’t sure what to expect or how much personal protective equipment was needed. Now, we have more gear, including Tyvek suits, available for every call. I’m more comfortable now being on the front line, and I know we are helping people,” said Yezenia, who is pursuing her license as an EMT.
That focus on “helping people” is also what drives her as senior manager of employee engagement and global community impact at J&J. In addition to mentoring high school students, she helped develop a new employee engagement strategy, with an emphasis on skills-based pro bono volunteer opportunities locally, globally, and remotely.
“Using your skills and talents to help nonprofits grow and build organizational capacity is an impactful way for our employees to give back,” she said. “My group builds out programs that allow employees to engage in these types of volunteer efforts.”
Going Back to School
Before Yezenia worked in corporate philanthropy and social responsibility, she spent much of her career as an auditor. After college, she joined CNH as an internal auditor, which took her around the world.
“My parents are from Puerto Rico, and my sisters and I are the first in our family to be born in the mainland U.S. and the first generation to go to college. I was excited for that job not only because I liked the dynamic and analytical nature of audits, but also because I got my first passport, which symbolized many ‘firsts’ and the doors that would open for me in the future,” she said. “Travelling opened my eyes to so many new personal and professional experiences.”
A few years later, she joined J&J’s internal audit department and began thinking about getting an MBA.
She explained, “My parents always stressed the value of education, and my sisters had gone to graduate school. I wanted to further my education as well, and gain new perspectives and a more holistic view of business.”
Yezenia set her sights on Wharton’s EMBA program for several reasons. “I wanted to go to the best finance school possible. I also wanted to take classes with other experienced professionals because that would elevate the classroom conversations and provide an opportunity to extend my network. Finally, J&J’s educational assistance program would provide sponsorship at Wharton.”
Exploring New Career Opportunities
After Wharton, Yezenia explored different finance roles within J&J. “Wharton instilled in me the confidence that I could take on a completely new role and advocate for myself to be successful,” she said.
While she enjoyed finance, she also discovered a new passion: philanthropy. “I was always involved in mentoring programs and I wanted to do more social impact work. I explored opportunities and realized that I could accomplish my goals in the philanthropic group at J&J.”
She recalled, “My resume was finance-focused, but I knew I had a lot more to bring to the table than a technical skill set. I called one of my mentors at J&J who advocated for me to interview with that group. He helped me get a foot in the door for the interview, and Wharton gave me the confidence that I could be successful.”
Yezenia noted that mentoring and “opening doors and boosting confidence” are key responsibilities for leaders, which she emphasizes in her current role.
“I want to be the person who helps open doors and create opportunities for others. In this role, I’ve been innovative in elevating Johnson & Johnson’s employee giving strategy while at the same time empowering myself with the skill sets to change — and maybe even save — the lives of others,” she said.
View an interview with Yezenia about her front-line work here.
— By Meghan Laska
Posted: October 8, 2020