The Dawn of a Career
For Jennifer Cox-Siegel, the distance from a degree in human development to a successful career in accounting turned out to be a leap of faith
By Kelly Saavedra
Looking out at a beautiful view of the sunrise from her office in Warner Hall was a perk Jennifer Cox-Siegel never expected when she applied to work at Carnegie Mellon University. But perhaps even more unexpected for the Pittsburgh native, whose degrees were in human development and family studies and secondary school counseling, was that she would make a successful career in the field of accounting.
Cox-Siegel was working as an administrator at ABM Janitorial Services in downtown Pittsburgh, when a colleague told her about an open position in Sponsored Project Accounting (SPA) at CMU.
“I read the job description and thought, ‘I can’t do this job.’ And my colleague said, ‘It’s a specialized field of accounting. No one expects you to know how to do this. You have to prove you’re capable of learning.’ Well, I knew CMU was a great employer in Pittsburgh, so I applied, interviewed and got the job. The rest is history,” she said.
Cox-Siegel was promoted to senior sponsored projects accountant and, after three years in SPA, she became postal services manager for the campus post office. In 2008, she moved on to become the Division of Student Affairs’ first financial manager.
"It seemed like the perfect fit, given my passion for people and my financial skills."
“It seemed like the perfect fit, given my passion for people and my financial skills,” she said.
Over time, the division began to grow — adding Housing, Dining, Conference & Event Services, the Cohon University Center, Pre-College, Athletics, Community Health and Well-Being, Community Standards and Integrity, marketing and an IT department. The financial work grew along with it.
“I began building a team, and then I became the director of finance in 2013,” she said. “Now, we are a team of eight. I couldn't do the job without them!”
Her primary responsibilities include working with the university leadership team to prepare the operating, capital, and all other budgets and forecasts for the organization, while making sure the budget is balanced. Planning, developing and implementing short- and long-term strategies for improving efficiency and service are also in her purview. In addition, she oversees the organization's financial staff and assists them in interpreting and implementing new policies and procedures.
With her eyes on the horizon, Cox-Siegel ensures Student Affairs is maintaining its overall financial health for the best possible future.
"We look for efficiencies in our processes to ensure we are best utilizing our resources. This is an ongoing process that allows us to continually work to meet the needs of our students and the departments within Student Affairs,” she said.
"There are so many opportunities to get involved and make a difference."
Cox-Siegel appreciates the feeling of community at CMU and the many opportunities staff have to get involved to make an impact. In 2011, she was able to travel to Honduras as an advisor to the student organization called Microfinance Brigades. They worked with the community there to give out micro-loans so people could fund projects in their area. She was also given the opportunity to travel to Doha to visit CMU’s campus there and to help the staff establish their own Staff Council committees.
She has volunteered for Finals Muffins, the Almost Midnight Breakfast and commencement, and has served in various roles on Staff Council. She helped start Cans across the Cut, a staple of the university’s annual food drive.
“There are so many opportunities to get involved and make a difference,” she said.
Cox-Siegel attended four colleges as she tried to figure out her own path, but says she never experienced a university like CMU that cares so much about its students.
“From renting a space in the Cohon University Center for an event, to the interactions that parents and students have during Orientation, to getting a job or making stressful times manageable, CMU wants the student experience to be top notch,” she said.
Cox-Siegel’s husband, Darren, is a software engineer for the Simon Initiative. She enjoys tossing a football around the yard with their 9- and 10-year-old sons and working in her garden. Traveling the world is a favorite pastime for the whole family; they were in England earlier this year, and they have upcoming trips planned for Italy and France.