NRECA Women in STEM: Susan Donovan

Susan Donovan, VP, Application Development & PMO, IT, NRECA

Job Role: VP, Application Development & PMO

Department: IT

Explain a little bit about your career at NRECA. What is the core function of your current role and how does it support the mission of the organization?

I am currently in charge of all of the IT applications that support NRECA’s Insurance and Financial Services division. This includes NRECA’s group insurance administration system; our new homegrown platform to administer NRECA’s Retirement Security program; our transactional benefits website, accessible to participants and Benefit Administrators; our 401k administration system; as well as NRECA’s Data Warehouse and other supplemental systems. I also oversee the Program Management and System Development life cycle activities involved with delivering business solutions.

My role supports NRECA’s priorities: to deliver strong benefit plan offerings to NRECA members; solidify the financial management of NRECA and invest in long-term financial strength; and to identify specific membership challenges and reach members with solutions.

How did you get here? Has your background always been in STEM fields, or was it something you discovered later in your education or career?

I completely fell into my role. I started at NRECA in the summer of 1990 as a rising junior in college. I was an English major with a business minor at Providence College.  I applied for, and was accepted into, a program with the International Foundation of Employee Benefits, which placed me at NRECA. It was a 2-summer commitment along with 8 full-day employee benefit training sessions through the foundation, spaced out over 18 months. When I graduated college, there was a bit of a recession and it was tough to find a job. I received an offer from NRECA along with an offer in Hartford, CT (that paid much less).

I started with NRECA in the summer of 1992 in a newly created position related to Quality Assurance. Basically, my job was to verify the work of various processors in order to assure quality. Back then, NRECA didn’t have a Member Contact Center to manage member questions and requests − all of the processing was manual. My job was to check their work. Fun times!

In the fall of 1993, I started a part-time MBA program at The George Washington University. NRECA’s tuition assistance program paid for my degree 100 percent, which I am incredibly grateful for since I draw on my Organizational Behavior and Development concentration almost every day!

In 1996, I became the Manager of what was called the Enrollment Billing Unit.  This group was comprised of 15 employees who spent their days processing paper benefit forms. They each had “state assignments,” and their goal was to produce an accurate benefit bill each month for each co-op.  We also had several annual processes such as 11/15 salary collection, annual bills, etc., that we were responsible for each year.

After two years in the Enrollment Billing role, I knew I needed a new challenge.  Cyclical/routine work is not for me – and at the time, I swore I would never manage again! Ha!

At the same time, IT was going through its own metamorphosis – both at NRECA AND in the outside world.  A new CIO was brought in, and she pretty much “cleaned house.” A new org chart was created and an outside recruiter was brought in to source all the new positions. Meanwhile, the internet was new, and I was watching all of these “.coms” surface in the area. I kept thinking, “how do I get in on this?”

So, one day, I brought my newly updated resume to the IT Recruiter and asked her to take a look. What did I need to do to get in on this “IT Thing?”  Take classes? Learn to code?

Little did I know, NRECA was about to create their own internet site, a benefits site that would basically take all the paper forms (that my team processed) and automate them on the internet! The timing was fortuitous.  They offered me a job as a business analyst. The deal was that I would teach them the business and they would teach me the technology.

The rest is history.  We launched the first transaction (Enrollment) on what is now NEB, in May of 1999. And before I knew it, I became the business analyst, tester and project manager – all in 1 – for the rest of the transactions.

From there, I became the Manager of the NEB team, then the Data Warehouse team. Somewhere in there, I got a certificate in project management and became certified as a Project Management Professional. In 2005, we started the Program Management Office, and I managed that, too. Everything else just evolved from there.

What is your favorite thing about your job and NRECA?

This Fall marks 20 years in IT! It’s been great, and there is so much that I love about BOTH my job and about NRECA. Number one is definitely the people.  Not only am I surrounded by good people, who are honest and ethical, but they are SMART. I am constantly amazed by how advanced our IT staff is – it seems like every time we bring in a vendor, we wind up helping them!

I also love:

  • The diversity of my work. I am constantly learning and growing.  The IT field is ever-changing. I haven’t gotten bored yet!
  • The opportunities that have presented themselves to me over the years. The constant growth and advancement have been amazing.
  • The family-focused culture. I just “empty-nested” four months ago (which is weird). But through all these years, I was able to be a room-mom, attend orchestra performances and endless baseball games, and even travel with and serve as “team mom” for my son’s AAU basketball team.
  • And, of course – the employee benefits!

And, ultimately, I LOVE that this job and this organization works to better the lives of our members.

What inspires you?

Helping people… to solve a problem, get a task done, sponsor an idea…. Whatever.  

What does it mean to you to be working in your current field?

I’m proud to say that I work in IT.  While I still may not be able to code, I have found that “the techies” need me as much as I need them.  If I can PM something for them, or work a contract, or manage a budget, or procure resources…They don’t have to. It’s a win-win situation.

If you had a piece of advice for someone who wanted to explore a role in Tech or another STEM field, what would it be?

I always tell people to just do what they love and the rest will sort itself out.  For me – being an English major worked because I love to read.  (Taking math or science probably would have caused me to flunk out of college.)  But if you like math and science – go for it.  There will always be a demand in IT for talented people.

Read more NRECA Women in STEM profiles