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From bank teller to VP: MBA leads alumna to executive ranks

by Jennifer Johnson,

Jasmine Ames

When Jasmine Ames MBA ’18 started at US Bank as a teller during college, she had no intention of staying there. 

She was going to be a brain surgeon — that’s why she had volunteered at a hospital for two years during high school and pursued neurology at the University of Washington in Seattle. But after realizing the career wasn’t for her, she completed a B.A. in medical anthropology and global health instead in 2014. 

Her undergraduate career was a success. She had the degree, great grades, lots of campus involvement and completed two competitive anthropology programs in Rome and New Zealand. So why couldn’t she find a good job? 

After some soul-searching and a chance meeting with a Willamette recruiter, she pursued an MBA and changed the trajectory of her career: Ames is now vice president of deposits and payments solutions at US Bank in Portland, overseeing the affordable housing market in Oregon, California, Arizona and Nevada. She’s also pursuing a PhD in law and public policy at Northeastern University in Boston. 

“I took a leap of faith and enrolled at Willamette, and it led to confidence and a diverse knowledge of strategy, finance and marketing that I use on a daily basis,” she said.

Rethinking her career

After she graduated college, Ames moved home in Vancouver, Washington to care for her ill mother and reevaluate her future. 

She didn’t want to be a doctor, but she loved research and theory and knew she could capitalize on her finance experience. Hospital management and the requisite master’s of science degree appealed to her, but just as she registered for the GRE, a Willamette recruiter convinced her she could secure that job with an MBA. 

It was a frenetic time. Ames had just begun earning her licensure to become a personal banker, so she had to juggle the demands of the degree, practice exams and her job. The pace wasn’t new to her — always a hard worker, she learned to excel when overcommitted. 

“I’ve always had to do so much more to even be in the room,” she said. “As a Black woman raised by a single mom, I was at the point of being disadvantaged, but I just took the high road. I was always fully committed, doing whatever I needed to complete the job, and I’m so thankful for that now.” 

Her MBA experience was remarkable. Shet had a diverse, supportive cohort and met faculty such as Professor of Public Management Tim Johnson, who inspired her PhD, and former Director of Career Management Beth Ursin, who “sliced and diced” her resume and upped her approach to self-branding, she said.  

Meanwhile, Ames advocated for increased responsibilities at work. She’d moved to the Portland branch after she left college, got promoted to universal banker then personal banker after her licensure. It was a matter of making the most of what she had, she said — building on the strong rapport she had with financial advisers, understanding how and where to apply her personal strengths — and she started considering other jobs when an assistant relationship manager role opened at US Bank. 

It meant working with healthcare, nonprofits and community development for affordable housing and tax credits, all subject areas she loved. She applied for it, and the day after she landed in Japan to finish up some work for her MBA, she got the job. 

Building confidence in her career

Although the advancement excited her, she wasn’t fully confident in her abilities and had to consciously work beyond those feelings. 

But the MBA program also restored her sense of self, due in no small part to Associate Professor of Human Resources and Organizational Behavior Ashley Nixon, she said. 

“My MBA really helped me build the confidence I needed,” she said. “I hate public speaking — I am 100% an introvert, even though people don’t believe it — but Ashley taught me how to get over that and own my space.” 

Last month, Ames became vice president. Variety is the only constant: she might talk to a nonprofit one day, a major corporation the next, or consult with loan officers on credit exposure and discuss transaction processes with businesses, she said.  

She’s also heavily involved with US Bank initiatives, from leading its health and wellness board to being a liaison for diversity, equity and inclusion. Support for her at the company is strong, too — she’s now working to complete a management accelerator program through global consultant firm McKinsey & Company at the suggestion of her CEO, who had welcomed her pursuit of a PhD. In 2023, she’ll finish the program with the intention of influencing fiscal banking at the federal level.

The most valuable lesson she’s learned is how to navigate and cope within a current job so it leads to bigger roles. 

“You don’t have to switch jobs all the time,” she said. “You can learn how to reshape your thinking and capitalize on the resources and opportunities right in front of you.” 

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