Shared experiences, similar insecurities: Tobias Fellows learn from leaders in other fields

It was a moment of vulnerability from a Tobias Fellow peer that stands out most to Jennifer Kerr as she reflects on her time as a Tobias Fellow in 2017.

“Early in the program, a Tobias Fellow shared his personal story about experiencing a failure in high school and how significant that was for him,” said Kerr, who is the president of Cook Research Incorporated in West Lafayette, Indiana. “It was his honesty, his vulnerability and his emotion that made me realize I was in a room with people who had the same insecurities. We were asking the same questions, and it didn’t matter what our backgrounds, gender or titles were. We started letting our guards down, and in that moment the Tobias Fellows experience started to take on a totally different dimension.”

Sharing knowledge with peers in other industries and learning from their experiences is a core component of the Tobias Fellows Program. Each year, 15 to 20 high-talent, experienced leaders from across the nation are admitted to the exclusive cohort, hosted by the Indiana University Tobias Leadership Center. They meet 10 times a year for unique and experiential leadership training and for assessment and coaching to enhance leadership skills and to explore different leadership styles.

“What I took away from the experience can only come from this particular kind of opportunity: The opportunity to allow yourself to be vulnerable with other people who are in a leadership position but not in your own organization,” said Kerr.

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Kerr has been involved in clinical research and regulatory affairs for more than 20 years. She started as a clinical research monitor in 1995, and her responsibilities increased over the years, culminating in her current role as president. Kerr represents Cook in national and international organizations and committees related to device development, clinical research and regulatory approvals.

She applied for the Tobias Fellows Program after encouragement from her boss, Pete Yonkman, president of Cook Group and Cook Medical, who was a 2006 participant in the inaugural class.

We were given opportunities to see organizations in our state that had or have an impact on people outside of Indiana -- or outside the country. It makes you realize that we share more commonalities than differences.

Jennifer Kerr, Cook Research Incorporated President, Tobias Fellow Program alumna