“The industry has changed like this generation has changed. I knew that this externship could give me the opportunity to see this company and what their expectations are and bring that back to my students,” says Jennifer Sims, current business technology teacher at Central High School for Memphis Shelby County Schools.
With a background in serving the community, Jennifer Sims worked for a non-profit for two decades before transitioning into education. Sims is originally from Hattiesburg, Mississippi, and received her undergraduate degree in business from the University of Southern Mississippi. She moved to Memphis in 1999 and completed a master’s in education from Union University in 2006. “I wanted to really help young teenagers and teach high school to be a role model and leader,” she says. Sims took on a few different teaching positions at the high school level before ending up in her current role.
When starting her teaching career, it didn’t take long for Sims to take on the prestigious role of becoming the lead advisor for the Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA), the largest student business organization. As an advisor with FBLA, Sims pushed her students to join competitions that coincided with what she taught in her business classes. Students competed at the regional, state, and national levels. “Many of my students have never been out of Memphis,” explains Sims. “They were always enthusiastic about competing nationally and flying on an airplane for the first time.”
Sims participated in an externship with Cigna, a global health and insurance company commonly used by teachers under the employment of Memphis Shelby County Schools. Sims describes Cigna as more than just an insurance company. “Cigna is so broad. It is more than just an insurance card,” says Sims. “I learned that they really do care about their client’s employees, and they do so many things in the community,” Sims explains that some things that Cigna does to further help the community is by hosting mini-conferences that educate others about what Cigna has to offer, holding health fairs, and more importantly, focusing on behavioral health among the community.
With Cigna, Sims did more than just shadowing and trying out some of the responsibilities of current employees—but she also got to see what the health field was like in real time. Sims got to analyze data, collaborate with clients, and talk to brokers. When looking at client data, Sims was allowed to figure out how to improve things and voice her suggestions. As someone who thinks primarily of her students, Sims explains that the most valuable knowledge she gained from the experience was learning about positions currently available for her high school students. “If they decide to go straight to the workforce, I can direct them to positions that are available, coach them on important communication skills, how to have team meetings, and how important soft skills are,” she says.
In addition to spreading the word about current opportunities in the health field, Sims sought a chance to have John Webb, president of Cigna, speak to her students. “All the way down to the last day, John took time out of his schedule to meet with me one-on-one and shared with me his role and what he does daily,” says Sims.