Then & Now: Holland finds optimism amid personal tragedy

by Paul Gatling ([email protected]) 789 views 

Editor’s Note: The following story appeared in the Aug. 15 issue of the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal. “Then & Now” is a profile of a past member of the Business Journal’s Forty Under 40 class.

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Jennifer Holland’s past year was filled with both professional advancement and unimaginable personal loss.

In June 2021, her high school sweetheart and husband of 17 years suddenly died of a heart attack. A Fayetteville bank executive, Dave Holland was 39.

As a widow, Holland said her focus has been on helping their daughter through the challenging experience.

“Jade was 9 and about to turn 10 when he passed away,” Holland said in a recent interview. “A lot of my focus has been on answering her questions and helping her have the support she needs. I lost my dad when I was 19, so I understand, but it’s very different when you’re 9 years old.”

Holland, a marketer at the University of Arkansas, said that any time someone goes through an unexpected death, the critical question is what to learn from it and how to use it positively going forward.

“I have wanted to model to my daughter that bad or unexpected things are always going to happen in life,” she said. “It’s how you react to those things that define who you are as a person that shows your character.”

Holland said a sturdy support system has been invaluable to her.

“I’m probably one of those people who is not very good at asking others for help,” she joked. “In the past year, I have learned to ask people for help. Because I know I can’t do it all by myself. I have become more comfortable with that.”

Holland credits friends and family with their support in the wake of such a tragedy. That includes her work family at the UA. Holland is getting ready to begin her 19th year working at the UA. A major college campus is a fun place to be when a new academic year approaches.

Well, maybe not all fun. But still hard to beat.

“For the energy level, it’s probably unmatched,” she said. “If you want to talk about parking, there might be a different sentiment. But, yes, it is exciting when the students start to come back. There’s an energy around campus, and the students are why we’re here.”

Holland said her job has no such gray area — it’s fun. Since 2004, she has worked in various capacities in university advancement and university relations.

As a member of the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal’s Forty Under 40 class in 2012, she was a rising star in the Sam M. Walton College of Business development office. She worked in several capacities to form bonds between Walton College alums and current students, in addition to her work raising money.

The following year, she went from being a fundraiser to writing about fundraising with a new role as director of development communications. She spent more than eight years in that job, helping coordinate messaging and branding for university development, specifically as it applied to Campaign Arkansas, the university’s capital campaign that concluded in 2020 and raised nearly $1.45 billion.

The university named Holland director of content marketing in September 2021. Her focus shifted from spotlighting donors and private gifts to marketing the entire university. She earned a promotion to senior director of marketing communications this summer.

“I love that there is so much creativity involved in the job,” she said. “You work on different projects throughout the year, which keeps it interesting.”

Holland’s job is to ensure people understand what the UA does, why it matters and how it impacts Arkansas.

“I grew up in small-town Arkansas, so I feel like I have the perspective of knowing what it’s like to live in a rural community,” she said. “Many people in Arkansas may not understand the university’s impact and how it helps the state. A big part of my job is finding those stories and relaying that information.”

Holland is involved with her daughter’s school, The New School, and she’s emphasized traveling and new experiences in the past year.

“Getting away and seeing new things makes me feel refreshed with better ideas when I return to work,” she said. “And I love taking [Jade] to see new things and have new experiences. She is a great traveler. We did that as a family with Dave, but we’ve continued after he’s been gone. It’s important.”