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Tulsa Sooner Stories: Jenna Akuma

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Tulsa Sooner Stories

Jenna Akuma, MHR

Jenna Akuma, MHR
Jenna Akuma, Chief Operating Officer, Justin Thompson Restaurants

What do you do now and how does it relate to your OU degree?

I am the Chief Operating Officer at Justin Thompson Restaurants, a local restaurant management company that owns Juniper, Prhyme, Tavolo, 624 Catering, and consults for other restaurants and bars. My Master's degree is in Human Relations with an emphasis on Organizational studies. I had business experience before obtaining my degree and my bachelor's is in Psychology. My Master's degree at OU-Tulsa let me combine the human dynamic to organizational planning. Instead of looking at a business in traditional ways I am able to use the skills I learned at OU to increase efficiency, productivity, and quality at the restaurants by exploring organizational systems that help our staff reach their full potential.

Share an experience you had at OU-Tulsa that has helped you with your career.

Not only do I have the credentials I needed to advance my career, I was also given skills that could be applied immediately in the workplace. The program was focused on real world application. My experience at OU allowed me to cultivate my confidence in operating a successful business. 

What were some of your favorite moments as a Tulsa Sooner?

Honestly, the best memory I have is of when I opened the package containing my cap and gown for graduation. I danced around the kitchen with my one year old singing "it's really happening" over and over. She laughed and danced. I felt an immense amount of joy and pride that I had challenged myself with the program and had achieved my goal of positioning myself for further career advancement. There are other memories too, mostly about the sense of community at the OU-Tulsa campus. There are many, the encouraging and challenging class discussions that led me to truly find my voice, but that moment, dancing and singing with my baby while my husband looked on as my number one fan, will forever be imprinted in my memory as one of the best five minutes of my life.

Tell us about some of your favorite classes at OU-Tulsa.

My favorite classes were Diversity and Justice, Work-life Integration and Postive Psychology in HR. The first two were immediately applicable to my career and I really enjoyed class discussions and the structure of the learning process.  I took Positive Psych as an elective solely because of my previous education in psychology. I thought it would be fun. It was. Dr. Worley and Dr. Hellman were amazing professors with whom I still keep in contact. Dr. Lloyd-Jones was always in my corner rooting for me. The HR faculty in Tulsa really care about their students.

What are some of the best things about your job?

I get to solve problems on a regular basis. Some are small and some are large systematic problems that need a change in procedure; all are opportunities for me to train others and build company culture. I get to make a positive impact on the staffs' work environment. I get to make a difference.

What would you tell someone thinking about going to OU-Tulsa? 

It's hard to balance work, family, and school. It was much harder than I imagined when standing in the kitchen asking my husband if I had just made a huge mistake by enrolling (yes, most big moments in my life can be traced back to the kitchen). I decided to further my education after just barely losing out on a job opportunity that at the time I thought was my dream job. It was neck and neck. I was told there was debate about which of the two of us to hire. The person who got it is a good friend of mine and I truly believe we both ended up in the places and positions best fit for us. But just barely losing out on such an opportunity allowed me to look in the mirror and tell myself that would never happen again. If it was between me and one other person again I wanted to at least know I had done absolutely everything I could to get the job. That's what made me enroll, for the credentials. I had no idea I would learn so much. I had no idea I would grow so much. This program and this community gave me so much more than I ever dreamed.