DTCC’s Jason Harrell Joins PENCIL Board of Directors
Jason Harrell, DTCC’s Head of External Engagements, Operational and Technology Risk, was appointed to the board of directors earlier this year for the non-profit organization, PENCIL. We speak to Jason about his appointment and the story behind why he took on this role.
Jason remembers visiting downtown Chicago as a child, peering into the office buildings, and wondering what went on inside. Though he was from Aurora, Illinois, about 45 miles away, for an African American kid with seven siblings whose family sometimes struggled, those towers seemed inaccessible. “I always thought it was someplace that you weren’t allowed,” Jason recalled. “I was a good student, but I didn’t really have the exposure that some other kids had.”
Memories like this, is one of the motivators for Jason supporting kids with similar upbringings, to get the opportunities to receive exposure and achieve their full potential. That’s why he joined the board of directors of PENCIL.
PENCIL is a nonprofit that brings business leaders and educators together, to develop strategies to help students from New York City improve their college and career readiness. It brings students in contact with professional, fostering relationships and provides practical skills they can carry forward. DTCC has a longstanding relationship with PENCIL – Chief Financial Officer Susan Cosgrove is a board alumnus – including participating in its “Principal for a Day” program, providing internships, and partnering with local schools.
Jason knows from personal experience that role models can be inspirational for a smart young kid.
He remembers a Sunday School teacher at his church who worked as a loan officer in financial services. “He always had this presence,” Jason said. “He was well put together, he was very articulate, people in the community looked up to him.”
For Jason, he helped plant a seed, “If he could do it, then maybe I could also accomplish and achieve something where I have a certain level and a certain stature,” he recalls thinking.
Even watching the Black parents in professional roles of a doctor and lawyer in “The Cosby Show” as a kid in the 1980s helped galvanize Jason’s dreams. “It allowed you to see that there’s maybe something possible for you, outside of what you were seeing around you,” he said. “People may not understand the effect that has on the psyche.”
Those foundational images helped steer Jason to Rensselaer Polytechnical Institute. Today, he works to help shape policy and provide advocacy in key risk areas where DTCC wants to have influence, including cybersecurity, resilience, new and emerging technologies, and financial digitalization – a long way from gazing up at office buildings where he didn’t think he belonged.
Now that he’s well established in his career, Jason has increased his effort to get involved in diversity and inclusion. He’s participated in job fairs aimed at recruiting black and brown talent and is active in DTCC’s program to recruit from Historically Black Colleges and Universities, or HBCUs.
But it was participating in PENCIL’s “Principal for a Day,” where he went to a high school and directly engaged with the students, where he most felt that his presence and position made a difference.
“The level of engagement was so high,” he recalled. “They were so curious, asking questions like, ‘How did you get there, how did you do it? Can I do it?’”
“They saw somebody who looks like them, who had a similar upbringing to them, I think it really opened up the engagement,” Jason added. “I’ve done a lot of D&I work here at DTCC, but I think that was the high point of my engagement.”
Joining the PENCIL board seemed like the natural next step.
“The thing I like about the PENCIL board is that they’re always looking for new ideas for engagement with the students,” he said. That characteristic was especially important after the pandemic hit, as remote programming ran into issues like students who were unwilling to turn on their cameras, along with many who didn’t have the needed internet connections to make online programming work.
“From a board perspective, it opened their eyes to some of the additional areas where we may need to look to provide assistance and provide that engagement between businesses and the community,” Jason said.
He acknowledged that there are many different organizations attempting to provide some type of leadership or mentorship or otherwise engage diverse students. “I guess the reason that I was excited to join PENCIL, following Susan’s outstanding tenure, was because of the stature of the board and the level of influence that the board has in the community,” noting that the organization has connections with the New York City mayor’s office and others in top leadership.
He hopes his new role will have the sort of influence his Sunday School teacher had for him.
“I used to be one of those students,” he said. “I understand the importance of getting that engagement early, getting that engagement often, so that you don’t feel like you’re so behind when you start to compete in a college environment.”
Taking part in Corporate Social Responsibility is a big part of who we are at DTCC. You can find out more by exploring the ‘DTCC Cares’ section of the website and following us on Instagram the_dtcc.