It takes a certain something to straighten the shoulders of those who’ve settled in for a 3-hour Infrastructure Sales Tax Workshop. At such a Collier Board of County Commissioners gathering in early November 2017, that something—or someone, rather—sparks just after recess. Bookended by a former senator and a prominent nonprofit CEO comes speaker No. 8, the first not wearing a window-paned suit or tie. Noticeably younger, too. And shorter.
She introduces herself: Jennifer Trammell. She ages herself: 20s. She advocates, on behalf of all young professionals, for due exploration of affordable housing funding beyond property-based taxes and fees. She wraps.
Cut to the board—jaws aren’t dropped, but that would just be impolite. On the contrary, it’s their unnaturally composed faces—a seemingly willful effort to conceal rapidly turning wheels—that give them away: They’re impressed.
To those who know Trammell, this isn’t a bit surprising. She’s been charmingly taking charge since the age of 10, when a good time growing up on an Ohio dairy farm meant turning her living room into a newsroom and her family into fellow newscasters. Cute, right? But know this: She honed that playtime into years of real-world success in reporting and anchor positions, several with ABC7 and NBC2.
Today, she’s making things happen in a number of places. She’s the director of marketing and communications for the news division of Naples-headquartered global news database NewsBank. She’s a volunteer force for multiple organizations; a very active member of the Public Policy Committee at the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce; vice marketing chair of the Chamber’s Leadership Collier Foundation. And, at 29, she’s the Chamber’s pick for 2017 Young Professional of the Year.
Jennifer Trammell, reporting live for Fox 8. Ten-year-old Trammell loved to command this scene at her family’s Columbia Station, Ohio, coffee table often: she behind the “news desk” emulating her Cleveland anchor idol, Stefani Schaefer, and her 3-years-younger brother, Michael, roped in as co-anchor—or relegated to meteorologist. They’d be sitting on the stone ledge of the fireplace hearth, she says, outfits color-coordinated and coffee mugs taped with homemade paper labels, “Fox 8 News in the Morning.”
“Do you know about DISC profiles?” grown-up Trammell asks between mannerly bites of a coffee shop muffin, her accent equal parts Midwesterner and polished reporter. “It’s basically a personality test. I’m a high ‘I’—”
Some official descriptors of the ‘I,’ or “Influential”-scored personality: Not afraid to be the center of attention. Thinks outside of the box. Loves group activities. Needs a forum to express ideas. Great motivator of others. And, bingo: instinctive communicator.
Trammell’s calling to media came in the fifth grade. She had wanted to be a second-grade teacher, like her mother—until her class was asked to give short newscasts for an assignment. Hers (on Conestoga wagons, she thinks) wound up “like 10 minutes,” with breaking news and a weather report. Even then she realized: She loved storytelling, loved becoming an expert in something and sharing it with others. Next would come morning announcements for her schools, time on the yearbook staff.
“I wanted to tell you what I learned so that you can benefit from it, too,” Trammell says.
She’s aware that this objective still shepherds her today. But before she was a marketer extraordinaire, mentor and resident spokesperson for our young professionals, Trammell was delivering intelligence in one way or another to the communities of Cleveland, Sioux Falls, Topeka, Chicago, Green Bay and then Southwest Florida.
She started visiting colleges early—her first year of high school—but it was Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism that won her heart. (She still bleeds Wildcat purple.) Two banners there bear her name, honoring the “College Emmy” the Northwestern News Network won for its 2008 election coverage under her direction—and personifying an “off-putting” ambition she hadn’t yet learned to channel into group success. A far cry from the Trammell of today, who’s a strangely good kind of name-dropper, always crediting others.
She’s never been short on confidence, even if just to fake it till she made it. Like the time her assignment editor in South Dakota pulled her off an H1N1 piece and said, “I really think you need to chase this Steven Tyler thing.”
The man we know as the leader of Aerosmith had fallen off an area stage the night before, and possibly broken his leg. Trammell assured her editor she was on the case—then promptly Googled, “Who is Steven Tyler?”
“So embarrassing,” she says. “But it was one of those things, like, you don’t know what you don’t know, and you’re so green, but you’re just going to figure it out.”
In Wisconsin, Trammell “figured it out” while following candidates for governor from stop to stop. Often there was no time to set up a tripod, so 5-foot Trammell who hems her own pants just hoisted the camera onto her shoulder. So what if the shots were mostly ceiling and up people’s noses?
After Wisconsin came the Sunshine State, for a reporter opening at NBC2. The then assistant news director who hired her, Greg Turchetta, recalls an “it quality” in front of the camera, and big trust from management behind the scenes. It’s not everyone who can cover a bunch of brushfires live, he says, without a wince.
“Definitely one of the top hires I’ve ever made,” Turchetta says. A “game changer.”
Trammell was built for the pace of daily news, for the deadlines. After her promotion to the more managerial role of weekend anchor, Turchetta describes her as a “drill sergeant with a smile” who had a way of moving people to greatness without them realizing.
“When she walked away as a reporter, I was stunned because she was so good at it,” he says. “I was like, ‘What a loss for journalism.’”
In her NewsBank position, Trammell still deploys her writing, shooting, editing skills to make sure people have access to information. This time, she’s connecting them to more than a billion articles curated from publishers and news providers by communicating with libraries, research institutions and NewsBank database end users. But what was it that made her stray from a path so clear to her for so long?
In part, a desire for something more. NewsBank grants her the added challenge of more business-side operations and, importantly, a less grueling schedule. Now there’s more time for contributing to the community, enjoying a rich social life, crafting, sewing, playing Scrabble, reading as many Harlan Coben mysteries as business tomes.
And then there was a story assignment. A 2-year-old had drowned in the family pool in Golden Gate City. It was Trammell’s job to get the family on camera. Cue the pit in her usually steel stomach. Did she really have a responsibility to bother this family? With each step up their driveway, she thought, “Please don’t open the door.” They didn’t.
“(It played a part) in just reevaluating, is that what I want to do with my day?” she says. “Is that the way I can best contribute to this world? And I didn’t think so.”
How many stomachs does a cow have? Just a casual question posed father-to-daughter on a morning phone call.
Every Tuesday is trivia night out in Columbia Station for Mom, Dad, Grandma and Grandpa. Last time Trammell joined them—the Frontier frequent flier makes it home to a fair number—they took first place. But when she’s not there, Dad writes down the questions and quizzes her from afar the next day.
“The answer is four,” Trammell says. “I rattled them off and he goes, ‘I’m really surprised you can do that!’ And I said, ‘Well I’ve picked up something along the way!’”
A lot more than something, it turns out. Growing up, Trammell wasn’t particularly interested in waking up at 4:30 a.m. as her farmer father did, or any of the duties that came with it. But you can’t take the dairy farm out of the girl. According to Trammell’s friend and The Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce’s Leadership Collier Foundation vice president, Amanda Beights, Trammell orders a side of ranch dressing anywhere she goes.
But more importantly, Trammell walked away from her hometown with the problem-solving skills needed in a farmer, the work ethic shown by her father. It was her mother who ingrained in her the appreciation for education, and the importance of thank-you notes. (Digital whiz Trammell sends them handwritten and snail-mailed.)
“She’s definitely a momma’s girl and a daddy’s girl, and she’s got them wrapped around her finger with all she’s done, all these good things,” says Valerie Templeton.
She would know—Templeton is Trammell’s first-grade substitute teacher, turned second-grade teacher, turned babysitting employer, turned close friend.
“This child—you’re talking about a go-getter,” says Templeton. “It’s hard to see that at such a young age.”
“Mrs.” Templeton could pair up Trammell with struggling students and know she wouldn’t just feed them answers, but help them understand. She could hold mature conversations with her, too. Such an old soul at age 6.
“I’m such a sarcastic person, and even as a second-grader, she had that,” Templeton says.
Another puzzle piece to Trammell placed by figures like Templeton, by her parents, by farm life, by a 69-person high school graduating class together since kindergarten: the foundation of community.
“I kind of have a theme going through my head I have jotted down here,” Trammell says at the coffee shop, consulting notes she brought to her own interview. “And it’s this idea of ‘Back to our roots.’”
Who are we as a community? she asks. How do we support each other? What issues are impacting us? How are we creating change?
Through these questions, she’s come to answer her own about how she can best contribute to the world. The Communicator found new ways to use her voice.
“I swear, every time she opens her mouth … everybody takes notice,” Beights says. Her summation of Trammell’s presentation to those commissioners? “Mic drop.”
Trammell’s ability to really reach people still boosts many a cause beyond the newsroom. In the ballroom, for example, where she voluntarily emcees fundraisers for nonprofits. In the workroom, of course (her full-time job, we almost forgot!), via email campaign, video, website, social media, trade show.
And, pervasively, in the common room that is the community at large. Just as she took in what her fellow young professionals are saying and articulated on their behalf, she also imbibes information anywhere she goes and feeds it back to those peers. Formally and not, they reap whatever she sows—via her Public Policy Committee involvement, her Leadership Collier commitment, her general community experiences. Always taking a ball and running with it, she’s grown from member of her introductory GAIN (Growing Associates in Naples) class of 2014 to unofficial leader of the young professional pack.
The hot-button issue for Trammell is finding a solution to what she calls “attainable” housing, to prevent a “pipeline problem” of young talent moving elsewhere. But she’s someone you can pluck off the bench and play anywhere.
“Jen is the kind of person when we are thinking about young professionals in Collier County doing anything, fill in the blank, she’s one of the first people we think of,” Beights says.
Trammell will tell you she likes to drive results through people—you get that multiplier effect—and she feels a responsibility to invest in others. Aside from the aforementioned, she’s taken on a training program at NewsBank, taken a special interest in helping their marketing and sales assistant grow her career.
Her reach includes area youth, too. She’s helped five local high-schoolers through their application process to get accepted to Northwestern. She’s on the Naples Junior Woman’s Club scholarship committee, which chooses high-schoolers to receive college funding. And she’s a longtime Literacy Buddy for the Early Learning Coalition of Southwest Florida, sending letters and books to children to encourage reading.
To Trammell, receiving the Young Professional of the Year honor felt like a sign of the type of life she’s trying to build, and the kind of person she’s trying to be. And it wouldn’t have been possible if she still were focused only on her career.
“I think that’s what’s next for me,” she says. “Less about how I can achieve and succeed, and continuing that expansion of how I can foster the success of others.”
And what do others see as next for her? Beights dreams of Trammell as an elected leader. And Turchetta? Just don’t let her leave.
“Do what you can to keep her here,” he says. “She is certainly somebody who is having an impact.”