West Windsor, N.J. – Jigna Rao, Director of The Center for Continuing Studies (CCS) at Mercer County Community College (MCCC), was recently honored by the Princeton Mercer Regional Chamber of Commerce. The Women of Achievement Awards Breakfast was held June 20.
Rao was honored along with Jodi O’Donnell-Ames of Hope Loves Company, Susan Michel of Glen Eagle Advisors LLC, and Cynthia Ricker of Bryn Mawr Trust.
In her post at MCCC, Rao oversees noncredit programs that create educational and professional opportunities for the region’s workforce, as well as offerings for personal enrichment.
“Our goal is to cultivate a community of learning, while advancing economic development,” Rao said of the CCS mission.
During her acceptance speech at the breakfast, Rao shared some of her personal history, which brought her from India to the United States in 2000 as a young bride. “It was a touch choice. I left behind my parents and friends and a small business entrepreneurial career,” she recalled.
Following her first job in the U.S., Rao joined the staff of then New Jersey Governor John Corzine as the director of Drumthwacket. Most recently, she led the Youth Services Programs at Millhill Child and Family Development, including the Mayor’s Summer Youth Employment program.
A personal crisis changed Rao’s life. In 2007, following a diagnosis of Pelvic Tuberculosis (TB) and infertility, she learned that such conditions carried huge stigma, particularly for women. She realized that she could make a real impact by sharing her story publicly, since few survivors feel they can do so without fear of being socially isolated. Rao’s commitment to human rights also extends to domestic violence and minority healthcare. She serves on various nonprofit boards and committees including Womanspace and SKN Foundation.
Recognizing the need to supplement her background with formal credentials, Rao returned to college as an adult, first at MCCC, where she says she was “instilled with a love for learning,” and then at The College of New Jersey, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in Sociology.
"I wanted formal knowledge so I could be a greater force for change," she said.
“My entrepreneurial spirit continues to guide me in my professional and personal life,” Rao said. “It has taught me how to think outside the box even at a large institution. It has taught me to think creatively to build success in social enterprise programs where everyone benefits.”
Rao says she is strongly committed to lifelong learning. “Working at MCCC in the interest of the business community is an experience I cherish. I am living the American Dream,” she said.