2019 Community Change makers


jan sprance
wric staff

Everyone’s life choices and experiences brings them to where they are, but until Jan thought about it – she didn’t realize how well they prepared her for the job she has today.  While documenting her story, Jan realized how much it resonates and explains why she always says: It never hurts to ask and it’s all about attitude and confidence. Her role as Technology Instructor and Career Counselor at Women’s Rights Information Center seems to be the perfect application of her skills and experience. 

Growing up, her family moved several times before settling in Bayside, NY sometime during the 4th grade.  Her new classmates had all been together since kindergarten. They didn’t need another new friend. The same situation presented itself that summer in camp; trying to fit into a group that didn’t need to know, or include, someone new.  Jan realized she was letting them define her and control the situation. 

The next summer, at a new camp, Jan had the opportunity to define herself on her terms.  Instead of attempting to avoid offending anyone, although scary, Jan walked straight up to kids and introduced herself.  Jan was friendly and funny and made lots of new friends.   It was while at camp that Jan developed a love of the theater.  She took her newfound confidence and focus in theater back to Bayside where she went on to star in school plays, and even co-wrote and directed student plays her junior and senior year.

Jan studied psychology and English Education at the University at Albany (SUNYA at the time) and subsequently met her husband, Ernie. She had hoped to teach after graduation.  Why teaching?  She loved learning, always liked kids and helping people; not to make herself indispensable, but to empower others to help them learn and improve.

Problem solving and helping others are part of her DNA; Jan’s mom was a social worker, her father, the owner of one of the first computer service companies in NYC.  Jan worked most college summers for her Dad, keypunching (remember that?). After college, in 1976, teaching jobs were scarce, so Jan went on an interview at IBM. 

Not knowing exactly what IBM did, when asked for what position she was applying, she responded, “I don’t know!  What do you have?” Unlike today, IBM was not hiring for acquired skills, but for potential skills; she was hired as a Systems Engineer to provide technical support for sales. Jan says it was a rather interesting interview (ask her about it sometime!)

So, Jan began installing computers, working with salespeople to help customers understand how to use those computers, and teaching customers how to work with data entry (keypunching) systems. This work evolved into computer training.  As new trainees came on board, Jan took them under her wing and helped them get up to speed.

Jan went from working on mainstream computers, to working in a specialized business unit automating directory assistance with NJ Bell (Remember them?).  As Jan gained more experience, her role evolved into a Project Leader.  In December, 1982, Jan gave birth to her son, Jonathan.

Enter the conundrum.  How to continue to work and spend time with a newborn.  Even before the baby came, Jan was inquiring about the possibility of working part-time for a while after the birth.  (Doesn’t hurt to ask!) Though she didn’t receive any written commitments, Jan was told ‘Sure. Sounds good’.  While on maternity leave, a new manager was assigned to Jan’s team.  Days before planning her return to work – part time – her new manager said there would be no part time.  Her response, “Yeah, I don’t think so!”  Not about to back down, Jan ran her request up the chain of command until finally, she was granted six months of part time employment.  By the time her daughter, Kate, was born in 1986, Jan had the flexibility and the vacation time to allow her a part-time schedule without need for a formal set-up; a vast improvement over the earlier situation. In December 2008, after 32 successful years at IBM, Jan retired.

Though she had no specific plans, Jan knew she wanted to use her business experience to help others (remember problem solving is in her DNA).  She found a position teaching kids how to write video games afterschool. Then she heard WRIC was looking for an assistant teacher for Microsoft Office.  Jan interviewed on a Tuesday afternoon and was hired on the spot, but fired Wednesday morning!  The decision had been made to hire from within.  Jan was very disappointed, and wrote an email to that effect in which she asked if she could volunteer to assist with the class (again – it never hurts to ask).   Four years of volunteer service later, Jan got her teaching job at WRIC.  And, this time, it stuck.  She is happily teaching, problem solving, job counseling, and helping clients improve their confidence and attitude. And WRIC clients are better for it!

When not at WRIC, Jan works to improve the political climate, engages avidly in reading, cooking, gardening, doing puzzles (puzzling?), and hanging with Ernie and her kids, granddogs, and her awesome 2 year old curly red-headed grandgirl – keeping life busy, full, and always problem-solving.