Science & Technology

Aggie Women Lead: Jennifer Bettencourt, CFO for USU's Space Dynamics Laboratory

Jennifer Bettencourt. (Photo Credit: SDL/Allison Bills)

Editor’s Note: As part of a series, Utah State Today is publishing profiles of a variety of leaders. This interview with Jennifer Bettencourt, chief financial officer for USU's Space Dynamics Laboratory, is in observation of March as Women’s History Month.

Jennifer Bettencourt was named the chief financial officer for Utah State University's Space Dynamics Laboratory on March 1, 2024. As CFO, Bettencourt oversees all aspects of financial management and strategy for SDL. Additionally, Bettencourt serves as the director of SDL’s recently merged Business and Finance Division, overseeing multiple business units that support SDL’s operations. 

A seasoned leader and executive, Bettencourt is SDL’s first female officer. Prior to her role as CFO, Bettencourt served as director of program services at SDL, where she was responsible for pricing, subcontracts, contracts, project scheduling, supply chain management and communications. A 24-year veteran of SDL, her tenure at SDL began in 2000 as a cost analyst. Bettencourt earned a bachelor of science in human resource management from USU in 1992 and a master of business administration from USU in 2004.

The following is the transcript of an interview that Bettencourt conducted with Utah State Today.

Utah State Today: Tell me, at what age did you know you wanted to enter your current field and leadership role? What sparked your initial interest in your field?

Jennifer Bettencourt: Like many young people, it wasn’t until I began college at Utah State that I gave real thought to what my career could be. I was just named Chief Financial Officer at Space Dynamics Laboratory (SDL), but had considered biology, sports physiology, criminology, and archaeology as possible courses of study. I love puzzles and problem solving, enjoy identifying tasks and following them through to completion, and crave variety. I decided that pursuing a business degree gave me the foundational skills to apply my strengths and curiosity in a business-related field. Early career exploration set me on the path towards professional advancement that eventually elevated me to my current position.

UST: Were there specific individuals or events that inspired and influenced your career choices?

JB: Yes, I would divide this into three main areas of influence: advice, insight, and the art of suggestion. I did not ultimately pursue some of my original career interests because of advice that influenced what was realistically viable for me in terms of career paths. People in positions of respect gave me valuable insights that helped me synthesize career prospects, and how my goals and interests aligned with those expectations.

In terms of the art of suggestion, the simple act of leaders identifying and vocalizing my strengths, and then providing positive reinforcement, helped to guide my career. A colleague gave me advice that became a core memory. She said, “Your voice matters. You must speak up.”

UST: Was there a major influence that got you down the path you are currently on?

JB: Yes. After eight years of working at a startup straight out of college, I was ready for something greater. At the recommendation of my friend Pat Patterson, I applied for and was offered a job at SDL, where I have true opportunities to learn. SDL is an organization where you can align with people who have similar interests and passions, which leads to amazing opportunities for networking and education. For example, I had a colleague that elevated me to others within the organization by sharing straightforward affirmations like, “Jenn can do this.” This encouragement unlocked a path for me at SDL. Simple acts of suggestion, mentorship, and support opened my eyes to what is possible and attainable.

UST: What is some advice you have been given that helped you on your journey?

JB: “Never stop learning because change is the only constant.” My dad also used to tell us, “Proper prior planning prevents piss poor performance,” which is a military adage. This advice is relevant no matter what I am doing.

UST: What advice would you give to other young people who are aspiring to follow their passion?

JB: It’s okay to change your mind. Only you know what makes you happy. Ask for advice from people who may have more or different life experience than you. Problems and solutions are rarely unique. Stay aware and be self-aware.

UST: What is a major project or initiative you are currently working on in your current field and leadership role?

JB: I am brand new to the CFO position at SDL. The top priority right now is listening to employees. I am meeting with SDL’s current and emerging leaders to understand what they need to be successful. These conversations will guide the next six months. In addition, with commitment and teamwork, I am working to finalize the institutionalization of overarching SDL policies. We are also reformulating the process by which USU and SDL works together on research projects, which will encourage increased collaboration and expand the knowledge base.

UST: What inspired you about your current field (or position) and leadership role?

JB: I have big shoes to fill at the Lab since the prior CFO was in his position for 30+ years. He helped to build the financially stable organization that SDL is today. What inspires me is the opportunity to redefine the CFO role at SDL. We have witnessed significant growth during the past five years and expect this growth trend to continue. Our customers’ expectations are also expanding, and we are solidifying our mission-based approach throughout the organization. We have strong leadership at SDL, including at the board level, and it is empowering to see other women in positions of leadership where they are listened to, appreciated, and respected. As CFO, I will evaluate all of SDL’s business processes, associated operating costs, and strategic investments to ensure they are in alignment with and add value to our organization’s strategic vision and mission.


Eric Warren
Director, Public Relations
Space Dynamics Laboratory


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