Two weeks after emigrating to the United States from Ecuador, Jhoanna Astudillo enlisted in the U.S. Army as a way to learn English and pay for her education.
The lessons came in many forms. Early in her military career, Astudillo noticed she was always getting picked for the most unpleasant jobs, like taking out the trash, with lower-ranking soldiers chosen less often. She went to her supervisor to tell him how tired she was, and his answer has stuck with her ever since.
"He said, 'I'm going tell you why you get picked. Because your uniform is always crisp, you're always on time. You do the right thing. That might seem more of a punishment, but you're going to see the difference in three years.'"
Astudillo was promoted to sergeant less than three years later.
Since that time, she graduated from Illinois State University with a double major in marketing and international business, and built a career in financial services, leading to her current role at BOK Financial® as monetary operations manager. She married her husband Christopher and they have a daughter, Emilia Cristina.
All the while, her work ethic has never waned—and just as her Army supervisor did many years ago—people have noticed.
"I think what makes Jhoanna stand out is her passion for not only what she does as far as work goes but also her passion around the people that she works with," said Ann Howard, Astudillo's former supervisor at BOK Financial.
As a monetary operations manager, Astudillo provides monetary risk management to the Consumer Bank by inspecting products, services and operations. She serves as a mentor in a career development program for existing employees, as well as a culture ambassador to mentor new employees. Outside of work, she volunteers with Meals on Wheels, helping with outreach to clients to follow up on their well-being, serving an area of predominantly Spanish speakers.
"Whatever she is doing, she keeps people at the forefront of it,” said Joshua Gehring, senior consumer market director at BOK Financial. "She leads through both empathy and action. She doesn't expect others to do something she won't. She really tries to get a deep understanding of what they're trying to do."
“You need to show up regardless of who’s watching. Stop chasing the title; the title is just the result the work that you’ve already done. Every day is an interview.”- Jhoanna Astudillo, monetary operations manager, BOK Financial
Helping others find their voice
Getting to the United States was no easy task. Astudillo's aunt, who was living in the U.S., sponsored her family's immigration, but the process took 11 years.
By the time they received the invitation, Astudillo was 18—still young enough to qualify—but her brother was older than 21 and was rejected. The family separated for the first time, and though her parents ultimately returned to Ecuador, Astudillo and her siblings stayed—and faced difficulties familiar to many immigrants.
"We didn't know anything, and we didn't speak the language. Well, we could read a little bit [of English], but I felt like a mute the first year I was in the U.S. because I couldn't speak," she recalled.
That experience of feeling "voiceless" still resonates with Astudillo today, despite the years that have passed and all of her achievements. Her early days as an immigrant and her life experiences since fueled her passion for creating a "voice for those who are silent or have not found their voice yet."
Although she grew up in a community she recalls as mostly homogeneous, Astudillo has spent most of her adult life working to champion diversity and inclusivity initiatives. She's helped everyone from single mothers to disaster victims to Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients, commonly referred to as "Dreamers," applying to college for the first time.
Jesse Ledford, manager of Consumer Assessment Operations at BOK Financial, has seen Astudillo's passion for helping those in need and improving the community from the time they first worked together at Chase Bank.
For the past 10 years, the two have worked together on multiple initiatives, including supporting the company's diversity council and local market monthly diversity celebrations. They have hosted panels, cultural celebrations and activities on diversity awareness, as well as coordinated and participated in events that support the local food bank, Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon, Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy, and the Pride Parade.
"Each time I did volunteer work, I walked away with how much I gained from it while helping others," Astudillo said, and it's a sentiment that resonated with Ledford as well.
"We have a lot of fun together—and with our significant others," Ledford said. "Of course, the joy and beauty of knowing that you are engaged in activities that make a difference or heighten awareness is the gift."
One of his favorite—and funniest—memories of working with Astudillo was when they volunteered at a marathon. "Jhoanna and my partner ran off and left me walking with the children. I think that speaks more to my athletic abilities—or lack thereof," he laughed.
Astudillo recalled leading an initiative to feed relief volunteers after a tornado ransacked some of Central Oklahoma, including parts of South Oklahoma City. She was on site in the disaster zone from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. providing boxes of food to people who were impacted by the tornado.
She credits many of her lessons in work ethic and forward-thinking to what she learned early in life from her mother. "I always say that she was the best leadership book that I didn't have to read because I saw it come to life."
At a time when most women didn't work outside the home in Ecuador, her mother managed a household with four children, all while working full time as a teacher and going to school. And that's "without the technology we have today," Astudillo noted.
Now she has some advice of her own for young people striving for success. "You need to show up regardless of who's watching," she said. "Stop chasing the title; the title is just the result of the work that you've already done. Every day is an interview."
Top image: Astudillo pictured with her extended family