Jann Gao has never liked staying in one place for long. Growing up in a rural farm town in China, the transition to Hebei University of Technology in Tianjin (population nearly 14 million) caused her perspective to go from Polaroid size to panoramic.
“I’ve been very intentional, though, to chase experiences that are new, that are novel, that bring me a sense of awe during the process,” said Jann, a strategy and analytics consultant for Blue Cottage of CannonDesign.
Her pursuit of the novel brought her across the Pacific Ocean to Binghamton University in pursuit of a master's degree. Jann is propelled by curiosity—what drives people, what motivates them, how life can be made better for all. While these seem like amorphous pursuits, Jann’s preferred method to answer these broad questions is a blend of the subjective and the objective. She uses the hard facts of data and mixes them with personal interpretations and perspectives to improve how we move through buildings and campuses.
She’s also using some of her own experience of adapting to new spaces and places in her work. Jann has lived in two major metropolises—New York City and Chicago—cities where personal experiences run a broad spectrum and everyone is chasing something bigger and better.
Jann approaches major aspects of her life with curiosity and empathy, from career to life in Chicago to advocating for her peers. After accepting her scholarship to Binghamton University to study industrial and systems engineering, she didn’t see herself staying in America. But during an internship at a hospital system outside of New York City, she cultivated friendships who taught her English, shared the words she needed to know for her career and more. She flourished.
The girl from a small farm town in China put down roots in New York City after graduation, becoming an operations consultant for a major design firm.
“It was a proud moment, honestly,” she says. “As an immigrant kid who studied, learned how to speak English, adapted, made friends, also now got a full-time job... that's also a pivotal moment because only after you start making friends, building connections, having a sense of community, do you start to truly appreciate living in a place.”
Jann made another big city move to Chicago in 2018, to start her career with CannonDesign and Blue Cottage of CannonDesign as a consultant and data analyst, primarily on healthcare projects. Now that she’s put down roots in one city for five years, she’s found her moves have enriched her view of life, both professionally and personally.
Her career the last few years has been one fueled by curiosity and optimism—that much like living in a big city, complicated things can be studied and analyzed to see each puzzle piece for what it is and how it fits into the greater whole.
She sees herself as a connector, someone who intentionally tries a lot of things to get a robust perspective. She has gone from mentee to mentor, from a listener to an outspoken project leader.
Jann's collaborative, team-oriented approach fosters an environment in which every team member is expected to bring their very best, authentic self to project meetings every single day—and Jann leads by example because that is exactly what she always does.Juliet Rogers President of Blue Cottage of CannonDesign and Executive Director of Firmwide Strategy for CannonDesign
In the last year, Jann has led some of the firm’s most complex integrated projects , such as the Mercy Center for Performance Medicine and Specialty Care (integrated project manager), UK HealthCare’s Campus Strategic Plan (strategy and analytics lead) and University of Michigan-West's System-Wide Master Plan (lead project manager, lead data analyst and strategic advisor). These projects not only showcase how her strategic insights improve healthcare operations and processes, but also her ability to manage and customize a project approach based on stated scope, time frame and efficiency. This work was a major part of Jann being named a Healthcare Design Rising Star in 2022.
“We are getting really good as a society at collecting data,” said Jann. “This can be how a patient is checking into a building, how a patient is being cared for, what's the diagnosis, it's all being captured behind the scenes without us seeing. And those data points can be really valuable. We can run algorithms to detect patterns and improve patient care.”
As her confidence and influence has grown in her project work, she was also a crucial component of the formation of one of the firm’s Employee Resource Groups, PRISM. Comprised of individuals from underrepresented backgrounds alongside allies, PRISM aims to provide a safe space that recognizes racial and cultural differences and similarities and facilitates meaningful connections.
“I am an immigrant, I am a woman, I am a minority, I’m Asian, and I'm also pretty young in my professional career,” she said. “I feel it’s important to acknowledge the environment where people like me feel so supported and it should be a goal to help others feel this way too.”
Jann’s curiosity and drive to make most everything in her life—ideas, processes, healthcare, her colleagues—is a strength not only professionally but personally. It’s transformed Jann from a girl raised in a rural farm town to one thriving in one of the biggest cities in the world. She’s evolved from listener to observer to influencer. And she’s going to stay curious along the way.