Photo by Taylor Owens / Ra'Shunda Hackett manages a team of 16 as a a Cigna claim quality supervisor.

First jobs out of college are often challenging, but Cigna's Ra'Shunda Hackett has risen to the occasion.

The Birmingham, Alabama, native arrived in Chattanooga last summer as an intern at the insurance giant and within months was promoted to a full-time management position at Cigna with 16 direct reports.

"I was definitely scared," Hackett, 23, says of her first days as a manager. "I didn't know what to expect. I had been involved with student government (at Tennessee State University) but it's different in the real world working with adults twice your age. "

Despite her early jitters, the TSU graduate soon settled into her job — and new city — while embracing her role as a Cigna claim quality supervisor. Her team is charged with making sure claims are paid efficiently and that customers receive first-class service.

"We are driving improvements (and) increasing the value we provide, which, at the end of the day, keeps customers happy," she says.

Nobody told Hackett that in her first year after college she would move to a new city, experience a worldwide pandemic and be displaced from her East Brainerd apartment due to an Easter Sunday tornado. It's a lot.

Thankfully, distance working is part of the Cigna culture and Hackett simply retreated to Birmingham for a time while continuing to lead her team. She had already relocated to Birmingham before the storms, but when she learned her apartment complex had been damaged, a group of Cigna employees appeared "30 minutes later" to help her pack up.

"It was comforting," she says. "But it's not surprising. That's why I decided to join Cigna. I knew my values aligned with theirs."

Ra’Shunda Hackett

* Hometown: Birmingham, Alabama

* Age: 23

* Job: CIGNA Claim Quality Supervisor

* Education: B.S. in biology, Tennessee State University

* Family: Single

* Hobbies: travel


Emotionally, Hackett says she has found support this year in a strong faith life and her mother, Monica Hackett, whom Ra'Shunda calls "my champion, my warrior and biggest supporter."

"I grew up in the church, and I'm still really involved in that," she says. "It still inspires me, motivates me and keeps me grounded."

Ra'Shunda learned resilience as a teenager. Her father, Cedrick Hackett, died of a heart attack at age 46 when Ra'Shunda was just 15 years old and still in high school. The experience helped steer her toward a career related to health care, she says.

"I realized that living a healthy life goes beyond just eating clean or physical activity, it's every day, making a decision to better yourself," she says.

While in college in Nashville, Hackett gravitated toward leadership positions in student government and got involved in her sorority, Sigma Gamma Rho. She remains active in the graduate chapter of her sorority, she says.

She is also active in non-profit work, including taking a special interest in homeless organizations such as Chattanooga's Community Kitchen.

In addition, she is part of the Chattanooga Chamber's Protege program, which provides leadership training and mentoring for promising young men and women in business.

Soon, she hopes to return to college to get a master's degree in public health administration.

"I am incredibly thankful and blessed that my life is what it is today," she says. "As long as I bring value to the space I occupy, and stay true to myself, I believe things will work out as they should."