For our 35th anniversary, we’ll be sharing the stories of 35 alumni, showcasing the leaders they are today and how 21st Century Leaders inspired and impacted their journey. Alumni will represent the 3.5 decades since our founding in 1989 – the 1990s, 2000s, 2010s, and 2020s. Take a read and be inspired!
35th Anniversary Alumni Spotlight
How has your career unfolded and how did participating in 21CL help prepare you for your next steps going to college, taking on a new leadership role in community/college and after?
I first participated in 21CL almost 30 years ago, and that experience continues to impact my career! Being exposed to business at an early age has meant I’ve always been comfortable stepping into board rooms, giving presentations to senior management, and building teams to succeed at a task. In my first position as an Associate Producer, I understood how to communicate well with my co-workers and manager because of the team challenges we were given in 21CL. Later, when I became a Director of Operations with direct reports, I knew how to set a clear vision for my team because of the leadership skills I had learned. And now, as an entrepreneur with 3 successful businesses with my husband, I’m not sure I would have had the courage to take on this challenge without having experienced success doing uncomfortable challenges with 21CL. The programs at 21st Century Leaders do an amazing job of honing in on the skills of the individual, while making you focus on the success of the group. It’s only now, looking back at my career, that I can connect the dots!
What’s your memorable or ‘aha’ moment during your time at 21CL? (Particular program, meeting a professional and diverse peer, speaking in public for the first time, etc.)
I spent two amazing summers during high school at the Summer Business Academy. For a week each year, I was immersed in a challenging environment with a diverse group of incredibly smart students and a high expectation of excellence set by the instructors. From trust falls to group projects, the time I spent with these other young adults was truly rewarding. During the second summer, as I was a rising senior, we were broken into groups and given a real business challenge at the start of the week. By the end of the week, we would need to present our solution to the professionals. Every minute that we weren’t sleeping, we were working on our presentation, tweaking after we learned new concepts in sessions throughout the week. Nerves were high when we arrived at the corporate location that morning. While I can’t tell you a single thing about the business challenge, I vividly remember stepping into the board room knowing that I belonged there and had something important to say. I’ve carried that memory with me, anchoring to it when needed in both big and small moments of my career.
Did 21CL assist you in developing a leadership style that makes you an effective leader? If so, how?
21CL was the first place that I learned about leadership styles! Understanding how I naturally lead and communicate was empowering. And then being able to adjust to styles needed by my team felt like magic! My whole career has been focused around building the right team for the project and effectively leading that team can be pivotal to its success.
Why do you believe programs like 21CL are important? And what advice would you give to a current or future student?
21CL bridges the gap in education for students to really learn about themselves and how their uniqueness can translate to success in college, their careers, and being a positive impact to their community. Even as a high performing magnet school student, there was no other place that I received this level of exposure to possibilities and focused internal growth. In order to meet the needs of future challenges, we need to teach the next generation the skills that they will need. And 21CL is essential to that process.
My advice for students attending the program is to push and challenge yourself to take on the leadership role that feels uncomfortable. Talk to the students you don’t think you have anything in common with. What feels awkward now could be a key to your success!
Inspired? Share this story with your network.