15 Years of Empowering Leaders: United Way’s 35 Under 35 Women’s Leadership Program

Written by: Karla Isley

It’s estimated that each of us will meet 80,000 people in our lifetimes. For 525 women in our community, that “sphere of influence” is that much more intentionally impactful, thanks to a unique and purposeful leadership program.

At United Way, we believe that bringing people together to learn, grow, and connect is key to creating a community where everyone can thrive. Each year, United Way cultivates a group of 35 women and ignites their leadership development 35 Under 35 Women’s Leadership Program. The purpose of the program is to strengthen leadership skills and confidence, enhance the impact of women across our workplaces, homes, and community, and, above all, inspire collaboration and unity.

Since its inception in 2009, the 35 Under 35 Program has been at the forefront of recognizing and supporting exceptional women 35 and under who have demonstrated outstanding leadership qualities and a commitment to making a difference.

A Kind and Strategic Leader at the Helm

Tiffany McShane, United Way’s Senior Director of Community Engagement, has led the program for nearly half of the years the program has existed, serving as a visionary leader, committed mentor, and outstanding example of positive leadership to not just the 35 women who participate in the program each year, but the nearly 50 alumnae who volunteer annually to help coordinate the leadership development experience. Over the years, the program has grown in influence, expanding its reach and impact, and becoming a catalyst for inspiring the next generation of female leaders.

Get Involved

Karla Isley, United Way President & CEO

There are many ways you can take action to help, advocate, learn, and grow with United Way. Visit unitedwaycassclay.org/get-involved to find out about the different opportunities available. Whether it’s the 35 Under 35 Women’s Leadership Program for 2025 or our Lead UNITED network that provides year-round, unique volunteer, and leadership development experiences, United Way has a place for you.

Did you know that the United Way 35 Under 35 Women’s Leadership Program began as an idea jotted down on the back of a napkin?

Leadership Program Founders

Judy Green, former United Way of Cass-Clay CEO

Sue Wiger, former United Way of Cass-Clay Resource Development Director

Tonya Stende, United Way Volunteer and former Co-Owner of Dale Carnegie Training

Susan Mathison, United Way Volunteer and Founder of Catalyst Medical Center & Clinical Spa

Judy Pearson, United Way Volunteer and former Associate Dean and Professor at NDSU

It was 2008. The five women listed on the right side of the page were out to dinner and the conversation led to discussing the untapped potential of young leaders and the lack of female-focused leadership programs. The next morning at the United Way office, the team began the first stages of planning the 35 Under 35 Women’s Leadership Program. As they say, the rest is history!

In honor of the 15th anniversary, we’re celebrating and reflecting on nearly two decades of empowering young women leaders and driving positive change in communities across Cass and Clay counties and beyond. This impactful program has witnessed a myriad of success stories—young leaders who have spearheaded initiatives, tackled community issues, started companies, raised children, successfully led teams and workplaces, and elevated their communities. The 35 Under 35 alumnae network stands as a testament to the program’s effectiveness in creating a supportive community of like-minded individuals, and promoting collaboration and mentorship.

A Focus on the Future

As the United Way 35 Under 35 Women’s Leadership Program enters its next chapter, the focus remains on amplifying the voices of young women leaders and providing them with the resources and support needed to drive lasting change within the workplaces and our community. The 15-year anniversary is not just a celebration of past achievements, but a call to action for continued commitment to nurturing the potential of young women and creating leaders who are ready to take on whatever challenges the next decades bring—at work, at home, and right here in our community. That’s what United Way is designed to do—bring us all together to improve lives and create a welcoming community where everyone can thrive.

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