21 Women Making An Impact: Laura Oster-Aaland, VP For Student Affairs and Enrollment Management

Written by: Brady Drake
  • United Way Volunteer and Investor
  • United Way Campaign Cabinet Volunteer
  • United Way Emerging Leader

What is one lesson you have learned? How did you learn it?

Early in my career, I worked very methodically, focusing on one project at a time and I would get stressed when unexpected interruptions would come up that pulled me away from the task at hand. Achiever is my number one strength on the Gallup StrengthFinder assessment and so I feel particularly good when I’m crossing things off my list and not so good when it seems I’m not getting anything accomplished. When I had a day that was full of interruptions and I felt like I didn’t accomplish anything I would come home at night and express to my husband that “I just felt like I was spinning my wheels.” His response was “well, now you got that out of the way.”

This has been helpful to me so many times over the years in keeping things in perspective. There will be days of great productivity and other days of wheel spinning, but wheel spinning is an important part of the process of work. Sometimes the wheel spinning occurs because I just need to rest. Other times it occurs due to competing priorities that need my attention – questions from my team, a pressing matter for my supervisor, an unhappy student or parent. The big lesson is that priorities are relative and need constant re-evaluation. And that productivity is not always about crossing things off my list. Often it is about attending to relationships, listening to people and simply being present.

What advice do you have for women trying to build their professional careers?

My biggest piece of advice is “bloom where you are planted.” Traditional career guidance is often focused on setting your career goals for the next 10-20 years and striving for the next promotion or steppingstone. That may work for some people. I have focused on contributing in the best way that I can in the place I am at the time. I keep my eyes open for opportunity, but I focus on the job at hand and how I can make the biggest impact in the here and now.

Blooming where you are planted does not mean being stagnant – flowers need water and fertilizer and sun to bloom. It means working hard to learn and develop as a leader. It means striving to be the best you can be at your job and contribute to your organization in creative and meaningful ways. It means building relationships with others inside and outside your organization who share your enthusiasm for good work. In my experience, that kind of dedication is noticed and will lead to advancement.

NDSU is a tremendous asset for our business community – how could our business community complement and collaborate with the university?

NDSU compliments and collaborates with the local and regional business community in many ways.

Many of the examples we think about are concrete such as the location of the College of Business in downtown Fargo and the business incubator in the NDSU Research and Tech Park. There are also many academic collaborations such as senior design projects in engineering where students are paired with a local business working to solve a real problem. This provides students with hands on experience and local businesses with access to innovative thinking and expertise. NDSU’s Innovation Challenge, an idea competition for students to develop ideas that may become businesses, partners with the local business community and has resulted in several new startup companies that contribute to the vibrancy of the region.

NDSU also contributes as a business itself. As the second largest employer in the FM area, we have the opportunity to be great community partners for organizations such as United Way of Cass-Clay. Our annual employee campaign is an important way we can unite around a common cause to make our community more vibrant.

Workforce development continues to be a leading topic for our business community – how can we all be part of the solution?

NDSU is an integral partner in meeting workforce needs of our community and region. We know that a high percentage of our out of state students take their first jobs in North Dakota and many choose to stay and build their careers here. It is critical that NDSU remains a destination of choice for students in North Dakota and the region so that we can continue to provide highly educated students to meet the workforce needs. We need the support of business and community leaders in achieving our mission which will ultimately help them achieve theirs.

In addition, NDSU has recently upped its efforts to attract individuals who left college with no degree. Our degree completion program is particularly relevant now that the pandemic has led to job loss for many individuals, particularly those in service industry jobs. We can provide flexible avenues for these individuals to finish their education so that they can provide the skills that employers so badly need.

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Brady is the Editorial Director at Spotlight Media in Fargo, ND.