The United Way’s 35 Under 35 2020 Class

Written by: Brady Drake

Photos by Hillary Ehlen

Grounded in the philosophy that the future of our community will be influenced by the quality of leaders who are engaged and connected, United Way of Cass-Clay launched the 35 Under 35 Women’s Leadership Program.  Since its inception more than a decade ago, 420 women have been impacted by the opportunity to grow their leadership skills and have gone on to positively influence their workplaces and our greater community.

Join us as we introduce you to the 2020 class.

Back Row: (Left to Right) Antonia Berning Scilley, Angela Arneson and Melissa Nelson
Front Row: (Left to Right) Megan Berndt and Annie Wood
Back Row: (Left to Right) Antonia Berning Scilley, Angela Arneson and Melissa Nelson
Front Row: (Left to Right) Megan Berndt and Annie Wood

Antonia Berning Scilley

Quality Management Coordinator
North Dakota Department of Human Services – Southeast Human Service Center

How can we inspire all people to work toward developing their leadership skills and why is this important?
We can take time to show people that being a leader or developing leadership skills, has nothing to do with titles, position or even employment for that matter. The ability to be open about your leadership journey, both the highs and the lows, is crucial in inspiring others to discover their own desire for self-improvement which will benefit themselves as well as our community in the future.

Angela Arneson

Sourcing Manager
Sanford Health

Sanford Health is one of the biggest employers in our region – why is leadership development important for all employees, regardless of role?
Empowering a culture of courage takes all kinds of leaders – formal and informal, even ones that may not know they’re leading. While there’s a difference between managing people and truly leading, it takes everyone in a large organization, and I mean everyone, to make an impact. Development is important to me, both personally and professionally, but I take developing others most seriously. As a true leader, not just a manager, helping others reach their goals and potential is an indescribable feeling. Your own leadership development will inevitably influence others, which in return strengthens an organization and culture.

Melissa Nelson

Human Resource Specialist
Western State Bank

How do you see your experience in this program having a ripple effect on the wider community?
I believe lifting others up who want to take on that next step and supporting them through their journey happens not only within your workplace, but also within relationships you build in the community. This program provides the opportunity for women to connect and build strong relationships to support each other through life’s challenges.  I have already begun to share my experience and tell them about the concepts I have learned with co-workers and other connections I have in the community. It is so rewarding to be a part of a group that connects women from all different industries, who are passionate about many different things, but all have a similar love to improve our community.

Megan Berndt

Marketing Manager
Evolution Hospitality

Why are programs like this important not just to the women who participate, but the larger community?
In these groups and programs, participants are taught a new way to look at not only themselves, but how they communicate and interact with co-workers, family members, while networking and in all other aspects of their lives. When we step into the community and have these new interactions, new ideas and new conversations – it will create a ripple effect that not only benefits us but our community as a whole.

Annie Wood

Associate Director for Student Life
Minnesota State University Moorhead

You recently did a TEDxFargo talk titled “Find Your Weirdos to Find Community.” How is being weird advantageous to leadership development?
The idea of “weirdness,” is not about being awkward or strange – it’s actually about recognizing how your talents, traits and who you are allows you to contribute uniquely. Owning my weirdness allows me to know how I can best contribute and to not be insecure as I learn more about my blind spots. I view those areas as growth opportunities, not as a threat to the value I can provide because I’m secure in my “weirdness.” As I work to help others develop, I use the idea of “weirdness” to discover how people can use who they are to contribute in ways that only they can, along with affirming who they are and what they bring to a team.

Back Row: (Left to Right) Andrea Schulte, Kayla Goebel and Richelle Bishoff
Front Row: (Left to Right) Ciara Langehaug and Amber Wibstad
Back Row: (Left to Right) Andrea Schulte, Kayla Goebel and Richelle Bishoff
Front Row: (Left to Right) Ciara Langehaug and Amber Wibstad

Andrea Schulte

Graphic Design Specialist
Bell Bank

You work for a company that supports the concept of “Pay it Forward” – why is giving back to the community important for young leaders?
The sooner a leader understands their power to make an impact (for good), the better. Giving back is the simplest way to learn how one small act of grace can cause a ripple effect. It’s also extremely important for leaders to remain humble. Giving back can inspire humility – one of the greatest lessons young leaders must learn.

Kayla Goebel

Owner/Chaos Coordinator
Strong Roots

As a business owner, how do you balance the pressures of growing your business with your personal life?
I believe that balance is a myth and none of us accomplish greatness alone. We all have the same amount of time in a day. What we are prioritizing and what are we sacrificing each day is what varies. Having an incredible support system and relationships with others who are great at communicating is the best way to chase after the elusive idea of balance. Serena Williams didn’t become the best tennis player by being ‘balanced’ but by making sacrifices each day, busting ass and having a great support system.

Richelle Bishoff

Costing & Sourcing Manager
Border States Electric

Why is it important to ensure more women are in leadership positions in our community?
I believe that the more unique voices you have bringing issues, ideas and solutions to the table the more likely you are to come up with innovative answers to solve and see those ideas through to implementation. If you have a leadership bench that is only made up of male voices, you’re missing the opportunity to hear from an entire audience that I believe has a tremendous amount of value to add. Border States Electric has had a female CEO since I have started my career with them. So, I have been able to witness the great ideas and solutions that can come from a diverse group of leaders.

Ciara Langehaug

Head Start Home Visitor and Family Support
CAPLP – Lakes & Prairies Community Action Partnership

You work with families in need on a day to day basis. How does ensuring they are successful impact the future of our community?
At CAPLP we focus on eliminating poverty while empowering families and engaging communities. It is extremely important to help the Head Start families see themselves as a significant part of our community. We strive to see the strengths in their families every day while problem-solving some of the barriers they face. When we help the parents build positive parenting skills, it helps the relationship between them and their children which affects their children’s relationships with others. This impacts our community on multiple levels. Our community is built with all types of people and backgrounds that shape our community into a positive environment. Positive, trusting and supportive relationships are the foundation of a wonderful and successful community.

Amber Wibstad

Strategic Financial Analyst
Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota

Why is being involved in your community important for people of all ages and in all stages of their careers?
Being involved in the community at any stage makes the community stronger. We wouldn’t have some of the amazing organizations in this community if it wasn’t for great people willing to get out and volunteer. I’m very fortunate to work for a company that allows their employees to take time off to volunteer!

Back Row: (Left to Right) Liz Campbell and Allison Klug Dunham
Front Row: (Left to Right) Mary Roehl, Briana Bye and Danielle Anderson
Back Row: (Left to Right) Liz Campbell and Allison Klug Dunham
Front Row: (Left to Right) Mary Roehl, Briana Bye and Danielle Anderson

Liz Campbell

Internship and Experiential Learning Specialist
Concordia College

How will your experience in this program allow you to better serve the students and staff you work with at Concordia College?
I firmly believe professional growth happens alongside personal growth; through this program, we gain both. From self-reflection and honing leadership skills to networking and relationship development, I will be able to help the students and staff I work with to become strong leaders themselves, impacting our community and world.

Allison Klug Dunham

Essentia Health

How can women support each other in the workplace?
It can be hard to recognize the success of others, however, acknowledging another woman’s success or accomplishments does not take away from your own. I’ve learned a lot of women in this program share the same struggles as me, regardless of our careers. How do you balance work with family? How do you lead others in a way that is not viewed as controlling and bossy? Instead of competing against each other, we can depend on each other for grace, guidance and inspiration. Maybe you acknowledge her extra effort, shine a light on her great idea or send an encouraging email. Whatever it may be, be intentional. There is plenty of success to go around and supporting each other is not a barrier to achieving it.

Mary Roehl

Marketing Business Specialist
RDO Equipment Co.

How does this opportunity to focus on leadership skills make you a more valuable employee?
Being able to focus on my leadership skills will help provide a better foundation to help those around me and fully embrace the goals of my team and organization. I believe that being self-aware on a deeper level develops confidence, and with that comes positivity, support and, ultimately, a better understanding of how to best collaborate with others. Taking the time to build a stronger foundation based on my own leadership style will help me be a successful leader through influence, motivation and mentoring by example.

Briana Bye

Customer Business Manager
Lamb Weston

As a mom of young children, why is it important that United Way is helping families in poverty be successful?
If we help the families in our community put food on the table, find transportation to and from work and youth activities we will slowly change the dynamic of our community. I believe every child should have the opportunity to participate in extra-curricular activities and unfortunately, not all families are able to do so for different reasons. I believe activities in our youth are so important for preparing children for adulthood which in turn, prepares them to be contributing members of our society.  If we can help families in poverty be successful, we are actively changing our community’s future for the better!

Danielle Anderson

Physical Therapist
Apex Physical Therapy and Wellness Center

The leader of your company is also a 35 Under 35 alumna – how has this program impacted your workplace and employees?
I have always felt important and valued at my place of work and I think this was only capitalized on by the fact that one of our owners, Brooke Erstad, is a 35 Under 35 alumna.  We are encouraged to not only find our passion in the workplace but to also find our passion in the community and to leave our mark there as well. It is recognized that we all have unique skill sets and interests and when we develop those we are at our strongest, both individually and as a company.

Back Row: (Left to Right) April Meidinger and Leah DeKrey
Front Row: (Left to Right) Erin Saladin, Kayla Koehmstedt and Macy Francisco
Back Row: (Left to Right) April Meidinger and Leah DeKrey
Front Row: (Left to Right) Erin Saladin, Kayla Koehmstedt and Macy Francisco

April Meidinger

Project Manager

The company you work for is very philanthropic and involved with United Way/the community. From your perspective, why is this important to you as an employee?
SCHEELS has built charitability into our company’s core mission and encourages its employees to give back. This is important to me as not only are we encouraged to better the community we live in; I also believe that giving back can better us as employees. It can strengthen bonds between employees, promote collaboration and networking as well as boost employee morale. It gives me a sense of pride knowing that the organization I work for invests in the community I live in and encourages each of us to make a difference.

Leah DeKrey

Head of Customer Marketing

How does your experience in this program impact and influence your corporate culture?
The tech industry is notoriously male-dominated. So my participation in this program shapes the corporate culture at CoSchedule by highlighting the company’s commitment to fostering its female leaders. It sends a clear message to women within the company that it’s not only OK, but encouraged, to take time away from your day-to-day duties to invest in yourself.

Erin Saladin

Outpatient Therapist – Marriage and Family Therapist
Lakeland Mental Health Center

Why are programs like this important not just to the women who participate, but the larger community?
When you lift people up, they will lift up others. A program like this is a great example of doing just that. Not only will participants take away invaluable knowledge and individual growth from this program, but they will also take away a moment of pause. Pause to identify their community needs, their personal strengths, and a stronger sense of action. This program is like a wave. The ripples will continue on into the community for many years to come as it has already since this programs’ inception.

Kayla Koehmstedt

Marketing Coordinator
Eide Bailly LLP

You are an active United Way volunteer. What has this experience taught you about leadership?
When I began volunteering with the United Way, it was outside of my comfort zone and I didn’t know what to expect. However, I took the leap and have realized you can be a leader from any position, but you have to be willing to cultivate those qualities within yourself. Often times, opportunities arise that may be outside of your comfort zone or make you nervous. Rather than declining or avoiding them, a pivotal move in growing as a leader is taking that leap and doing something that might make you uncomfortable. By taking risks, you become a stronger leader.

Macy Francisco

Marketing Manager
BIO Girls

The organization you work for focuses on improving the self-esteem in adolescent girls – why is it important to help all individuals build their self-esteem in the workplace?
Self-esteem is important in all individuals. By learning skills at a young age, which is what we focus on at BIO Girls, individuals are able to better navigate adolescence and handle situations later on in life with the tools they have learned. It’s also important to grow those skills and practice them daily in order to be confident, productive and successful individuals in the workplace and in one’s personal life as well.

Back Row: (Left to Right) Britney Gandhi, Brittini Kraft-McGarry and Kayla Hanson
Front Row: (Left to Right) Kelly Barbot and Sarah Wisser
Back Row: (Left to Right) Britney Gandhi, Brittini Kraft-McGarry and Kayla Hanson
Front Row: (Left to Right) Kelly Barbot and Sarah Wisser

Britney Gandhi

Superintendent and Jr./Sr. High Principal
Richland #44 School District

In your role as an educational leader, how will your experience in this program impact your district?
I aim to be the best leader for my students, staff and community, and I know that this program will strengthen and hone my leadership skills. Consequently, I believe the skills and knowledge learned in United Way’s 35 Under 35 program will impact every child in my school district. Richland #44 has a strong history of being an excellent school district, but my experience in this program will bring more opportunities to my students and identify resources for all children in my school district.

Brittni Kraft-McGarry

Director of Home Care
Ethos Home Care and Hospice

Why is it important for employees to focus on their strengths? How does it impact their coworkers and team?
By focusing on our strengths, we learn more about ourselves and gain a higher level of self-awareness. A good sense of self-awareness increases our abilities to recognize areas we individually excel at as well as areas where we may not be so strong and need to collaborate with other team members’ different strengths. Self-awareness also brings perspective to how individual strengths may have a negative impact when they’re in their raw form, which presents an opportunity to develop our strengths and learn how to interact with our teammates in the best way possible. Focusing on each other’s strengths helps people find parts of their jobs that feed them rather than drain them. I believe this promotes overall employee satisfaction, motivates the team and encourages positivity.

Kayla Hanson

Customer Relations Representative
Renee Forde State Farm

You work for a company that gives back to the community, why is this important to you as an employee?
Working for a company that has a passion for serving our community and giving back has made me open to more of the needs here in our area. Our office strives to give back to our community on a monthly basis and lead a business with purpose. A community wants to see business owners give back, it brings a sense of connection that everyone in the community works as a team to better the place that we call home.

Kelly Barbot

Lead Creative
Dakota Medical Foundation

What unique perspectives do women bring to the table?
Anytime you open the door to diversity, you bring in a new perspective. You never know what skills someone has to offer until you give them a chance and let their voice be heard. No matter where a woman chooses to work, their perspective will always be unique, because their skill set offers an opportunity to inspire a company and other women to meet their fullest potential.

Sarah Weisser

JOBS Program Case Manager
Job Service North Dakota

Why is it important to give individuals the opportunity to develop their leadership skills?
It is important to give individuals the opportunity to enhance their leadership skills so that they can feel empowered and are able to implement the skills not only in their professional lives but also in their personal life as well. When an individual feels confident and comfortable in their own skin. It enables them to teach and empower the individuals around them. By encouraging individuals with leadership skills, it enables them to be leaders in their community and directly affects everyone around them.

Back Row: (Left to Right) Allison Hursman, Andrea Lillestol and Megan McManus
Front Row: (Left to Right) Natalie Gruchow and Morgan Svingen
Back Row: (Left to Right) Allison Hursman, Andrea Lillestol and Megan McManus
Front Row: (Left to Right) Natalie Gruchow and Morgan Svingen

Allison Hursman

Assistant Professor of Pharmacy Practice/Clinical Pharmacist
North Dakota State University/Essentia Health

How will your experience in this program impact the students you teach at NDSU?
I feel that my experience in the 35 Under 35 program will teach me the skills necessary to be an impactful female leader. It is my hope that I can take the tools that I learn and share them with the students that I teach, advise and precept at NDSU.  Thus, creating a ripple effect reaching many more individuals than merely the 35 participants in this program. It is my hope that all of my students become strong leaders in their families, professions and communities.

Andrea Lillestol

Director of Marketing
Lillestol Research LLC

You work for a business that is family-owned and operated – why is building a network of female leaders important to you and your company as a whole?
Our company is presently comprised of a majority of female staff members. The women in leadership positions at Lillestol Research are important and essential to lead, support, understand, communicate with and encourage our staff’s needs. Being a part of the 35 Under 35 program will not only provide professional and personal growth opportunities but also help to gain a network of women to share new ideas, advice and experiences with. I look forward in sharing the knowledge I gain from this network both directly and indirectly with the rest of the Lillestol Research staff.

Megan McManus

McCulley Optix Gallery

Your company was started and is led by a female. Why is it advantageous to our community to have more female leaders?
Female leaders possess a unique skill set that contributes to the community in a wonderful way, and Dr. McCulley is an excellent example of this. Our community deserves to have more female leaders so we can continue growing and improving. They bring different perspectives, ideas and questions to the table that are crucial for the greater good. In addition to that, more female leaders in our community allows for other women to see that they too can be leaders. It creates more opportunities for mentorship which directly invests back into our community.

Natalie Gruchow

Certified Veterinary Practice Manager
Animal Health Clinic

What is one leadership lesson/tip you have learned that others could also benefit from?
Learn how to advocate for yourself. Keep track of your accomplishments throughout the year by jotting down notes in a pocket planner. When it comes time to prepare for your performance review, compile a summary of things you did that benefited the company. Be proactive about potential areas of opportunity and plans for growth.

Morgan Svingen

Community Relations Manager
YWCA Cass Clay

Why is it important for our community to support leadership development opportunities for young women?
As cliché as the statement may be, young women truly are “the leaders of tomorrow”. And by tomorrow I don’t mean 20-30 years from now, I mean next Friday or next month. In today’s world, our young women mean business. They are finding causes they care about, initiatives they value and they are taking them by storm. So rather than leaving them to navigate the world alone, why not give them as many leadership development and learning opportunities as we can? Why not be known as the community that is nurturing and growing these incredible women? I mean, they are going to do incredible things, with or without us, so we should embrace being a part of that impact.

Back Row: (Left to Right) Stephanie Melquist and Natalie Hilgers
Front Row: (Left to Right) Alexis Scott, Allison Wilson and Megan Kleckner
Back Row: (Left to Right) Stephanie Melquist and Natalie Hilgers
Front Row: (Left to Right) Alexis Scott, Allison Wilson and Megan Kleckner

Stephanie Melquist

Resident Physician
University of North Dakota School of Medicine and Health Sciences

Why is this program valuable to the future of your career?
As physicians, we are placed into a role that demands leadership. We are not always equipped with the tools and education to utilize our strengths and develop our leadership style. This program is helping me to understand and build upon the strengths that will allow me to grow into an effective leader, which will be helpful when I am teaching, volunteering in the community and caring for my patients.

Natalie Hilgers

Director of Recruitment Selection
Northwestern Mutual

Why is it important for the United Way to provide a setting for female leaders to network and support one another?
Through the platform and resources United Way provides, the 35 Under 35 program is changing the trajectory of female leaders’ lives in our community. This positive ripple effect is leaving a legacy by building stronger businesses, families and friendships which impacts the overall success of our community. By shining a light on, and investing in female leaders, our community is seeing first-hand the positive transformation this program has had on the participant’s lives. They have emerged with confidence, purpose and genuine friendships. This program truly teaches the total person.

Alexis Scott

Account Executive
Discovery Benefits

As a working mom with a big family, how does leadership development play a role in both your professional and home life?
Being a mom of five boys is not easy and neither is being the only female in the home. Personally, my goal is to raise capable, helpful and supportive sons. By taking advantage of opportunities to grow in leadership, I can model what a strong and empowered woman looks like. I want them to feel proud to lead alongside the women in their lives one day and participate as an active team member with their female counterparts. Leadership is just as much about serving the needs of others as it is influencing.

Allison Wilson

Sales Support & Logistics Coordinator
Anchor Ingredients

How do program like this impact the future of business?
Programs like these are essential to the future of businesses because they help professionals grow into leaders that lead with confidence, compassion and the will to be better and do more for their employer, co-workers and community. Professionals are also given the opportunity to expand outside their comfort zone and learn new skills to use at their workplace. These programs provide an avenue for professionals to connect with and learn from others; be inspired to set lofty goals; have accountability with like-minded partners to grow and challenge each other.

Megan Kleckner

Front End Operations Specialist

In your role as Assistant Store Director, you lead a team of diverse employees. How do you encourage leadership development at every level in your organization?
Finding the good in others is a great first step in encouraging growth in any position. I love to identify what employees do well, recognize it and use that positivity to ignite excitement and motivation in them. I think everyone has a spark of competitiveness inside of them and being able to bring that out and to see their professional growth is so rewarding!

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