United Way’s 35 Under 35 Women’s Leadership Program

Written by: Jennifer Gades

By Jennifer Gades  |  Photos by J. Alan Paul Photography and Hillary Ehlen

Since 2009, 350 women in the Fargo-Moorhead area have participated in the inspiring United Way 35 under 35 Women’s Leadership Program. In the following pages, we celebrate the 2019 class who have been teamed up with local leaders and dedicated themselves to personal growth and development. They focused on leadership, public speaking and other developmental topics to better serve themselves, their companies and the community. 

Left to right: Elissa Berg, Jocelyn Johnson, Shauna Erickson, Marie Buchli
and Megan Hills

Elissa Berg
Branch Assistant Manager
U.S. Bank

Who has most influenced your drive in investing in your career? 
U.S. Bank has been an incredibly supportive company to work for and has greatly influenced my career development. Each manager I’ve worked for has had an open-door policy, and they’ve taken interest in me as a person. I’ve always felt supported when I’ve shared my career aspirations, and they’ve worked alongside me to accomplish those goals! I’m thankful to work for a company that has empowered me each step of the way.

Jocelyn Johnson
Regional Sales Director
Discovery Benefits

What is your favorite thing you have learned from the program that you are excited to apply to the workplace?
It has taken time and experience for me to learn and know who I am as an individual. What I know for sure is that every person I have interacted with on this journey has brought something unique and valuable to the table. This experience furthers my belief that it truly takes personalities and strengths of all different kinds to reach goals and achieve new heights in the workplace. I would encourage anyone out there doubting what they bring to the table in their place of work to identify and own their strengths, accept and encourage others for theirs and be a leader from whatever role you are in.

Shauna Erickson M.S., LMFT
Clinical Supervisor and Child Therapist 
The Village Family Service Center

What is one thing that you have personally focused on improving?
I think the culture of one’s life and workplace is directly related to her life satisfaction and investment in the agency. I am focused on continued growth in how I positively contribute to culture in my work and personal life. There is a contagiousness to positive culture, thus by taking initiative in this area, I aim to improve the culture of those around me within my organization, the people I serve and our community.

Marie Buchli
Senior Program Manager
Wells Fargo Bank

What goals do you have to personally continue developing your leadership after the program?
I believe that every person should be working toward becoming the best version of themselves every day. I plan to continue to utilize the amazing resources provided by the company I work for and the community to keep growing as a person and a leader. When you are only in competition with yourself to develop and evolve, you can feel good about every accomplishment you make. This then encourages you to grow and develop those around you. 

Megan Hills
Nursing Practice Specialist 
Sanford Health

Why is it important for women to get involved in groups and programs where they can grow together? 
Even though we all work in different fields, we have a lot in common. Our struggles and successes are similar. Being able to explore these situations and concepts with 34 other talented, intelligent women is invaluable. We all have so much of our career ahead of us and this experience will certainly shape the way we lead in the future.

Left to right: Mallari Ackerman, Ashley Eastwell, Hannah Savoy, Stacy Kemerling and Kelly Lauinger

Mallari Ackerman
Director of Sales
Fargo-Moorhead Convention & Visitors Bureau

Why is it important for women to get involved in groups and programs where they can grow together? 
Whether we are entrepreneurs, new moms, fueled by coffee or all the above, as women, our tribe is the glue that holds us together. It’s the sense of community where we can be transparent and press into real life struggles that bring growth and friendship on the other side. As part of a group like this, these 35 ladies can count on encouragement and accountability from one another that helps us grow as individuals and as a community. Best of all, it’s a place where we know that we’re not in it alone.

Ashley Eastwell
Human Resources Generalist II
Doosan Bobcat

What does leadership mean to you? 
We assume people will be good leaders if they work hard and demonstrate competence; however, the best leaders I know are strong at connecting with people, gaining trust and ultimately building relationships. Thus, leadership, to me, is the ability to value people over power.

Why is it important for women to get involved in programs where they can grow together?
It is important for any person to take an opportunity to network. We limit ourselves if we don’t take advantage of building relationships where we can learn from others, partner on projects, or understand different perspectives. 

Hannah Savoy
Marketing Manager 

What advice would you give the next generation of aspiring female leaders? 
The worst thing that will ever happen is someone telling you no. Just GO FOR IT! 

What hurdle do you feel you have had to overcome in the workplace? 
In a team of 10, it was a big challenge to realize and recognize what type of leadership we each brought to work. It took me a long time to feel comfortable in understanding I was still a leader even in a small group.

Stacy Kemerling
Account Assistant
Dawson Insurance, a Marsh & McLennan Agency LLC, company

Who has most influenced your drive in investing in your career?
My family raised me to be independent and to go after what I want. As I got older, that translated to my career and to always strive to be the best that I can be at whatever I am doing. Whether it was working retail, as a receptionist or as a supervisor, I always work hard to do my best and to keep improving.

Kelly Lauinger
E-Commerce Product Merchant Lead

How does the United Way 35 Under 35 Program impact more than the 35 women in the program? 
This program makes you STOP and THINK about what you are doing and what you are trying to accomplish. It helps you look within to see who you are and who you want to be. With that, there is a trickling effect… people will see that confidence that the 35 program has given them and truly ask others, “How can I excel in my career? How can I feel better about who I am? How can I do better for myself, my family and my community?” And really, the motivation and drive from other women that have had the chance to experience this program, will inspire others to be their best selves, do more, see more and feel more. 

Left to right: Jessica Ridout, Megan Myrdal, Kacie Weber, Larissa Kunde, Tessa Hand

Jessica Ridout
Group Finance Manager

What advice would you give the next generation of aspiring female leaders? 
Do things that make you nervous and uncomfortable. Don’t discount yourself. We can’t all be great at the same things, so don’t compare yourself to others, and focus on what you bring to the table. I guarantee others see the value you bring more easily than you see it yourself, so walk into the room like a boss and know that you belong.

Megan Myrdal
Director of Domestic Marketing and Communications
Northarvest Bean Growers Association

Why is it important for women to get involved in groups and programs where they can grow together? 
At this stage of life, I think many women lead busy, if not wildly hectic lives. It can be challenging to find time to just maintain work, family and other life commitments, let alone find new opportunities to meet other women for personal and professional growth. Getting involved with programs or groups that are focused on connecting women at similar stages of life and allowing women to share struggles, successes, goals and aspirations is powerful. It helps women to feel understood, supported and to ultimately grow. 

Kacie Weber
Talent Recruiter
CoreLink Administrative Solutions

What unique perspectives do women bring to the table? 
I believe women have a special skill set in emotional intelligence and instinct. We are all different, of course, but there is something special about our ability to see things others may not. I believe when women are put into positions to make a difference, they will work hard to do so. But we also recognize that we can’t always get to where we want to be on our own. We build strong networks of people who can help us learn and grow as we strive to reach our goals. 

Larissa Kunde
HR Specialist
Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota

How have you seen workplaces evolve to empower women? 
“Empowerment stems from feeling fully-supported.” Workplaces have evolved by encouraging women to pursue continued education and attend trainings to stay abreast of industry trends. Women are now more likely to pursue higher education and an advanced degree than in previous years. More women are becoming entrepreneurs and changing the status quo. Flexible work schedules, mentorship and managerial openness allow women the ability to balance family, receive the support they need and builds rapport between employees and management. 

Tessa Hand
Registered Nurse
Essentia Health

How have you seen workplaces evolve to empower women? 
Nursing, in particular, is a unique profession because it has been predominately female since its beginning. It was founded by women and has evolved into what it is today because of passionate women. I love being a part of an industry that has been driven by women. Women have started using their nursing degrees in new ways, whether by continuing on with higher education degrees, working in management roles or even working in roles that aren’t traditionally held by nurses. Nurses, and women, continue to pave the way in the healthcare industry, and I’m so excited to be a part of that.

Left to right: Annika Perkins, Jesseca White-Tuton, Sonja Stang, Jessica Anderson and Alison Molony

Annika Perkins
Associate Client Consultant
Sundog Interactive

How does the United Way 35 Under 35 Program impact more than the 35 women in the program? 
After the first session, I immediately implemented my learnings into my job. The learnings are applicable in many aspects of our life and community. One session focuses on philanthropy and giving back to our community to strengthen it. We also utilize a tool that highlights each woman’s strengths, and it’s amazing to not only see the variety and diversity of strengths within the group but also to recognize how vital each strengths is in enacting positive change in our community. The program isn’t just a personal experience; it’s one that will affect our companies, colleagues and community in lasting ways. 

Jesseca White-Tuton
Resource Officer 
Fargo Police Department

Who has most influenced your drive in investing in your career? 
I would have to say my younger self. I look back at when I was first starting out as a police officer and how unsure of myself and how timid I was. I told myself, early on, to “Fake it till you make it.” I’m not sure if I’ve made it quite yet, but I’m definitely not the timid, self-conscious person I was back then, which has influenced my career greatly.

Sonja Stang
Director of Community Relations 

What goals do you have to personally continue developing your leadership after the program?
My goals are to be mindfully open to new experiences I can learn from and take something from. I strongly believe we are never done learning and working on ourselves. We are lucky to live in a community that has so many opportunities for connection and networking with others. I’m amazed at what I’ve already learned from this exceptional group of women, and it has me excited to expand my personal and professional relationships and get involved. 

Jessica Anderson
LCSW- School Social Worker 
Fargo Public Schools

What does leadership mean to you? 
To be a leader is to accept responsibility that others look to you for guidance, direction and support. It is a commitment to meet people where they are at without judgment and encourage them to meet their goals. To lead is to be authentic, honest and recognize that your example carries as much weight as your words. I have been fortunate to have mentors who have demonstrated genuine leadership and have had the opportunity at Fargo Public Schools to work for some of the most caring, thoughtful leaders who have continuously encouraged my pursuit of knowledge and supported my role with the students and families I serve.

Alison Molony
Director of Membership and Events
Oxbow Country Club

What unique perspectives do women bring to the table? 
I think that it is important to realize that women bring a wide variety of skills to the table based on their own individual skill set. Women don’t all necessarily hold the same collective perspective but can be a valuable voice to add to the conversation. As more and more females are promoted to leadership positions and enter into industries that are typically dominated by men, you gain fresh insight and ultimately open the door for talented female leaders to follow. 

Left to right: Amanda Huggett, Courtney Posch, Anamaria Olson, Laura Maeyaert and Rayonna Hystead

Amanda Huggett
Manager of Marketing & Communications
Fargo Moorhead West Fargo Chamber of Commerce

How does the United Way 35 Under 35 Program impact more than the 35 women in the program? 
Each woman who goes through the 35 Under 35 program brings skills and tools with them to their other circles. Their workplaces benefit from their experience, training and development. When one person learns and grows, their families, friends, co-workers also reap the benefits. When one thrives, we all thrive. Communities are strong because of the people in them, and we’re fortunate to have such a program contributing to the success of so many individuals, businesses and our metro. 

Courtney Posch
Pricing Specialist Supervisor 
Border States Electric

What goals do you have to personally continue developing your leadership after the program? 
I want to always be open to be a student and continue to learn new things to grow both professionally and personally. I also want to continue to surround myself with inspirational people who enjoy what they do. I will continue to connect with the strong women I have met through this amazing journey. We learn so much from one another as we each bring such a unique viewpoint to the table.

Anamaria Olson
Loan Admin Support II
Bank of the West

Who has most influenced your drive in investing in your career? 
I was in first grade when I first realized my mom’s drive and what such drive can do for a woman. Until that point in my life, she was a chemical engineer. At that time, many of the factories were closing down in the region where we lived in Romania, and she found herself in her 40s not just without a job, but also in a field where her knowledge was no longer needed. While I was learning to read and write, she went back to school to become an accountant and proved herself in a new field. Her influence drove me to work hard and look for opportunities to grow and better myself every chance I get.

Laura Maeyaert
Sales/Marketing Coordinator
Edgewood Senior Living

Who has most influenced your drive in investing in your career? 
My husband has always been my biggest supporter. Shortly after we were married, I went through a career change, including going back to school. He is always pushing me to learn more and to stand up for myself in my career. There are days I have come home frustrated about something. He knows when something is bothering me and helps me to talk through it. He has helped me to realize my career goals and dream big about the future. He is very driven himself, which is easy to feed off of. 

Rayonna Hystead
Marketing Assistant
GOLDMARK Property Management

What unique perspectives do women bring to the table? 
Women often strive to bring out what is best in a group of people and cares about each individual and their personal growth. I also believe women listen differently. Instead of taking words at face value, women tend to try to understand the context of a conversation, body language, and deeper meaning to put it all together into a different and more effective way to converse. Because of the greater understanding for more than just words, women can understand more of the people around them and use that to effectively lead by showing compassion, understanding and connectivity. 

Left to right: Brittany Butler, Meagan McDougall, Kristin Taffe, Sarah Nupdal and Heather Eken

Brittany Butler
Product Champion
Myriad Mobile

How does the United Way 35 Under 35 Program impact more than the 35 women in the program? 
Participants are taught a new language, a new way to think about things and challenged to focus on aspects of themselves and their communities that they have never looked at before. This causes a cascade effect of conversations that may never have been had, connections that may never have happened, and new passions being brought to light in the community. Just look at the group of accomplished, hilarious, passionate women. There is no way that this year’s program will end with a whimper. Once this group of women has their hearts on fire and their feet firmly planted on the paths they want to follow, Fargo won’t ever be the same.

Meagan McDougall
Account Manager 
High Point Networks

What is your favorite thing you have learned from the program that you are excited to apply to the workplace?
In the first session, we focused on understanding each of our individual strengths and how they relate to and work with the strengths of others. I enjoyed the perspective of focusing on what individuals bring to the table and how to capitalize on it instead of focusing on areas of improvement. While we all have tasks in our day-to-day jobs and lives that are not motivating or don’t feel natural, we learned that the more we can capitalize on what we do well, the happier and more productive we will be in our personal and professional lives.

Kristin Taffe
Manager – Business Valuation
Eide Bailly LLP

Who has most influenced your drive in investing in your career?
Amber Ferrie, Partner in Transactions Services of Eide Bailly, has demonstrated the importance of investing in one’s own career. She has shown me that I shouldn’t be afraid to be ambitious and that I cannot be a bystander in my own career. A career is not something that happens to you; it is something you help create. I have watched Amber take risks where at times it would have been easier to let things remain unchanged. When I became a remote employee, she said, “Don’t take yourself out of your own career path with this move.” She continues to ensure I am passionate about growing professionally and pushes me to want more.

Sarah Nupdal
Vice President – Legal Counsel, Banking
Bell Bank

How does the United Way 35 Under 35 Program impact more than the 35 women in the program? 
Developing leadership skills starts at the individual level and overflows into each aspect of the individual’s life, creating a ripple effect that reaches far beyond the 35 Under 35 program. As women learn and grow, they become empowered to share their skills, experiences and information to benefit others. This has a positive impact on their friends and family, their organizations and our community as a whole.

Heather Eken
Physical Therapist
South East Education Cooperative (SEEC)

What advice would you give the next generation of aspiring female leaders? 
I would share with them that life will continue to present them with opportunities to discover who they are, and the most authentic and genuine version of them is truly amazing. Mere moments can open new doors to opportunities. Within those moments, they should choose to love themselves, to communicate effectively and with sincerity, and focus on the greater good for all.

Left to right: Kelsey Knutson, Molly Johnson, Julie Zimny, Karen Berntson and Amanda Even

Kelsey Knutson
Director of Public & Resource Relations
TNT Kid’s Fitness

What does leadership mean to you? 
I continuously refer to a sequence I learned when I worked at Northwestern Mutual, which is: lead yourself, lead your business and lead others. First, in order to lead yourself, you must be firm in your values and in your goals. Then, it is important to be willing to put in the hard work and understand the processes and systems in place to accomplish your goals at work. Then, I am able to step up and truly lead others. Leadership also means to always be the most positive person in the room and lead by example. My favorite childhood saying is, “attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference,” and I think that still holds true as a saying for a leader to live by.

Molly Johnson
Marketing & Client Event Coordinator
Ameriprise Financial

What advice would you give the next generation of aspiring female leaders? 
You can have it all; it just will look different for everyone. As a female today, achieving a balance among family, professional roles and personal growth is an ongoing balancing act. As women, we want to compare our strengths and weaknesses and how we are measuring up to everyone else.

The best advice I can give is to find a group of strong women to support you, be your authentic self in relationships and accept that what is best for you looks different than the woman (or man!) next to you. 

Julie Zimny
Youth Program Director, CF-L1 Trainer
CrossFit Fargo

What does leadership mean to you? 
Being a leader doesn’t mean your goal is to gain followers but to inspire more leaders. Leaders listen to and encourage others. They know what a privilege it is to serve and work alongside their team. A leader is continuously growing and learning, and they openly share their knowledge with others. They take responsibility for their actions and work not only to correct their mistakes but to learn from them. Leadership is about action, not a title or position.

Karen Berntson
District Director for North Dakota 
Junior Achievement

What do you think is the greatest challenge women have to overcome in the workplace? 
I think the greatest challenge for women can often times be ourselves. In one of our sessions, we learned about Impostor Syndrome, the belief that you are only successful because of luck or circumstances, not because of your skills or experiences, and how so many women struggle to accept positive feedback about their accomplishments. We need to let go of the thought that we are just lucky and embrace the confidence and mindset that we can do anything!

Amanda Even
Communications Coordinator 
Lakes & Prairies Community Action Partnership

What hurdle do you feel you have had to overcome in the workplace? 
I struggled for years to find a balance between my professional and personal life. I’ve had seasons where I poured myself into my profession and neglected my hobbies and personal relationships. I was always succeeding on one side and failing on the other. I’ve finally found a blend of professional and personal life with specific priorities and boundaries to keep me on track. This system allows life to ebb and flow with the reality that some seasons require more time in the professional sector but with the promise to take a vacation or a weekend to recharge and spend time with friends and family.

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Jennifer is a University of Minnesota journalism graduate. She has worked in publishing industry as well as in sales and management for over 10 years. Jennifer is currently the Associate Publisher of Fargo Inc!.