Young professionals are taking leadership roles
This month marks six years that I have been an active part of the Young Professionals of Wichita, first as a volunteer and now as the Executive Director for close to three years. This role has given me the unique opportunity to meet hundreds, if not thousands, of young leaders excited about making Wichita a destination community.
The public faces of economic development efforts may be over 40, but young professionals are taking leadership roles and making things happen, too. Jason Gregory, Jaimie Zellner, and Heather Denker are in leadership roles at Wichita Downtown Development Corporation and the Greater Wichita Partnership. Sam Foreman played a key volunteer role in developing the e2e accelerator project. Jason Cox, Carlos Fernandez, Jonathan George, Kenton Hanson, and Jacob Wayman were part of the team that brought 1 Million Cups to Wichita to continue building the entrepreneurial ecosystem.
YPW has had representation on the Chamber Board of Directors since 2008, and the Chamber Board Chairs have been including additional young professional leaders for the past three years. In 2016, Ellen Decker, Moji Fanimokun, Matt Michaelis, Todd Ramsey, Gabe Schlickau, Bradley Tideman, Zach Woodburn, and Damon Young represent a growing group of young leaders making their voices heard on the Chamber Board.
Our generation includes business leaders and founders who are still under age 40, including Aaron Bastian, Jon Rolph, Ben Hutton, Felicia DeSpain, Lamont Anderson, Crystal McDonald, Shannon Dykman & Kalene Smith, Cassandra Bryan, Cara Kliewer, Chris Callen, Justin McClure, Stacey & Tory Lattin, Brock Beran, John Rupp, Christina Long, Valerie Reimers, Ian Crane & Andy Boyd, Chad Glenn, Nick Penner, Nate Gregory, Leslie Wessel, Janelle King, Brent & Brad Stevens, and many more.
Young professionals are also leading in important roles in our community. At least 50 spots on nonprofit Boards of Directors or advisory committees are currently filled by past or present YPW members. A few examples include Jade Martin, vice president of the Kansas Aviation Museum Board in 2015; Keith Marshall, 2016 Chair of the Child Advocacy Center of Sedgwick County; Kris Wessel, 2016 chair of the Wichita Manufacturer’s Association; Dominic Canare, 2016 President of MakeICT; and Ebony Clemons, who serves on so many boards we can’t list them all here.
Then there are the young professionals who are in founder or executive-level roles at those nonprofits: Portia Portgual, Jeannette Clement, David Stupay, Claude Puntel-Sessions, Ben Zickafoose, Brandon Johnson, Andrie Krahl, Rae Kim, Lela Meadow-Conner, Karen Roswurm-Countryman, Ashley Thorne, and Jennifer White.
Over the past 10 years, more than 1,000 YPW volunteers have contributed many thousands of hours to helping YPs connect to the people they need to meet to build their business or career, to the tools they need to develop professionally, to opportunities to give back to the community, and to things to do that help them enjoy their lives in Wichita.
And if YPs are looking for other ways to lead in the community, organizations created for and/or led by fellow YPs include Bike Walk Wichita, Boys and Girls Clubs of South Central Kansas Young Leaders Impact Board, Delano Association, DevICT, Douglas Design District, ICT Army of Artists, ICT Urban Professionals, MakeICT, Open Wichita, Old Town Association, Ronald McDonald House Red Shoe Society, Rotaract, Sedgwick County Zoo Pride, Startup Wichita, United Way Young Leaders, Wichita Art Museum Contemporaries, We Are Wichita, Women Who Code, Wichita Symphony Orchestra Resonance, Young Professionals League of Softball & Kickball, and many professional organizations’ YP affiliates.
This community does not lack for young professionals who are passionate about making Wichita a destination. They are already leading within their companies and within the community.
What we need from all young professionals is this: pay attention to what your friends and coworkers are doing in the community and celebrate their good work. If you’re already a leader in any capacity, look for ways to continue identifying and developing the young professionals around you to grow our visibility even more.
What we need from the established community leaders is more mentorship, encouragement, and recognition. And we need to be included in the weighty conversations about what our community’s future looks like.