As an undergraduate business student, no concept felt more nebulous to me than “networking.” Soon after graduating and accepting a full-time role in Greater Des Moines, I discovered that growing my professional network was not only important for my job, but that my career development depended on it. Thankfully, a chance encounter with a passionate mentor and sponsor thrust me into the next level of my education, and I learned that growing a professional network is a skill that can and should be developed.
In November 2015, I attended a Chamber of Commerce luncheon to hear a panel of women. After asking a question of the panel, I was approached by Carole Chambers (Bachelors Journalism, French) who took pride in mentoring young men and women throughout the Des Moines community. She invited me to coffee to talk through some issues I had experienced as a young woman new to the working world and that coffee led to many more.
With time, Carole became more than my mentor. She became my sponsor. She facilitated connection after connection: introductions for one-on-one coffees, invitations to community events, a networking breakfast club, etc. Carole offered very direct and practical avenues to grow my professional network.
One networking connection I made was with Tippie alum Dana Ramundt (BBA74) who met me for lunch without hesitation and offered me advice about taking the next step in my career. These initial encounters snowballed into even more connections, and I said yes to every introduction and opportunity. I met Terri Vaughan and Nick Gerhart, well-known, national leaders in the insurance industry. I agreed to 7:00 a.m. coffees and phone conversations, lunches, and events.
I learned through Carole and Dana about the Greater Des Moines Leadership Institute Community Connect program, a six-week program that invests in the next generation of community leadership by connecting participants with experienced community leaders. Carole and Dana are founding mentors and sponsors of the program. “Networking” came to life as executives of local and national organizations I recognized and respected were suddenly accessible to me. I was surprised to learn from one leader, a frequent guest speaker in college classrooms, that he always offered his contact information at the end of a session and almost never received a follow-up. I vowed to take those opportunities when they were offered to me.
It was never lost on me that Carole did a lot of heavy lifting in those early days. I learned how to graciously accept that support. That is how my network grew – and with it, a responsibility to foster the resulting relationships and build new ones. Through the Tippie Young Alumni Board and the Women in Business mentorship program, I am able to connect with students who are at the very beginning stages of their careers. I am taken back to those early days when networking was new and awkward. By Carole and Dana’s example, it is my turn to do some heavy lifting of my own and pay forward the Iowa network.
Jenna Herr (BBA13) is a senior risk and compliance specialist at A.T. Kearney in Chicago, Illinois. She is a current member of the Tippie Young Alumni Board.