My father was one of the driving forces that fueled my passion for the trades. He was a woodworker, a finish carpenter, and my hero. I loved working by his side in the woodshop, even at a young age. I was too small for safety glasses, so I wore pool goggles to keep the dust out of my eyes. In my first year of high school, I signed up for building trades classes to follow in his footsteps. My school counselor called me to the office and said, "Those are boys' classes." As we discussed elective options, I settled on my second choice, agriculture. It was a pivotal moment in my life, changing my future forever.
I found a deep passion for agriculture and the National FFA Organization, so much so that I made it my career choice. I majored in Agricultural Education at Purdue and started my teaching career at Jay County High School in 2008. While teaching, I became active in service organizations such as the Indiana Association for Career and Technical Education. I met amazing people through these organizations who were passionate about serving their schools, students, and communities.
While attending a workshop, I crossed paths with Ronna Kawsky, retired Warsaw Area Career Center Director. I shared my goals and passion for Career and Technical Education, and she suggested I get my CTE director license. I shared that it wasn't in the budget, and she immediately said, "I have a friend I want you to meet." I graciously accepted help from a stranger (now friend), with a passion for CTE, whom I had just met that morning. It was another important moment in my life that again changed my future forever.
With a glowing recommendation from Ronna, I was accepted into the CTE Program at Purdue University with the support of a scholarship from Dr. James Greenan. Upon graduation, I was given the opportunity to serve as the Area 18 CTE Director, where I now provide support to nine school corporations and over 9,000 CTE students. I help students explore career opportunities that interest them no matter their background! CTE at the middle school, high school, and post-secondary levels provides a practical approach to engaging students by providing hands-on experience for students, which provides critical thinking opportunities that test students' problem-solving skills. When students take pride in their accomplishments, they become more confident in their abilities and skills. As students develop and grow, so does their self-image, which triggers decision-making skills that help develop my students into productive citizens in our community before and after graduation.
To those looking to forge a similar path, I offer the following advice:
Share your goals: Whether personal or career goals, genuine passion fuels perseverance and innovation, and talk about it.
Be Adaptable: Embrace change and be open to new opportunities. The journey may not always be what you had planned, but each experience contributes to your growth.
Build Relationships: Find a mentor; reach out to someone in the career path you are interested in and ask them about it! A strong network provides support, guidance, and diverse perspectives, which is essential for personal and professional growth.
Remember that sharing your goals is not just about personal progress; it's about creating a community that thrives on collaboration and mutual empowerment. Your dreams have the power to resonate with others and spark conversations that lead to incredible outcomes. So, don't hesitate to voice your aspirations! There's a world of possibilities waiting just around the corner!
Director, Area 18 CTE
Nearly 500 local students are starting the fall semester with one less thing to worry about - their college bill. Questa Education Foundation provides students up to $5,000 a year to close the gap between college costs, available aid, and their remaining expenses. Questa awards make it possible for more local students to afford college while reducing their debt at graduation. Questa Scholars receive loan funding that is 50-100% forgiven when they graduate and return to Northeast Indiana to live and work. Funding makes college more accessible and debt forgiveness encourages graduates to join our workforce, meeting regional talent needs.
With support from funding partners like the Don Wood Foundation, Questa is expanding each year to serve more students and is planning a 33% increase in scholar awards in the 2023-2024 academic year. Questa provides funding for traditional students and adult learners pursuing all levels of postsecondary education – from certificates to graduate degrees. Another 100 or more students will join Questa programs this year through the Contemporary or Career Scholar programs, which accept applications year-round.
In addition to their forgivable loan program, Questa provides a database of local scholarship opportunities to help students find additional aid for educational expenses.
The Don Wood Foundation believes that entrepreneurship is for everyone and should be made accessible to everyone. The video below, delivered in Spanish, really makes this point.
For English-translated captions, be sure to:
1. Turn on captions in the bottom right corner of the video.
2. Click on the settings gear and select subtitles.
3. Click auto-translate and choose the language you want to read in.
The average age someone starts a business is 43. Coincidentally, that is also the age of Leslee Hill, NIIC Director of WEOC Women’s Business Center (WBC). She’ll tell you that her adventures in business ownership make her more relational to clients. She was a co-owner of a mobile application start-up that served as a connector for individuals seeking image consulting. She sold her part of the business after about a year. Before joining NIIC, Hill was a solopreneur for about four years, founding a personal image/personal branding company.
Hill leads NIIC’s women’s business center (established in 2015) located on NIIC’s campus. WEOC WBC is a U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) Women’s Business Center (150 centers in the U.S. and two in Indiana). Since joining NIIC five years ago, Hill has worked with NIIC staff to infuse WEOC WBC with the same foundational entrepreneurial support she would have liked to have had. This includes transparent connections to other business owners, access to subject matter experts and mentors, and business tools that could be easily implemented.
“Small business is the backbone of the American economy,” said SBA Indiana District Director Stacey Poynter. “Over 99% of the businesses in Indiana are small, and women own 47.3% of them. The WEOC WBC meets the needs of women entrepreneurs by providing outstanding support and wrap-around services using a creative, inspired, and innovative approach to programming, business coaching, and mentoring. The WEOC WBC team understands the barriers women face and meets them where they are on their journeys without judgment. They empower women by acting as a guide lighting their way for entrepreneurial success.”
This includes companies like the 2023 NIIC Mirro Founder Award recipient Sasha Chaney, Founder of Legendary Barber Lounge. And award finalists and founders Nurliza Ahmad Yee, Shwe Myeik Travel & Tour: Hajj & Umrah, LLC; NiYoka Moore, Moore Unique Styles, LLC, and Juliana Restrepo, Columbian Delights Fort Wayne.
All entrepreneurs should do the most challenging work of all -- mindset work. Starting and running a business will have you pulling from places within your psyche that you typically run from. Business ownership will have you running into yourself around every corner. Surround yourself with a therapist, a business coach, and five supportive individuals you will tap into weekly. Stay focused and keep going.
Director, WEOC Women's Business Center
As a child, my father encouraged me to find leadership roles. He often commented on my academic achievements, athletic performance, musical abilities, or other undertakings from the perspective of how I could lead my peers. If I only had a dollar for every time he told me, "Laura, leadership is lonely." I often marveled at this statement, wondering what he could mean. Anyone who knows me recognizes my extroversion and natural inclination to make a friend. And, after all, don’t leaders lead other people? How could that be lonely?
Years have passed since those early days, and my experiences in leadership have continued to evolve. As time marches forward, I have begun to appreciate and understand this statement. A true leader has the confidence and the fortitude to stand alone. It takes a lot of courage and grit to make decisions or take a position on an unpopular issue, even if it is right. These experiences were amplified by being a younger female leader working in the space of advancing technical education. I spent over a decade working in the Mechanical Engineering program as the senior development officer at Purdue University’s main campus. In this role, I was a young female rooted in a traditionally male-dominated field. Similar opportunities working in technical education advancement for Ivy Tech Community College and Trine University would follow.
Fast forward to today, being at the helm of a large private foundation focused on advanced manufacturing, entrepreneurship, and technology. It can be isolating to look around and realize that many other leaders of nonprofit enterprises focused on technical education and entrepreneurship are led by more traditional choices by their respective boards. I feel honored and blessed to be counted among them, although I still recognize that gaps exist in getting more females into these fields. Additionally, I strive to achieve and model an ideal work/life balance in a high-profile position to encourage my team to do the same.
To that end, I greatly enjoy the opportunity to mentor up-and-coming leaders of tomorrow. While I sometimes shy away from using the precise phrase my father often shared with me, I recognize the tenants still ring true. I encourage tomorrow’s leaders, particularly younger females, to look inside, dig deep, and understand their own core values if they wish to lead by example with others. There will be days in a leadership role when it is a difficult road to walk, but the outcomes of leading others toward their own growth and success in a way that upholds what is right and just are absolutely worth every step of the way.
“You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” -Eleanor Roosevelt
President & CEO
In the United States, the engineering workforce remains predominantly male – only 14% of engineering positions are held by women. Although women make up 20% of engineering graduates, nearly 40% of women with engineering degrees either quit or never enter an engineering profession. All stakeholders, including K-12 educators, universities, and employers, need to work together to promote STEM subjects to girls and young women. This should start at an early age and include steps such as providing mentorship opportunities, educating school counselors and parents to help them support their students, and training on potential biases around engineering professions.
Research shows that most students form their career preferences during high school. This means it is too late to persuade young women to pursue STEM majors once they enter college. Exposing young girls to STEM activities at an early age is more likely to inspire them to pursue STEM-related majors after high school. When I was the faculty advisor for the Society of Women Engineers chapter at Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville, we launched the annual “Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day” in 2013. The event inspires girls’ interests in engineering, exposes them to engineering lab experiments in different disciplines, and pairs them with college students to serve as their mentors. After ten years, “Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day” has touched the lives of thousands of girls. Many of them have gone on to pursue STEM studies in college, and engineering careers afterwards.
Since joining Indiana Tech, I’ve collaborated closely with our team and community partners to expand our summer camp programs and attract more girls and young women to participate. We were recently awarded a $1 million grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. in support of our work through its program, Indiana Youth Programs on Campus. Indiana Tech’s initiative, titled “Industry 5.0 Talent Pathway through Indiana Tech’s STEAM Academy,” is expanding summer camp offerings for K-12 students and developing a variety of after-school programs. In the summer of 2023, the STEAM Academy has offered five different summer camps, including Build+Learn STEM Middle School Camp, High School STEM Camp, Creative Expression and Communication Camp, Investigative Science Camp, and Cyber Patriot Camp. Our community partners for the STEAM Academy have included the Boys Scouts of America, STARBASE Indiana Fort Wayne, the Air Force Association’s CyberPatriot, Gear UP FWCS, and Believe in a Dream, Inc. The camps have attracted hundreds of students from around our region, many of them girls who are gaining a new interest and encouragement in STEM fields.
As one of only 80 female engineering deans in the nation, I believe mentorship and role models are vital to inspire young girls to pursue careers in engineering. No matter her background, if a young girl meets someone like her in an engineering program, she will see firsthand that engineering is a viable and rewarding career path. All female working professionals in our field need to support young girls with interests in STEM. Together, we can help girls build confidence in their strengths and abilities, share our own personal stories, give young girls a sense of belonging in the community of engineers and empower them to succeed in the pursuit of their goals.
Dr. Ying Shang
Dean, Talwar College of Engineering and Computer Sciences
A SEASON OF GROWTH
“Spring is the time of plans and projects.” - Leo Tolstoy
As we joyfully welcome the start of spring, we see a season of rebirth. The trees begin to bud, the daffodils bloom, and the birds migrate back – the air even carries a fresh scent. It is a time for new growth.
At the Don Wood Foundation, the Board and Staff are also experiencing the season of spring. Our Board of Trustees passed our FY2023-2025 Strategic Plan at the March meeting, setting the organization’s direction for the next few years. Many of these initiatives are just launching, and just like in spring, we will be planting the seeds of future efforts and program development of the Foundation. We expect these seeds to take root and sprout in the coming months! Some of these measures include strategies for enhancing awareness-building around advanced manufacturing, scholarships, and entrepreneurism.
Also new to the organization this season is our Grant Workshops program, an endeavor our staff deployed to build relationships with community organizations and enhance our grantmaking program for current and prospective grantees. We have had a resounding response to the workshops, with the first few sessions in March and April sold out.
These workshops also replicate business practices important to Don Wood during his professional career. Don believed in building relationships face-to-face and valued human interaction. We call this the Don-ism “STP³” – this meant “See the People, Show the Product, Sell the Product.” Don knew that even if the initial meeting did not bring an immediate sale, the rapport built with potential customers, vendors, and suppliers could lead to future business growth. While the Foundation does not have a “product to sell,” we see our relationship-building with the greater community weaving STP³ into how we conduct business as part of our organizational core values. The emergence of the Grant Workshops program is one way the Foundation is refreshing business practices in a way that also honors our founder.
“Nothing ever seems impossible in the spring, you know.” - Lucy Maud Montgomery
Laura M. Macknick
President & CEO