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executive director

Kevin Fochs – Executive Director of Alaska FFA

Kevin Fochs - Executive Director of Alaska FFA
About Kevin Fochs

Kevin Fochs (@fochs_for_hd60) is the Executive Director of the Alaska FFA. Kevin spent 32 years in the classroom and is an award-winning agriculture educator and FFA advisor.

Kevin specializes in leadership development of youth and educating them about the opportunities and importance of agriculture. He is responsible for the oversight and management of the Alaska FFA Association and the Alaska FFA Foundation.

Connect with Kevin: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

Listen to the episode now on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or on your favourite podcast platform.

Resources Mentioned

Alaska Future Farmers of America Association (FFA)

Agriculture Education at Montana State University-Bozeman

Masters of Education at Montana State University-Bozeman

Hobson Public School

The Transcript

**Please note that all of our transcriptions come from rev.com and are 80% accurate. We’re grateful for the robots that make this possible and realize that it’s not a perfect process.

Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today I have the privilege of being joined by Kevin Fochs. He is the executive director of the Alaska FFA. Kevin spent 32 years in the classroom and is an award winning agricultural educator and FFA advisor. Kevin specializes in leadership development of youth and educating them about the opportunities and importance of agriculture. He is responsible for the oversight and management of the Alaska FFA Association and the Alaska FFA Foundation. Kevin does amazing work and we have a very enjoyable, laid back, but authentic conversation on today’s episode. I hope you enjoy it and I’ll see you on the other side. Kevin, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about what brought you to where you are in your own life’s journey so far?


Kevin Fochs (01:32):
Yeah, well, I grew up on a cattle ranch in Montana actually, ’cause kids spent most of my life, life or youth in on a farm and ranch, raising cows and milking cows, riding horses. And when I graduated from high school, my mom said “Hey, you need to go on to college” and I was kind of fighting that I wasn’t actually thought, oh, I’ll just keep be work for a while and then think about it but she insisted, which was a very good thing. And so I went to Montana State, actually got a degree in agriculture education, started teaching in the state of Montana, taught there for, actually taught 6 years in a little town called Hobson. And and then I took a year off and got my master’s degree in school administration, which I never did use, but went to and then went to a town of Livingston. It was kind, it’s kind of a funny story, how I got to Livingston.


Kevin Fochs (02:31):
I finished up my master’s degree and the agriculture teacher that was there called I’m take a sabbatical for a year’s pregnant in Livingston. So he says, will you come teach for me for a year? And I said, sure, that sounds good. I didn’t have a job at the time. And so I went thinking I was gonna be there a year and he decided he was never, he was gonna stay on the ranch. So I stayed there and taught for 26 more. So, wow. So I taught 32 years in Montana. Wow. And actually taught those twin girls too, which was kinda cool when when they were, they took my class and the, the first week of school they, I had the kids introduce themselves and these two twins introduce themselves. And, and I says, you know, if you don’t, if you don’t like your ag teacher, you can blame your dad. And they, they would come up to afterwards, like what you about getting started in Oxton. So, yeah.


Sam Demma (03:37):
So that’s awesome. And


Kevin Fochs (03:38):
Then I, you know, I retired 32 years in Montana retired. I was, but, and I last about four months and I’m like, no, this isn’t ready. This isn’t where I wanna be. So not ready for retirement. So that’s brought me to Alaska. So I took the job up here in 2014 as their state FFA advisor. So I oversee all the FFA chapters in the state. So I’ve been doing that going on seven years. So


Sam Demma (04:08):
That’s awesome. And it sounds like your mom played a big role in you going to school and continuing your education. Did you have other educators in your life that tapped you on the shoulder and said, Hey, Kevin, you know, you should consider doing this work or getting into agricultural education. Did you have other educators that inspired you? And if you did, what did they do that made a huge impact on you? If you can remember any of them,


Kevin Fochs (04:32):
You know, I probably you know, my family, yeah. On my mom’s side was a lot of educators. My grandma was an elementary teacher. I had, I had three of my uncles actually taught my mom’s brothers and, and really, you know, I’m real close to, or really my, my uncle John made a big impression on me as youth. You know, part of my history. I lost my kinda a tragic story when I was young. I lost my my grandfather and uncle and my dad were hit by a train and killed when I was wow. Little, my mom at the time had four girls and myself and was pregnant with my little sister birdie. So she ran our ranch for about three years before she remarried. So wow. Real strong lady. So got a lot of, I listened to my mom, I guess growing up and making, you know, having her tell me to go to school, I guess was probably a good thing.


Kevin Fochs (05:38):
I actually looked at being a vet and got accepted to Colorado state finances. Weren’t that great for me? So I couldn’t afford to go to school there. So that’s what took me to, to MSU. And I actually started in architecture and that didn’t sit real well with me. So I actually got good grades in architecture, but decided I wanted to get into something that was, you know, probably still keep me associated with agriculture. Nice. That’s what led me to agriculture education had a, had a great ag teacher in high school, you know, ate, taught for over 40 years. Wow. Still, still talk to Gary Olson frequently. So yeah. Good guy.


Sam Demma (06:26):
Oh, that’s amazing. And thank you for sharing that part of your story. Yeah. I appreciate that must have been a really difficult experience growing up. But I believe that our adversity shapes our values and our principles and the rest of our life. And I’m curious to know what are some of the principles and values that your mom raised you with to help you pursue and continue through this, that difficult challenge at that point in your life or things that you think, ah, I believe this because of my mom. Any, any of those things come to mind? I feel like our, you know, parents play a big role in how we grow up as young people and educators play a big role in how students grow up as well. Curious.


Kevin Fochs (07:05):
Yeah. You know hard work I guess. And, and the ability to do what you set your mind to do, I guess, you know, in a matter of hardship, you know, my mom remarried and had two boys too, so there’s eight kids in our family, but my stepdad real close to him. Cause I was so little when my, my dad passed, my real dad passed away that he was my father, you know? But he used to always say, there’s no such word as I can’t,


Sam Demma (07:35):
Love that.


Kevin Fochs (07:36):
So yeah, that, that’s kinda a, something that drives you, you know, and just seeing the, the hard work and the strength of my mom.


Sam Demma (07:45):
I love that. Thank you for sharing. And, and what do you think keeps you going now? You know, what keeps you, you said you’re well past retirement or you stopped teaching in the classroom and now you’re, you’re doing a lot of work with students in agriculture and you know, it’s been keeping you in Alaska for the past couple years. What is your motivator today? What keeps you going?


Kevin Fochs (08:05):
You know, working with youth keeps you young, that’s fun.


Sam Demma (08:09):
Yeah.


Kevin Fochs (08:10):
And I guess you can always see the impact, you know, that even if you just change, you know, one person’s life there’s to the impact that you make with youth and particularly in Alaska being a young state and not having a lot of strength in their agriculture education programs in the state. So being able to grow that and seeing that you’ve made change, I guess that’s rewarding. So but, but youth always keep you young and you know, and still even touching base with those kids that you impacted when you’re teaching or, or associated with an FFA, you know, is rewarding.


Sam Demma (08:54):
Ah, I love that. And when you think of students whose impact you have seen or heard of maybe even 10 years down the road, sometimes you can probably attest to this. You don’t really know you impacted a kid until 10 years later when they come back and tell you other times, you know, right away do any impact stories of students that that have happened over the past 20, 30 years, however long you’ve been working with youth stick out in your mind are any stories that you can recall that are like, wow, this is, this was amazing. And maybe it’s a very serious story, so you can change their name if you wanna keep it private. But I’m curious if anything comes to mind.


Kevin Fochs (09:29):
Yeah. Oh yeah. There’s a lot of stories. You know, I always said, you know, the kids that were struggling, that you could see that you made a change with were the, probably the most rewarding, you know, a lot of times you have really intelligent students, really capable students and you don’t know that you made an impact on, so the ones that, you know, that’re having tough time with school or with life and, you know, I guess they’re the most rewarding, but one student in particular, I don’t know, I’ve told this story. It’s kinda my success story. I guess a teacher, I had a, I had a student that came into my class as a freshman. He was wearing sandals and short, you know, he was a city kid. He wasn’t your typical FFA type student. And he immediately brought his drop ad slip up to me and said, Hey, I didn’t sign up for this ag class.


Kevin Fochs (10:23):
I’m will you sign my drop ad? And you know, the school’s policy was, they couldn’t change class till the end of the week. Anyway, this was like beginning of school year. And I said, well know what, yeah, I will, at the end of the week, if you want me to sign it, bring it back up. But why don’t you, you know, stick with class till Friday and see what you, you see what you think. And bring it back up Friday if you wanna change so well, the end of the week comes up and he goes, you know, this sounds like an interesting class. I think I’ll, I’ll take this class. You know, he, the funny part is he was, didn’t have any association with agriculture whatsoever. He grew up in, you know, in town and as a sophomore, he ran for our chapter officer and he actually partnered with another classmate and they started raising pigs and he went on and he was really competitive and FFA, our FFA organization had speaking contests.


Kevin Fochs (11:28):
He went to national convention as the state winning speaker and competed nationally in a speaking event. And wow got elected to, to state office in FFA. The president president Clinton at that time came and toured Montana when he was a state officer. And he was one, one of like four people that got to spend a couple days with the president showing him agriculture in Montana. Nice. He went on Montana state and, and, and he got into vet science and he, he met a gal and was in vet science, ended up marrying this gal. He’s now managing the farm and ranch of his wife’s parents who retired. And he runs a 10,000 acre ranch in Montana growing grain and hay. Wow. Livestock and yeah. So pretty cool story. The, the highlights of that story when he got married, he actually asked, asked me to stand in. So


Sam Demma (12:36):
Was that’s amazing.


Kevin Fochs (12:39):
That’s yeah. Success story didn’t have any interest in agriculture whatsoever, but you, you know, impacted him and showed him that there’s opportunity in that as a career. And


Sam Demma (12:55):
That’s amazing. So when, when you think back to that first week of school, and this might be a long time ago, so I apologize for the pressure, but when you, when you think back to that first week that he was in your class, what do you think made him wanna stay by the time Friday came around, but you know, was it just the introduction that week and he might have been interested in the subject. Do you think you did some things that made him feel more welcome and involved, or what do you think by Friday made him not bring that slip to you and have you sign it?


Kevin Fochs (13:27):
Don’t know, I guess hopefully that, you know, I, I always tried to treat all kids with respect and, you know, care about kids. You know, I was accused of spending more time with my students sometimes than my own kids, which I don’t, think’s a bad thing, you know, so I kind was a father figure to some kids, you know, because they spend a lot of, a lot more time, a lot, some, some of ’em probably spent more time with me in class and on FFA activities than they did with their parents. A lot of ’em, but, you know, just welcoming. And I think you know, the nice thing about teaching agriculture was that it’s an elective. It’s not a required course, like some academics. And and, and there was a lot of variety. I really tried to show kids the big picture of agriculture when they were freshman.


Kevin Fochs (14:19):
We did a lot of things. You know, I actually, one thing I did was kinda unique is I actually gave them a list of, of materials of subject units that we were gonna teach. And I would let ’em vote on them, I would say, okay, we’re gonna, I’m gonna teach you most of this stuff, that’s on the list, but I wanna see where your interest flies. And so you know, we had animal signs and plant science and computers and mechanics, little stuff like welding carpentry. And, you know, that’s the neat thing about agriculture. You teach a lot of different subject areas. And so, so I’d give them a little buy in because they thought, you know, that they were, you know, getting to choose what they wanted to learn. Some, you know, that’s a, but most, you know, the one thing I wouldn’t give ’em a choice on, I would preface that too, is, is I had public speaking down as one of one of their choices. And that usually I got the worst voting, you know, nobody likes to public speak, but I would say this one is probably gonna get the least number of votes, but you’re still gonna do a speech this year, you know? And I made all my classes and good speeches during the year. So


Sam Demma (15:34):
That’s awesome.


Kevin Fochs (15:35):
All my classes. Cause I just, it’s just a, it’s a scary thing for people to speak. You know, they say it’s a big fear of people, but I think it’s really important that sometime in your life you’ll have to stand out in front of somebody and speak,


Sam Demma (15:50):
Yeah. Whether it’s one or 50 or thousand, it makes no difference getting up in front of someone and speaking, whether it’s one on one or with a bunch of people is a fearful thing to do. But I would argue it’s also one of the most important skills. Like you’re saying whether you want to get a job or whether you want to make sure you can ask that girl or guy out on a date I mean, can use in every capacity. Right?


Kevin Fochs (16:14):
Exactly. Exactly.


Sam Demma (16:16):
That’s a


Kevin Fochs (16:17):
Brilliant, you’re always,


Sam Demma (16:18):
That’s a brilliant idea though, having your class vote on the subjects or the chapters, like maybe you have a whole year curriculum, but instead of doing it in the way that you wanted to organize it, you, you could even yeah. Get the kids to vote on it and then whatever ones they wanna do first, you just put those the, you know, the start of the school year and work through it. I think a lot of teachers listening to this will love that idea and maybe even implement it in their classroom. So thanks so much for sharing this year and last year, and hopefully not the year coming have been very different than the rest of education up until this point in time. What are some of the challenges you’ve been faced with personally and how have you tried to overcome them?


Kevin Fochs (16:59):
Yeah. You know education, I think so, you know, it seems like budget is always an issue. I guess you learn to live with that. You do things that, that you can to, to supplant maybe some of the money that you don’t don’t have. You know, I wrote a lot of grants and my, and continue to write grants to support the programs that I’m doing now. So trying to alleviate that, you know, finding good support from community, I had a real strong alumni group that supported a lot of the activities that we did and they would financially support a lot of the things that we did with our, at least with our FFA organization. So that was good. You know, the, the COVID challenges that we’re facing is, are huge. You know, I actually worked in my house for 16 months. I just, realistically just came back to my office just a month ago.


Kevin Fochs (17:59):
So it’s been a challenge and I applaud the teachers that are, that are out there in the trenches trying to teach in this atmosphere. I, you know, it’s, you know, I told somebody, honestly, I told somebody if, if I was still in the classroom trying to teach what I taught to my kids, you know, agriculture’s a lot of hands on stuff like welding. And you know, we had a greenhouse where I, where I taught. So we worked in the greenhouse, grew plants and you know, we were actually raised chickens and used them in the school, we school farm. So we did some interesting things, but a lot of hands on skills and how you, you know, how you become innovative and are still able to teach those hands, this, but, but, you know, we’ve, I’ve operated in that climate, you know, the last two years we, we did our state FFA convention virtually, and we’re one of the first states in the, that put on our convention.


Kevin Fochs (19:16):
Granted we have a, we have a small membership in our state. So we have some advantages that way, but, but it was, you know, just stepping up and saying, Hey, we’re gonna make this happen. Kinda goes back to that, no such word as I can. You know, we just we’re gonna make it happen and do what we can and that’s what we did moving forward. And I think they were successful. You know, it brought some things to light that I think are positive. In Alaska, we’re such a we don’t have a lot of roads in our state. You know, the Western part of Alaska is pretty much you get there by a boat or plane or in the winter, you know, you take snowmobile up the river. So a lot of the villages and a lot of the, the communities are, are really remote.


Kevin Fochs (20:08):
So the thing that I see is I think we’ll deliver some of our future events and our conventions and our leadership events, I think will deliver them remotely and in person. So we’ll be able to provide some opportunities for kids that maybe weren’t able to do that just because of the distance. I mean, here’s, here’s a crazy story. I had a FFA chapter in cake and they came to our state convention. It cost about $7,000 to travel to our state convention. wow. If you could believe that. I mean, that’s normally what, you know, in Montana, that’s not even, I wouldn’t even pay that kids to, to, you know, national convention in Indianapolis. So, so, you know, huge, you know, two taking plane fair and taking another plane to get here and then, you know, yeah, just huge amount of expenses. So, so, so those barriers with travel are huge.


Kevin Fochs (21:13):
So, you know, being able to look at things a little differently and deliver some things remotely, I’ll good for us out. We saw a huge impact. I mean, we, you know, our convention had numbers in this. Well, you know, when you look at Facebook, we had over 8,000 people accessing some of the events that we were doing in our convention. And normally we have 250, 300 people at our convention in attendance, so, wow. So definitely reached a lot of people that weren’t, we hadn’t reached before. So that’s pretty neat, you know, so we’ll, we’ll look at that as we move forward.


Sam Demma (21:52):
Nice. Ah, I love that. And I would assume it’s also harder to get the word out maybe this year about FFA, but I remember on our previous phone call, you told me that you’ve still been able to keep the groups going and most of the chapters are still running in schools. And since you started, you know, you went from a couple FFA chapters to, I think you said 18. Is that how many are currently in Alaska?


Kevin Fochs (22:12):
Yeah, we started with six and when I first took this job and had like round, we had our actual membership was a 17 and we’ve grown our membership over 500 and we grew to 18 chapters. We’re actually had some, we’ve lost some members. I’ll be honest with you. We lost some members and lost some chapters is last couple years with COVID. So yeah. So we’re trying to rebuild that because there’s still that in person, there there’s a need for people to meet in person and have that relationship, I think, to draw new members and, you know, and just show kids what we’re about. So,


Sam Demma (22:55):
Yeah. And I hear, I hear you have a huge team as well. Is that true?


Kevin Fochs (23:01):
Oh, oh, as far as I, I do have state officer team, you have five state officers that help conduct our activities across the state. We’re just gearing up for things that we will go out and visit chapters this fall and do activities with them workshops. Matter of fact, they’re coming in next week to do those workshops, that training. Oh, great group. Great group.


Sam Demma (23:27):
Awesome. And if you could go back and speak to your younger self and give yourself advice on education, on teaching, on working with young people, knowing what you know now, and based on the experiences you’ve had over the past 20, 30 years, what advice would you give a younger self?


Kevin Fochs (23:48):
You know, that’s probably comes more from a personal side was I’m kind of a workaholic. So that was pro I guess if I had to do it everything over again, I’d probably to devote more. I’d take more time to, to be with family and do things that were personal. My work was and still is kinda my life. So, so it cost me, you know marriage. So yeah. So if I was gonna talk to people starting out, I’d say that, you know save some time for your personal life. That’s, that’s very important. So,


Sam Demma (24:32):
Ah, thanks for sharing that. I appreciate that. That’s it’s honest and I appreciate the, the honesty. Awesome. Kevin, thank you so much for doing this really appreciate you taking your time to come on here. Means a lot, and I know that educators listening took away some great ideas and hopefully can implement some of them as well. If someone li is listening to this and wants to reach out, maybe just send you an email or just, you know, get in touch with you, what would be the best way for them to do so?


Kevin Fochs (24:58):
Yeah, they can, they can share email me my emails, my last name’s pronounced Fox, but it’s spelled F O C S so it’s K Fox, alaska.edu, so, okay. And yeah, they’re welcome to send me an email. I’d be happy to talk to ’em, you know, I’ve done presentations for teachers that are just starting out and always enjoy doing that. Cause you know, they ask a lot of good questions and you can relate some, some stories, you know, that things that you’ve done, that you do different and


Sam Demma (25:33):
Love it. Yeah. That’s awesome. And they’ll see your beautiful HBAR mustache as well. They choose to book you but awesome. Thank you. Thank you so much,


Kevin Fochs (25:43):
Paul. You know, can I close with one thing though?


Sam Demma (25:46):
Yeah, please.


Kevin Fochs (25:47):
You know, and may I’m at fault too, you know, I had my youngest daughter, she, she was talking about she kind of said she didn’t wanna go to college. And you know, I had a college professor that retired from the university and even admitted that maybe sometimes we, we look at college as you know, we all want our kids to go to college. We all want them to get a college education. Like my mom consistent that I do. And I think that’s good, but I think there’s some, some some other opportunities out there that we need to pull from too. I think there’s some technical schools and other career choices that, that are easier to attain and, and are, are really rewarding careers and good paying careers. You know, my daughter, I insisted that she, she go to college and she was like, she’s kind of she’s hardheaded like her dad, you know, she said, oh, I’m gonna go into the military.


Kevin Fochs (26:43):
And I says, well, that’d be good. You can get an education in the military. That’s alright. You know, and, and she thought about that for a while. And she says, no, I’m not gonna do that. She goes, well, I’m, I’m gonna become a hairdresser. And I says, well, that’d be a good way to pay for your college. You cut hair while you getting your education. And then she, she was indignant, you know, my oldest three kids went to Montana state and she was indignant that she wasn’t gonna go to Montana state and follow in her older brothers and sisters footsteps. So she was she’s insisted that she was gonna the university of Montana. And in, in Montana, that’s kinda, there are rivals, you know, in football and, and our big rivalry between U of M and Montana state. And I says, well, okay, I suppose, you know, I was like, honestly, didn’t want to go to U of M, but I says, why don’t you as a senior, why don’t you go check it out and go to their orientation?


Kevin Fochs (27:42):
And so she did, and she came back and, and and she said, dad, I’m not gonna go to U of M I didn’t like it up there. So I’m gonna go to Montana state. So she did. And she started out and you know, getting the college education probably because I had forced her. And then she decided that she was gonna just get a two year degree in accounting. And, and she went to, you know, gall college there and got her accounting degree and is doing real well. She’s now sales manager for state farm insurance agent. So she, you know, is doing extremely well, you know, started off making more money than any of my kids that went, got a college education and, you know, like job and stuff. So, so I think, you know, sometimes maybe I don’t fault parents wanting their kids to go to college education, but sometimes they need to listen to, cause there was a lot of good occupations out there that kids can get. And I saw that, you know, teaching too, I had a lot of kids go to technical schools and go to two year programs and, and doing very well and enable to come back into their own communities and work and live and, and make a good living. So just a side note,


Sam Demma (29:01):
Oh, I appreciate you sharing that. I’m also someone that took a very different path. I went to school for only two months actually, and then decided to postpone my education to pursue all the work I’m doing with students. And back when I first started and told my parents that they would’ve thought I was absolutely crazy, in fact, they did. Right. you know but it’s important. I think that, that we love what we do and to love what we do. We have to sometimes go against other people’s opinions initially. But hopefully at some point in our future, it pays off. Right. yep, exactly. And I, I appreciate you sharing that, especially now there’s so many opportunities that didn’t exist, you know, 50, 60, 70, a hundred, 200 years ago. Like they, and, and some of them don’t even make sense unless you’re a student growing up right now and experiencing them first end. So yeah, it’s such an important thing to share. Cuz one thing that you say to a student could stick with them for the rest of their life. You know, you, you tell a student something about not being able to do something or being more realistic, and that might be the one thing that changes their future career choice and, and you don’t even know it. Right. So


Kevin Fochs (30:12):
Yes, funny to say, but that I, you know, I was a good student. I, I got good grades all through school and through college and I got one D in in college and it was in a, and it was in a class called introduction to agriculture education and it was introductory class for, for people to become teachers and agriculture. And it made me dang mad that I guess maybe that’s, part of the reason I ended up being a teacher is I was like, God, I can do this. You know, what do I get a D for


Sam Demma (30:46):
ah, I like that. Oh yeah. And sometimes when people say you can’t do something, it also gives you a little spark or fire to, to prove that person wrong and to continue pursuing the thing that you want to do. Or prove yourself right. You know, you overcome the challenge of not doing so well and now look at you, you know, 30 years later, but oh, that’s awesome. That’s awesome. Oh, amazing. Thanks for sharing that story. Any other things come to mind? You wanna, you wanna share with these educators listening before we wrap up?


Kevin Fochs (31:14):
Oh, I think that’s good. I, you know, I could go on and on and tell stories, but that’s probably enough stories. If they wanna get ahold of me, I’d be happy to talk to ’em too. I, you know, I, I will say that I applaud all the educators, you know, for what they do the time they spend with kids. And I guess when you look, there has to be some rewards besides money because they don’t get well paid for what they do, you know? So I applaud, I applaud you for, for the last two years of being able to get through the, the dilemma that you’re faced with and change the direction you you’ve been, you know, teaching the way you’ve been teaching. So still be able to do that.


Sam Demma (32:00):
Yeah, they appreciate it. I can tell you that for sure.


Kevin Fochs (32:03):
Thank you. Thank you for inviting me.


Sam Demma (32:05):
Yeah. Thank you for coming on. This has been awesome, keep up the great work. Don’t retire soon ’cause we need you too. Kevin. totally joking, but yeah. Keep up the great work. Stay in touch and yeah. You know, I look forward to hearing all the cool stuff you continue to do over in Alaska.


Kevin Fochs (32:21):
Thanks.


Sam Demma (32:23):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show; if you want meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network, you’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

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Christine Bays – Executive Director at the Unsinkable Organization

Christine Bays – Executive Director at the Unsinkable Organization
About Christine Bays

Christine Bays (@ChrisMBays) is the Executive Director at the Unsinkable Organization. After a 10-year career in Communications, Christine worked alongside Silken Laumann on the build and launch of Unsinkable in 2019. Since, the organization has reached 40 million people across the globe with their stories, resources, and events. 

Christine is passionate about knowledge mobilization, making a social impact, leadership, building community, and disrupting the mental health industry. When she’s not celebrating and supporting the humans of Unsinkable, you can find her navigating the messy and beautiful life of parenthood.

Connect with Christine: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

Listen to the episode now on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or on your favourite podcast platform.

Resources Mentioned

Unsinkable Organization

Unsinkable Youth Student Event

Psychology at the University of Toronto

The Transcript

**Please note that all of our transcriptions come from rev.com and are 80% accurate. We’re grateful for the robots that make this possible and realize that it’s not a perfect process.

Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker Sam Demma. Today’s guest is the executive director at the Unsinkable organization; Christine Bays. After a 10 year career in communications, Christine worked alongside Silken Laumann on the build and launch of unsinkable in 2019. Since, the organization has reached 40 million people across the globe with their stories, resources, and events. Christine is passionate about knowledge mobilization, making social impact, leadership, building community, and disrupting the mental health industry.


Sam Demma (01:12):
When she’s not celebrating or supporting the humans of Unsinkable, you can find her navigating the messy and beautiful life of parenthood. Christine is a genuine, kind human being. We had a phenomenal conversation and she shares so much important and interesting knowledge on today’s episode. I hope you enjoy this, and I will see you on the other side. Christine, thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about what you do and why you do it?


Christine Bays (01:48):
Yeah, for sure. Sam, thank you so much for having me on today. As you said, my name’s Christine Bays, not Miss Bays; do not call me Miss.Bays. I am a 30 something Mama with a very busy career. I’m executive director for the Unsinkable organization, which is a nonprofit founded by Silken Laumann, and I do it because I love it so much. I, I really started my career in public relations and communications, and found myself in a place where I loved the work that I was doing, but didn’t love the purpose of why I was doing it. So I really wasn’t pumped to kinda like jump outta bed every morning and promote software. So, you know, when I had an opportunity to meet Silken and work with her in the capacity that I was in mental health, and kind of helping people reach their full potential and talking about wellbeing, I just fell in love with it. And I knew that I needed to make a life shift and I took a chance and I did it. And here we are almost three years later.


Sam Demma (02:57):
I, I noticed you also studied psychology and I’m, I’m curious to know where your, where your interest in it came from.


Christine Bays (03:04):
Yeah. Oh my goodness. You vetted me. Awesome. Yeah, so I did, I did my undergrad in psychology for me. I think I’ve, I’ve always just had an interest in human beings. I had a difficult childhood and, and I really just wanted to understand myself and my surroundings better. I think I felt like you know, for the first chunk of years of my life, or really didn’t have a lot of control over my environment. And I think for me going into psychology, it felt like I could learn and kind of like take back some of that power and, and potentially help people. So the goal was always to be a psychologist. However, I could not pass statistics to save my imortal soul. So I switched, I switched gears there, but yeah, that was always the goal to help people.


Sam Demma (03:53):
I love that. And having personal challenges is something that is extremely relatable. We all have them like every human being does. We all face them in very different capacities. You don’t have to get into details, but do you wanna share a little bit of your personal story?


Christine Bays (04:09):
Sure. Yeah. So, so I grew up I had a single mom growing up. She was a teenager when she had me, so there’s like first layer of difficulty along our Merry way. And then she met a man who was my stepfather who was like really quite abusive. So for the first seven years of my life, it was pretty scary and pretty unpredictable. And, you know, it took me a really long time to like, come to terms with that, that, that was actually like true trauma and like truly difficult. I just normalized it and pretended that it didn’t happen. And it wasn’t really until I started working with silk and for the organization and like hearing other people’s stories that I was able to say like, aha, like that actually wasn’t normal. Yeah. And that was hard. And that was hard. Right.


Sam Demma (04:59):
That makes a lot of sense. And no, I appreciate you sharing that. And through that journey, like what prompted you down a different path? Like I know you’ve met silken and, and, you know, started doing unable work now, but were there any lighthouses in the darkness that helped you along the way when you were struggling that you think might help others?


Christine Bays (05:18):
Oh my goodness. Yeah. So definitely like you make the decision early on. It doesn’t happen in your thirties after you’ve. I mean, some people do, but I think for me, I made a decision very early on that I didn’t want to be a product of my environment. I wanted better for myself. And so like the first thing really, and truly that I did was surround myself with good people. So I grew up in a small town, north bay, Ontario. Nice. And I, yeah, love it. So I surrounded myself with good human beings and good solid friendships and just kind of like stayed on that path. And, and, and I guess like really did choose a path of, of love and healing without even realizing it. And, and I really didn’t start struggling until about eight years ago when I had my first panic attack.


Christine Bays (06:10):
And so I, I was kind of going along pretty well and like was running, I think in a lot of ways and not realizing like I probably had like low grade anxiety that I was like partying away or drinking away or, you know, doing like low level destructive stuff to like, not deal with what was going on. And then it wasn’t until I became an adult. So to speak that I, you know, had to pause for a moment and everything kind of caught up to me. So then it was like, then the, the journey really started for me then


Sam Demma (06:39):
It was when you transition from Christine to miss in this band. And for literally,


Christine Bays (06:45):
Literally yes.


Sam Demma (06:47):
And for everyone, who’s wondering why we rented that twice. Do you wanna explain,


Christine Bays (06:53):
Oh my God, this poor girl. Yeah. So I, I spoke at a university event I guess a month ago. And one of the young women had tried, was connecting with me on LinkedIn about an internship opportunity. And she addressed me as miss FA, which is lovely and respectful, but I, I tweeted and say, I already made fun of me that I was like, I read it. And then I was like, excuse me, while I go ugly cry to an old cassette tape and really hunt for my blockbuster card, because just threw me back. I was like, oh, I’m like a real blown adult lady. I’m a misses.


Sam Demma (07:24):
That’s so awesome. In the spirit of going back, I want you to take me back to the moment you met silken and sure. And like, where did your vision, where did your vision come from to work with her and, and to do all this amazing work together? Like what, what, tell me this initial experience.


Christine Bays (07:43):
Okay. So I was on mat leave number two loving my children, but bored out of my brain. And someone that I went to my public relations course with had posted in our Facebook group at Olympian silk. And Laman was looking for someone to work with in like a social media capacity. And so I commented, we were introduced really, really headed off. And so initially it was really only supposed to be this like position that I would do a few hours a week. I would help silk in with her advocacy work. And it was just really cool opportunity. Let me first just say she was like, I’m at this place in my life where I wanna give back. I don’t want anything from it in terms of like monetary gains, I just wanna make a difference. So I was like, well, this is really cool because I’d mentioned before where I was like, not pumped to like jump outta bed to sell software, but this, I was like, okay, this is something I can use my for and really try and make a difference with this person who has like incredible vision and like just really, really beautiful stuff to say.


Christine Bays (08:48):
And so we started working together and, you know, she’d mentioned that she had this idea for something, but wasn’t really sure what it was. And it kind of just organically grew into this idea where it was like, okay, Silicon you know, she’s writing all these pieces for different organizations and third parties and getting in newspapers. And I was like, what, you know, you have the voice and the profile and the platform like to create your own, like why have you never created your own? And, and so it kind of just like started that conversation and, you know, she’s like, I’ve always wanted to, because for silken, you know, she had tons of adversity, tons, you know, this amazing story and went her whole life, hearing other people’s stories and, you know, wasn’t sharing them in a larger scale. And so that’s really like where unthinkable started with this, this, you know, want for people to hear these incredible stories.


Christine Bays (09:42):
And so it, it really just started off with like the two of us being like, okay, are we gonna go for this? Okay, we’re gonna go for this. And, and it was like, do we have a business plan? Okay. We’ve got this business plan. And like, I remember so many people being like, okay, so like what, what’s your target demographic? And, you know, we’re like humans and they’re like, it can’t be humans. Like it needs to be like women ages, like 20 to 25. And we’re like, no, no, no, we’re just gonna go for this thing. So we went for it and it it’s definitely blown up and, and grown from there.


Sam Demma (10:13):
So how did you meet her though? Was it at a conference? Like were, how did you cross, how did you cross paths?


Christine Bays (10:19):
So it was, it was through that, that friend who had worked with Silken at an agency. So she’d worked on I believe it was like a Samsung app. And so he introduced us, we spoke on the phone really hit off and like, I didn’t even meet her for such a long time. Like that just goes to show like the powers of tech ’cause she lives in Victoria. So we were just working on the phone like every day, just talking to each other and zooming and FaceTiming. And then yeah, when I met her, finally, it was like, I feel like it was like at least six months into us working together. Yeah.


Sam Demma (10:49):
And what makes you personally passionate about the work? Like I would suppose that now you wake up and you jump out of bed and you’re excited. What’s the difference?


Christine Bays (10:58):
Yeah, no, totally. I think it’s like, it starts off with like where we started, I think today, which was me wanting to better myself, but also like this need to help other people. And, and then me being like, okay, I’m probably not cut out to be a psychologist and actually, so looking joked about it, she’s like you would be the worst counselor ever. She’s like, you’re so a type and aggressive and I’m like, OK. But I think it’s like, I’m, I’m meant to be in the role that I’m in, like in terms of like, you know, who I am as a person and what I bring to an organization. But like now I kind of get to do both right where it’s like, I get to help people, but do it from a place of like leadership and business. And so yeah, for me, it’s like every day I get up knowing that you know, it sounds corny, but like I’m gonna help someone today or I’m gonna create a plan.


Christine Bays (11:53):
That’s gonna help 10 people down the road. And I feel like it just, it comes from like a really honest and natural place for me. So even like in the beginning, when I was just writing social content before we had a social person, like it came from me. So it was like, you know, if I’m writing content on like how to battle anxiety and like how to be okay with the darkness or a feeling like that’s not coming from like psychology articles, I read like that’s coming from me and that’s coming from silken. So I think like, it really is just like, it’s been almost like a pulse for what’s going on in my own personal life.


Sam Demma (12:26):
That’s amazing. And what does the work look like now? I’m sure it’s like shifted a little bit. Like what do you, what do focused on? Yeah.


Christine Bays (12:35):
Yeah. Okay. I laugh because, so like initially it was like writing, writing’s my passion. I love like I’m a creative. I love doing all of that stuff, but as my role has shifted, like it’s a lot of like liability and lawyers and accountants and like the stuff that like, oh, I don’t really wanna do, but silicon’s like, but you’re so good at it. And I’m like, yes, I am good at it. So I think it’s like, I try to make sure that I pull myself back into, like I said, the pulse of the organization. So I still work closely with, you know, program managers and our social media manager and like, you know, I’m starting to do live. So I’m kind of speaking to our community champions and getting involved in like the humans of the organization. So it’s not just involved in like, you know, the workings of running the organization. And of course, because we’re a startup and a very small team, like it really is all hands on deck for a lot of it. Like I do get pulled into a lot of different things, but you know, as it stands right now, I think it’s, it’s really just like a balancing act of like there’s 12 different things going on and I’m kind of doing a lot of all of them. So I get to do a lot of things, I guess, really to answer.


Sam Demma (13:46):
That’s amazing. And what are the different vessels or the different ways that unsinkable has an impact on the community on young people, your target market of humans.


Christine Bays (13:57):
Target market of humans? Yeah, totally. So the way that I like to describe it is the storytelling platform really is like the core, the nucleus, the catalyst for everything else that we do. So for people listening that aren’t familiar with the organization, we started off as a storytelling platform. So we managed to convince 60 said humans to share their most vulnerable stories with us. And it really was initially just Canada, but it ended up being global. So 60 amazing people came forward, shared their stories. And now it’s grown and more people are doing that. So as I say, like, are the catalysts, so it’s the catalyst for everything else that we do in terms of like creating events, creating community, creating programming, creating resources. So I think it’s really a catalyst for both sides when you’re looking at people coming to the organization.


Christine Bays (14:51):
So people coming, they’re engaging with a story, they read a story and then they’re like, oh yeah, actually like this like anger, irritation I’m feeling is anxiety and they have this aha moment. And then they realize they need some help with anxiety. And so we like to say like, okay, we have resources for you. We have a community of people who are also struggling with the same thing. Hey, like there’s some programming coming up or have you thought about this different events? So it’s the catalyst in that way. And then on the internal side, which is like where my heart and soul sings is working with the storyteller. So when they share their story, they’re in like they’re part of the family. So it’s not like a newspaper where like, Hey, can you share your amazing story? We’re gonna blast it all over the internet for a week and then never talk to you again.


Christine Bays (15:36):
It’s like, no, like these are people that it’s true, right? Like these are, we care. It’s not just the story that we want. We want that relationship with the person and we keep them and we do call it a family and, and we, you know, continue to help each other and take care of each other. And a lot of those people, and I would say actually, most people that come in and share their stories, they leave advocates, they leave advocates either for themselves or for other people who haven’t yet found their voices. And so I think like, that’s the beauty for me. That’s why I love it so much because you watch people just grow through telling their stories and then, you know, we keep those relationships.


Sam Demma (16:14):
And is there work with schools as well? Like I, I think a few months ago, maybe five months ago there was like a, a huge email blast about programming in schools. And I’m curious to know if that’s a, something that the organization is still looking to do or if, if it happened or tell me more about that.


Christine Bays (16:30):
So we haven’t like in any real way broken into schools. Right. So the email blast you might be thinking about was probably the CTV show that we put on in support of kids’ health phones. So we were email blasting, like all the schools in Canada, basically to be like, your kid needs to watch this because it was like this incredible production that our tiny team put on with the help of like a whole bunch of other people, of course, to pull that off. So that’s probably what that was. We we’ve also had in September we had a university event, so that might have been something as well where it was for first year university students, basically just to like adjust to the mayhem of attending first year in a pandemic. Yeah. Which nobody could say they’ve experienced. So but yeah, it’s, it’s definitely on the radar. But again, because the size of our team and the different, you know, magnitude of things we’re trying to do, there’s really no timeline on that right now.


Sam Demma (17:27):
Yeah. It makes total sense. How, how do you personally manage the amount of work and passion you have for unsinkable with raising your kid and staying healthy?


Christine Bays (17:37):
I drive my family insane really is like the short answer to that. Yeah, no, it’s, it’s a balancing act and, and I do struggle with it. I think it’s like my number one struggle because it’s like, I wake up thinking about it and I’m also like equally as passionate as of a mom. And so I think like, as a woman, I really struggle with like wanting to be that mom. That’s like, I’m gonna sew up your costumes and we’re gonna bake cookies and we’re gonna put on a magic show and we’re gonna run around the yard. But then also I’m gonna take over the world with this organization as well. And then also try not to die in the middle of that from like really like not taking care of myself. So I think like, what I will say is, and what I’ve come to is like, as a woman, like you can, or anybody really, like, you can have everything just not at the exact same time. So I think it’s like, sometimes I’ll find like I’m really killing it at work, but then like, my kids are like, mommy, like I, you know, I haven’t heard from you in a while. And then like, if I’m doing both of those, then I start to not feel so well. So it really is just trying to like, make sure that I haven’t left any of those three pockets for too long.


Sam Demma (18:43):
Hmm. I love that. That’s a, that’s a great explanation.


Christine Bays (18:47):
I don’t know if it’s, I don’t even know. Like, I don’t even know if it’s actually going to work out. Like, certainly sometimes I feel like the balls are going to fall. Like yesterday. I, you probably saw my tweet, but I drove my kids to school and no backpacks and you know, that’s, that’s just me, like as a mom, a few weeks before that I locked both my kids in the car at school. I had no phone, I had nothing. I was just like standing out in my sweatshirt and then I had to go ask people to like, help me break my kids outta the car. And it’s, you know what it’s just like, but they love me for it. Like they think I’m hilarious, you know? Like, and so I just need to be like, okay, this is who I am.


Sam Demma (19:22):
What do you, that’s so funny, first of all I’ve locked my keys in cars multiple times and it’s an old their car. So there’s no like, you know, because your keys are in the car, there’s a special feature where the doors don’t lock. And I have call CA it’s like private, the doors open kind of a similar experience. Yeah.


Christine Bays (19:40):
Yep.


Sam Demma (19:41):
What do you think though is the biggest opportunity that exists in the space of education and with young people today? You know, I know there’s challenges and everyone talks about them all the time. What do you think are some of the opportunities though that exist,


Christine Bays (19:58):
Like in terms of like where one could go with their career


Sam Demma (20:02):
Or how we can impact young people as teachers, educators as an organization?


Christine Bays (20:08):
Yeah. Yeah. So I think like, so also just so I will preface this with, before I started before we launched UNS sinkable youth, I was actually quite uncomfortable with the idea of working with youth because I’m at this age where like 50 year olds understand youth because they have them and I’m at this sweet spot of like being so far away from my youth that I’m actually like feeling quite disconnected from youth. But so it’s been a great experience relearning, but I will say like the, most of what I’ve heard is like, we just need to listen to listen to what’s going on more and like less of like, okay, we’ve been through this, we know better. And like, this is the way it is. It really is just about like understanding what their experience is. And for a lot of times, like they just wanna be heard. And, and even like in some of the university events where it’s like, just giving them an opportunity to be heard and, and, you know, just be able to answer their questions based on like what they’re really saying, not based on like what I think they need to hear and what they need to know.


Sam Demma (21:13):
Ah, that’s awesome. I love that. That’s, it’s great advice because I think a lot of the times I’m not a parent, but I think a lot of the times as parents are as superior, you know, superior people to a young person in age, they try and, you know, in part their wisdom on, yeah, this is what you should do. And this is what I would do. And I think sometimes young people just don’t wanna hear that, you know?


Christine Bays (21:34):
No, I know I didn’t. And, and I think like that’s like, I, I really actually, I love working with young people and I’m, I’m so energized by them. Like every time that I’ve spoken, like, I, I did a humble thing a couple weeks ago and I’m just blown away by the young people right now. I don’t think I had anywhere near the level of self-awareness that young people have now. Like when I was 20, I, you know, I really, really didn’t. So I think like giving them so much more credit than, than people do, you know, where it’s just like, I was inspired by them. I learned from them. And I think like, like I show up not feeling superior more. So feeling like I, I can learn from them as well, where it’s like, you know, it’s an experience for me in the same


Sam Demma (22:19):
Tony Robbins used to say, or probably still says it to be honest, but I’m pretty sure he said one time that you can learn something from every person you meet and, you know, maybe your, you know, maybe they’re not gonna be better at PR than you are. But maybe they’re better at dancing and you could learn something about dancing from them and every single person because of their unique makeup, they have specific passions, right. Yeah, they’re probably well more well versed in than we are. And so if you approach every totally without open mind, you end up learning something very unique from each person. Curious to know, like, what is next for you? What is next for unsinkable? Like where do I see Christine in five years?


Christine Bays (23:03):
Okay. So definitely, definitely still an unsinkable. There’s no question about that. I’m not going anywhere. But for UN in syncable specifically, we are in grow mode right now. And like, I think our, my biggest challenge right now is trying to build capacity on our organization for all these incredible opportunities that come up. Like, it’s, it’s a great problem to have, but it’s a problem, nonetheless. So I think like in five years from now, I know that we will be doing exactly what we’re doing right now, but we’ll be doing more of it. We’ll be doing it better. We’ll be stronger, we’ll be faster. We will be more efficient. And, you know, I think, yes, we’ll be helping more people, but I I’d like to see us helping more people on a deeper level. So I think like one thing that’s, that’s new this year, that’s on our strategic plan is is that we really wanna be more program focused.


Christine Bays (24:00):
Whereas we, you know, we started out as like that, not a blog, but people would call it a, we call it a platform. And so now we really wanna make sure that we have program offerings for people. And so we’re piloting two right now, one for kids, one for adults really focused around general emotional health. And we’ve got some really exciting things coming up that are a little bit more specific in terms of, of topics. So one for bipo youth and one for youth with disordered eating. And so, yeah, there’s, there’s a lot coming up for us for sure.


Sam Demma (24:30):
Ah, that’s awesome. And if someone listened to this conversation, and is excited or loves your energy what would be the best way for them to reach out to you and have a conversation?


Christine Bays (24:41):
Yeah, social media probably. So Twitter, I am the stacked on. Okay. So I would say yeah, on Twitter.


Sam Demma (24:49):
And your handle, is it just Christine underscore?


Christine Bays (24:52):
@ChrisMBays


Sam Demma (24:54):
Okay, perfect.


Christine Bays (24:55):
Yep. Yep.


Sam Demma (24:56):
Awesome. Christine, thank you so much for coming on the show today. I really appreciate it. I look forward to staying in touch and seeing all the amazing work that happens behind the scenes and we’ll talk soon.


Christine Bays (25:07):
All right, sounds good. Thank you.


Sam Demma (25:08):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show; f you want meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network, you’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Christine Bays

The High Performing Educator Podcast was brought to life during the outbreak of COVID-19 to provide you with inspirational stories and practical advice from your colleagues in education.  By tuning in, you will hear the stories and ideas of the world’s brightest and most ambitious educators.  You can expect interviews with Principals, Teachers, Guidance Counsellors, National Student Association, Directors and anybody that works with youth. You can find and listen to all the episodes for free here.

Chelle Travis – Executive Director of SkillsUSA

Chelle Travis - Executive Director at SkillsUSA
About Chelle Travis

Chelle Travis (@TheChelleTravis) is the executive director of SkillsUSA, a national organization of nearly 400,000 teachers and students within career and technical education. Travis was appointed in 2019 to lead a staff of 35 that manages a federation of 52 state and territorial associations. SkillsUSA’s mission is to empower members to become world-class workers, leaders and responsible citizens. It improves the quality of our nation’s future skilled workforce.

With more than 17 years’ experience in career and technical education, Travis has served in a variety of academic settings, including secondary institutions, universities, and technical and community colleges. Most recently, she was the senior director of workforce and economic development at the Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC), where she was charged with building partnerships with employers, workforce agencies and postsecondary institutions. She was the primary point of contact at THEC due to her knowledge of technical education, work-based learning experiences, alternative credentialing, competency-based education and experiential learning. She also managed all external workforce grants issued by THEC.

Formerly, Travis served as associate vice chancellor for students for the Tennessee Board of Regents College System of Tennessee, where she provided leadership in promoting student initiatives across 40 technical and community colleges.

Travis holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration and finance, and a master’s degree in business administration, from Middle Tennessee State University. She is a doctoral student at Tennessee State University.

Connect with Chelle: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

Listen to the episode now on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or on your favourite podcast platform.

Resources Mentioned

SkillsUSA Organization

What is Career and Technical Education (CTE)?

SkillsUSA Membership Kits

SkillsUSA New Chapter Guide

The Transcript

**Please note that all of our transcriptions come from rev.com and are 80% accurate. We’re grateful for the robots that make this possible and realize that it’s not a perfect process.

Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the high performing educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma today’s guest on the podcast is Chelle Travis. She is the executive director of skills USA, a national organization of nearly 400,000 teachers and students within career and technical education. Travis was appointed in 2019 to lead a staff of 35 that manages a Federation of 52 state and tutorial associations skills. USA’s mission is to empower members to become world-class workers, leaders, and responsible citizens. She’s been in this work for more than 17 years, and it is my absolute pleasure to bring her on the show here today, to talk about her journey into leadership and all the challenges that they are overcoming at skills USA during this tough time. I hope you enjoy the interview. I’ll see you on the other side, Chelle Travis, thank you so much for coming on the high-performing educator podcast. It’s a pleasure to have you start off by sharing with the audience who you are and why you got into the work you do with young people today.


Chelle Travis (01:07):
So I’m Chelle Travis. I’m the executive director of skills USA, and I’m very excited to be here with you today. Thank you for having me, Sam. I actually got into education and specifically career technical student organizations because of an advisor I had in high school. So like many of our students across the nation, there is that one person, their advisor that makes an impact on their life. And Ms. Webb was that for me that she taught me leadership skills. I was very shy. Didn’t necessarily like to speak in front of people. And she opened me up to a world that I did not know that would exist for me. She took me on my first my first trip in, in a plane to a student conference, a leadership conference and, and actually started my journey there, so wanted to reinvest in and pay it forward for what someone had done in my life. So I would a lot to her.


Sam Demma (02:21):
That’s awesome. Shout out, Mrs. Webb, what point in your journey did you know I’m going to be a worker in education? Was there like, was there a certain moment you made the decision that you can remember or was it just a lifelong decision?


Chelle Travis (02:37):
So my mother was as Siki educator and I said, I would say there were two very strong women in my life. I’ve Ms. Webb. And then my mother my mother was CP educator for 40 years and a CTSO advisor. I watched her advocate for CTE my entire life. And so I always was very impressed by her passion and her dedication to her students. However like many young adults, you don’t necessarily want to do what your parents did. Right. So thought it gets that thought it gets that for, for a while. And then I met my next mentor Dr. Williams when, my first about first day actually on my college campus, I became his student worker. And he was in the office of student services again, working with students organizations. And then at that time I realized that you know, this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I started I stopped fighting it and started running towards it. And and really embracing that at that point.


Sam Demma (03:48):
And I know you’ve been doing this for years now. The challenges this year are unique to all the challenges you might’ve faced in the past. And I’m sure there’s things that have been very successful and things you have also learned from one of those huge successes, which we briefly talked about before this recording was the fact that you raised your organization and your partner, a partner raise over $300,000. Can you shed some light on that success during COVID and as well as some learnings, if you have any?


Chelle Travis (04:14):
Absolutely. So I would say that in this moment in time right now we can make a significant difference in elevating our public perception of the value of career and technical education. Now is really our time and our student skills have always been essential. But I think the pandemic has really put a light, a spotlight on the need for CTE in America and right now. And so our our partners very, very excited about the commitment of our partners. They really stepped up and, and saw this need and really wanted to help us elevate career and technical education and wanted to make sure that skills USA had the resources that it needed to actually be able to provide services for our students across the nation. We serve students across all 50 states two territories and the district of Columbia approximately 400,000 members, students and instructors every year and over 20 and about 20,000 classrooms in the United States.


Chelle Travis (05:27):
So so a very large large range and an opportunity to reach even more students every year as a, as we elevate CTE and they see the importance and we’re able to tell our story and they are, and Carhartt who is a great partner, longstanding partner of skills USA. So our labor day as an opportunity to really recognize the value of skilled trades to elevate CTE and to support skills and the mission of our organization. So I’m very excited to have such a great partner. They aren’t our only partners. We’ve had other partners that have set up during this time to really help our students and our instructors during very challenging times.


Sam Demma (06:15):
That’s awesome. And out of the smorgasborg of challenges we’re faced with right now, what are some of the ones that you’re currently facing as an organization? Maybe some of what you’ve already overcome, but some you’re still dealing with today.


Chelle Travis (06:29):
So a large challenge, as you say, across America, as we’re going into the fall and into a new school year is normally a time for if you’re an instructor, if you’re in education. And also if you’re a student, I have a, a second grader and, and, you know, you love getting that new if you have a elementary school student. And I think I even did in high school enjoy, you know, getting those new school supplies, getting that new backpack. And there was always this anticipation of the new year to come and, and for an instructor and advisor, that new group of students that you’re going to be able to impact their lives and, and really grow with them throughout the year. And it’s always very exciting and this year was a little different and then than normal it not knowing the, the difference from state to state and even within each district from district to district about what the move forward plans would be, whether classrooms would be all grounds virtual or a combination of the two in a hybrid classroom.


Chelle Travis (07:36):
And as we’ve seen that in, you know, our instructors concerned about their safety and their students and how they would put precautions in place if they were going on grounds to make sure that, you know, their students and the protection of their students and themselves their safety was first. And so those challenges and as students, you know, we’ve seen across our membership where students have gone on Graham one week and then instructors in their online the next weekend. And really, so the many challenges that our students and instructors space, we face as an organization and trying to make sure that we’re, we’re meeting them where they are. So we really did see in the summer making sure that we could pivot all of our resources to make sure that they were on all available to our instructors and to our students, no matter what that learning environment not be.


Chelle Travis (08:39):
And because we know even with all the challenges and, and our instructors and our students are so resilient and have been so adaptable during this time and very strong, I really do applaud everything that they are doing and make sure that they’re still able to meet their students’ needs in the classroom. But we, we spent a lot of hours and still are pivoting everything that we do from what they would normally receive possibly in person to making sure that all of that was available to our students and instructors in a virtual format and even more because not knowing if you’re going to have a chapter online or whether it’s online or whether it’s going to be virtual, or how do I meet with my students for my chapter, if they’re not going to get together, or if half of them are online and half of them on our ground.


Chelle Travis (09:36):
And so it’s such a challenging time, but we’ve tried to encourage our instructors about providing them resources for their classroom that it’s not time to pause. Our students really do need skills USA right now more than, than ever in skills USA. Not only do we, do we provide students with those personal skills workplace skills and their technical skills grounded on academics to really make sure that they’re ready to enter the workplace, but we give them a sense of belonging and a place you know, that, that they can be with their their fellow students. And at a time when so many things have been canceled and their, their life, we can, can be a positive a positive place for them to to belong in and also to make a difference in their lives, still in a virtual world. So we’ve really tried to provide those resources and continue to provide those to our instructors. And I think the challenging thing that we all face is just really continuing to adjust to what is our for now our new normal.


Sam Demma (10:57):
Yeah, I totally agree that this type of work, this selfless work is needed now more than ever when students are down, I think that’s when they need the most help. And with all the challenges that we’re facing, those three pillars of technical skills, personal skills and career skills are so important. And I would assume that a lot of the personal skills that are taught at skills USA are through live events, like case competitions and conferences and national conferences. How are you adjusting those? Are they being put online? Are they being put on hold this year? What’s the direction that your company has taken organization has taken to address that


Chelle Travis (11:34):
Again? We, we do feel that it is no time to pause for our students. So I’m very proud of the work of our state and of our staff at the national office to make sure that that can happen. So right now we, throughout the summer we trained our state officers virtually for our state. Now we are leading into season four. If states needed assistance, they would normally have all leadership conferences. We have assisted our states in making sure that they can have those virtual experiences for students for their leadership conferences and also with online as state officers and chapter officer experiences and making sure that they’re, they are able to, to have those leadership experiences as well. We have a, we have an empowering experiences team and that empowering experiences team have really, they’ve done a great job in making sure that that there are experiences all year long for our chapters.


Chelle Travis (12:46):
So while we know our our state and our capture advisors have a heavy list this year in trying to provide additional resources and additional activities that they can take in and put into their classroom. And why virtual events for their students to be connected through a series of task force and in, in looking at what our students would be interested in and would be engaged in and making sure that we can meet their needs. We also, for our instructors this year we elevated the number of professional membership resources that they have so toolkit that they can take videos that they can use lesson plans that they can use in their classroom to make sure that they’re still integrating that skills USA experience and that we are integrating all of those framework skills into the classroom and providing those resources for our for our advisors and also our our experiences also for our chapters, our program of work tool kit.


Chelle Travis (13:58):
So they are chapter activities can still take place. We have developed those chapter it tool kit, and then also in looking at their championships, cause you talked about those and local championship guides that can assist them in their classroom. During this time in technical in technical opportunities as well. So you, you asked about conferences, so we have those happening this fall. One commitment that we have made and that we’ve made to our membership is that we will have a national conference this year. So look for more information on that. And November 16th is, is the date that we shared with our membership at the beginning of this fall that we would share the decision of the delivery of our national conference. And so, so then our championship team and our education team, as well as our health staff has been working on what that national conference may look like championships is, is also looking at how we can deliver how we can help states deliver virtual conferences, if that is, is what their state is going to need or hybrid conferences and in assisting in providing resources and platform opportunities for that delivery.


Chelle Travis (15:21):
But we will be offering our national conference with, with sessions and and actually opportunities to connect with employers our textbooks, whether that’s on ground or online and, and also we will be offering competition opportunities and all of our trade areas. So we’ve really been working hard this year, not only to learn from those experiences across the nation and in what we can do for our students. But also we belong to a community of world skills and we’ve been learning from our, their nations and in what they’re going through as well. We’re not alone in this pandemic and skilled trades are needed not just in our country, but around the world. And and so learning from those nations and how they’re meeting the needs of their students as well have informed our decisions.


Sam Demma (16:22):
That’s amazing. I want to take you back for one second to Mrs. Webb and explore what she did for you. And you were a student that really lit a fire within your heart to, to, to chase this stuff. Where’s she, like, if you can pinpoint some of her character traits that really stood out to you, so other educators listening might be able to do the same thing for their students, that’d be really helpful.


Chelle Travis (16:46):
So I said that I was shy. So if somebody saw that and then you made it in high school, they would probably say that’s not true. Most people would have thought that I was, I was an extrovert. I love surrounding myself with people like making a difference in other students’ lives. However, I was say Saferight was as something that I had, and he might not have thought that either, but so Ms. Webb of one of the things is that she saw something in me and, and believed in me and actually instilled the confidence in myself that that I could become both a leader on our campus, but later a student later in our state and in our region and and, and believes in me and that was the first thing is that she gave me an opportunity.


Chelle Travis (17:44):
That is something that I share with, when I was in Tennessee and worked at the state director is skills USA. I’ll always said, it’s our it’s our responsibility. It was my responsibility as an instructor. It was our responsibility as as a state association to give students opportunity and it’s up to them what they do with those and a lot of times, but to come alongside them and to support them and help them. But sometimes that’s all it takes is to, to believe in your students, to give them the opportunity and to instill in them the confidence that they can do, that she showed me and helped me overcome my fears and, and helps me work through those. And, and that opportunity was mine if I was if I wanted to and would they committed. And so I will never forget that Phantom of the opera I’ll just share with you that was, she played that. So before any we would be in her car growing, going across the state, I would be getting ready to speak. And I came from a very small high school. So I was my high school, I graduated with 68 people. I was preparing to speak to 5,000.


Chelle Travis (19:03):
And so and so we played Phantom of the opera all the way across the state until we got until we got there to that conference. And then, you know, and then the next thing was to prepare me and one of my classmates to, to present to a to a national conference as, as well. So she took me on step to mentor Ernie and, and really made sure that that whatever it was that I needed to, to come on earth to get over that hurdle, she was going to help me find that and then and practice and, and make sure that I was ready for that opportunity. So


Sam Demma (19:46):
That’s amazing. I resonate with their story so much because I’ll throw a high school. I want it to be a pro soccer player. I ended up having some major knee injuries lost a scholarship to the U S and I had a teacher. I was supposed to go to Memphis and Tennessee, and my teacher’s name was Michael loud foot. And he believed in me when I was down. Like, I didn’t believe in myself. And he taught me this lesson that a small, consistent action can make a massive change and then challenged me to go out in the community and do something. And that led to a bunch of social enterprise work here in Ontario with picking up garbage. It’s a funny story. I’ll get into it a different time, but I so deeply resonate with you. And I’m curious to know if in your reverse role as a mentor for thousands of students. Now, if you have any stories of students that were just like you, who who’s who’s, who was impacted by the work you do with skills USA that you’d like to share. And it could be a very personal story of a student who has been profoundly impacted, but you can change their name for privacy reasons. The reason I is because an educator might be listening, who is a little burnt out, and I want to remind them why this work is so important, because I think it has the power to transform lives.


Chelle Travis (20:54):
It does. And so I often say in technical education, and especially when it’s coupled with skills USA is integrated into that opportunity that the work that we do is life changing. And so I can tell you that there’s not just one story. I there are many stories of not just changing that life of that individual student, but you can literally change the trajectory of not just that lie, but that student’s family and the community and the nation, because that confidence that you instill in them and the opportunities that you give in them, it doesn’t just impact that individual. It impacts an entire family and in the role that I have here and the way I, I see it, it can impact a generation of students across our nation, the work that we do from I love student stories.


Chelle Travis (21:53):
I would love as an instructor. Probably one of the the, the greatest gifts that you get is when a student returns and comes back to you. And with that first paycheck whether it’s that that a new car or a story about the house that they were able to buy, or they bring in their family for the, for the first time and you eat and you get to see that, that your work had somehow just a small, a small part and, and making that person, and that individual become who they are today. I’ve seen the changes in the lives, not just of our secondary students, but also in our post-secondary students that come back to us possibly after having first careers. And, and now they see, they may not have seen technical education as an option for them at the time.


Chelle Travis (22:47):
And then along the way they they come back to us, they see technical education as an opportunity for them, and you get them to to you get, to see them achieve what has been their lifelong dream. And, and just the change in them. And, you know, in going through this program and the leadership skills that they say I have several of those friends are, or former students are now you know, I get to watch their journey on on Facebook or something like that. And I get to see the difference and then get to see them achieve their dreams. And I think that’s so, so important. And, and I think if as an instructor, I know that it is a challenging as a former instructor myself, I cannot imagine what the classroom and the challenges are like, we do work alongside our instructors, but every day I know that it is, it is a challenge for them and I’m, so I’m encouraged by seeing what they are how they are trying to meet their students’ needs.


Chelle Travis (23:57):
I do know that you know, when I would say my instructors go from go from being classroom instructors to integrating skills, you’re saying to their classroom, and now becoming instructors that are skilled, she would say advisors as well. I could see a different, so it can take a a, an instructor that was a good instructor to an instructor. That’s a great instructor with a new renewed passion for for career and technical education and for the work that they do. I don’t, you know, in working with our students for a number of years, I don’t see how you can be in technical education and not just and not just be excited about the work that you do and the difference that you make in your students’ lives. If you just take a step back and, and look at the number of lives you’ve impacted and changed for the better every year.


Sam Demma (24:48):
And I think you mentioned it, you know, you hit it on the nail, impacting that one student life that could put them on a trajectory to impact another thousand. And if every student did something that impacted the lives of others, it’s this huge ripple effect that just goes on forever and ever which is so awesome. I think what you all stand for is amazing. If anyone’s listening right now and wants to bounce some ideas around maybe another national director from another student organization and wants to have a conversation, what would be the best way for them to reach out with you if you’re open to it?


Chelle Travis (25:18):
Oh, absolutely. Well, if you are interested in contacting me if you’ll just go to skillsusa.org you’ll be able to find my contact information. That’s cell phones. They’re also my my, my email. But it just, if, if you want to reach out and learn more if you want to know more about the stories of our champions, if you go to champions.skillsUSA.award there, you can very, you can see success stories of our students and the impact that our work has on students’ lives across the nation. And I think that is what is so exciting is, is just the it, seeing the work that you do have an impact on students’ lives and in our future generation or future workforce.


Sam Demma (26:08):
Nice. Awesome. Shelly, thank you so much for taking some time to do this has been an absolute pleasure chatting with you,


Chelle Travis (26:13):
Sam, thank you for the work that you’re doing. I think it’s a, it’s the right work in, I’m very excited to see where these podcasts late,


Sam Demma (26:21):
Amazing information insights and ideas for this current challenging time. And I hope her story into leadership really inspired you to reflect on, the personal impact you have on the young people in your life. We always have the opportunity to make a huge impact on the lives of everyone around us. And with that being said, if you enjoyed this interview and you enjoy this, please consider leaving a rating and review. It’ll help more educators just like yourself, find these episodes and learn from them. And if you are listening, thinking that you would love to share something on the show as well. Please send us an email at info@samdemma.com so we can get your insights and your ideas on the show as well. Anyways, I will see you on the next episode talk soon.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Chelle Travis

The High Performing Educator Podcast was brought to life during the outbreak of COVID-19 to provide you with inspirational stories and practical advice from your colleagues in education.  By tuning in, you will hear the stories and ideas of the world’s brightest and most ambitious educators.  You can expect interviews with Principals, Teachers, Guidance Counsellors, National Student Association, Directors and anybody that works with youth. You can find and listen to all the episodes for free here.

Dr. LouAnn Ross – Executive Director of Business Professionals America

Dr. LouAnn Ross – Executive Director of Business Professionals America
About Dr. LouAnn Ross

Dr. LouAnn Ross (@LouAnnRossi) has always been inspired by those who work relentlessly to make the world a better place for youth, and she is committed to the belief that all youth deserve the best that we as adults have to offer.

Throughout her career, she has led with an unyielding dedication and set of principles that have allowed her the opportunity to not only be successful, but to learn best practices, cultivate relationships, and expand her breadth of knowledge. She is a nationally recognized professional with extensive experience in organizational administration, board governance, and program management. This includes project management and evaluation, diversified fund development, board governance, corporate and community relations, and fiscal management. She has led the turnaround of two nonprofit organizations and the startup of another – all with great success.

Since joining Business Professionals of America in April of 2018 as the Executive Director/CEO, Dr. Ross has facilitated numerous leadership development training sessions with organization leaders, advisors, national officers and staff, and has performed an organizational audit to ensure that Business Professionals of America is positioned for success. Her goal for the organization is to inspire and prepare emerging student leaders to discover their passion and change the world by creating unmatched opportunities in learning, professional development and service; and she is committed to taking this ambitious vision to successful reality.

Dr. Ross holds a Bachelor’s degree in Public Administration from the University of Pittsburgh as well as a certificate in Nonprofit Management. She also holds a Master’s degree in Public Policy and Management (MPPM) from the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs. Additionally, she holds a Master’s degree in Education (MAEd) from East Carolina University, and in June of this year, she completed her Doctorate in Leadership and Administration at Point Park University.

Dr. Ross is driven by a simple desire to do whatever she can to make the world a better place, and continually seeks ways to create that world for all children and youth.

Connect with Dr. Ross: Email | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

Listen to the episode now on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or on your favourite podcast platform.

Resources Mentioned

Business Professionals of America

BPA Alumni

Mr. Rogers, “Many Ways to Say I Love You”

The Transcript

**Please note that all of our transcriptions come from rev.com and are 80% accurate. We’re grateful for the robots that make this possible and realize that it’s not a perfect process.

Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker Sam Demma. Today’s guest is Dr. LouAnn Ross. She is the Executive Director and CEO for Business Professionals of America. She has always been inspired by people who do work that make the world a better place for youth, and she has committed her entire life to serving youth because she does. She believes that youth deserve the best that we as adults and everyone else have to offer throughout her career. She led as an unyielding dedication and set of principles that have allowed her the opportunity to not only be successful, but to also learn best practices, cultivate relationships, and expand her breadth of knowledge. She’s a nationally recognized professional with extensive experience in organizational administration, board governance and program management. This includes project management and evaluation, diversified fund development, board governance, corporate, and community relations and fiscal management.


Sam Demma (00:59):
She has led turnaround of two non-profit organizations and the startup of another with a great success. She joined BPA back in 2018. Dr. Ross also holds a Bachelor’s degree in Public Administration from the University of Pittsburgh, as well as a certificate in Nonprofit Management. She also has her Master’s in Public Policy and Management from the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public and International Affairs. And she also holds a Master’s degree in Education from East Carolina University. And in June of this year, she completed her Doctorate in Leadership and Administration at Point Park University. Today’s interview is going to be phenomenal, and I hope you really enjoy it. Dr. LouAnn Ross has so much to offer, grab a pen and a paper, and I’ll see you on the other side, Dr. LouAnn, thank you so much for coming on the high-performing educator podcast today. It is a huge honor and pleasure to have you on the show. Why don’t you start by sharing with the audience a little bit about who you are and how you ended up doing the work with young people that you’re doing today?


Dr. LouAnn Ross (02:01):
Hi, I am LouAnn Ross and I am the Executive Director of Business Professionals of America. Business Professionals of America is a national career and technical student organization. We really focus on preparing students for business field, for for work in the business and marketing and it fields. It’s been around for about 53 years and I’ve been with the organization for about three years, really, you know, about 10 years ago, I decided that I really wanted to dedicate myself to students and education. And I felt like this, you know, going in that direction was really my life’s calling and I’ve been doing that ever since. And this is just one of those remarkable opportunities where you have an impact where you potentially have an impact on tens of thousands of students. And it’s really makes coming to work every day.


Sam Demma (02:48):
Tell me more about 10 years ago, there, there has to be more to that decision to veer off the beaten path and chart a new direction.


Dr. LouAnn Ross (03:00):
So I have been in the non-profit world for a very long time. You know, I have a very simple philosophy. I just want to make the world a better place. And so I had dedicated my career to the nonprofit sector, and I think, you know, there’s this own expression that says, you know, you spend the first part of your career seeking success and the second part of your career is seeking significance. Right? So I had, I had been working my way up through the non-profit sector and I was an executive leadership and I was doing a great job and I love my work. It’s always good when you have a good mission to do the good work. But I had a moment. I think it was when my kids were about to graduate from high school and all of a sudden the focus didn’t have to be on everything else around me, but instead the direction I was going.


Dr. LouAnn Ross (03:40):

And so, as I thought about the things that mattered to me the most, it gave me the most passion. I thought that really I wanted to work on behalf of students. I wanted to work on behalf of young people and I wanted to work on behalf of students. And so I did some bold things. I actually left executive leadership and I applied to and got accepted into teach for America, which I was the, I always make a joke that I was the only person there that wasn’t 24 and from Harvard I, or mid-level professional. And I just wanted to immerse myself. I knew there were things that I didn’t understand about education or teaching. And so while I was there, I got my Master’s in education. I taught for a few years. But when people looked at my resume, they just kept seeing this executive leadership and nobody could really see me in the classroom. So I thought, well, I’m gonna, I’m just gonna kind of pivot and I’m going to I’m going to work in leadership in education. And so here I am.


Sam Demma (04:33):
That’s so awesome. And you’ve been with a BPA for three years now. What are some of your happiest moments or proudest moments so far that the organization has been able to achieve or accomplish, or maybe even just some learnings?


Dr. LouAnn Ross (04:48):
Well, you know, learning is lifelong. You continue to learn even as you continue to lead and leading is learning and, and, and vice versa. So, but you know, when I started the organization, you know, you’re new in the organization, hadn’t done a strategic plan a little while. So the very first thing I did, and it just kind of jumped in where the listening and learning tour, but it was more like a SWOT analysis. And I met with, you know advisor from around the nation students from around the nation, our board, our state directors, our classroom advisors. And we have a national officer team, which is student leaders. And I met with each and every one of them. And I started out with the most important question. Why, why do we do what we do? Why do you do what you do?


Dr. LouAnn Ross (05:32):
What brings you to BPA and what keeps you at VPA? And I learned so much about that, but you know, the most important some, one student said to me and I haven’t had a little sticky cause I made everybody put their wives on a sticky and I keep those stickies for when the work kind of with the administrative work, bogs me down. And it said before BPA, I had no place in double purpose. And that’s just so that’s everything for, it’s a matter of fact, it’s now part of our tagline, our tagline is giving purpose to potential and that is student driven tagline, you know?


Sam Demma (06:04):
That’s awesome. Why do you do what you do? Why do you do work with young people?


Dr. LouAnn Ross (06:10):
So let’s, let’s begin at the beginning. Working with young people is an exercise in hope, right? It’s corny, but it’s true that, you know, it’s about students are about the future and making the difference in the life of the student is about changing their trajectory and hopefully changing the trajectory of the world. But I’m happy to be honest. I would say that I probably gained more from working with students and they gained from me in my role. I can spend a lot of time doing administrative tasks and when they get to hang out with the student members, when I get to talk with them, that’s the inspiration. That’s what keeps me going. So in the end, part of it is because I want to do my part to make the world a better place. The other part of it is I have to go to work every day and it’s really nice to be in a place where I’m inspired and I have.


Sam Demma (06:58):
Ah, I love that. And the place you’re in right now, I’m sure is a little bit different this year than it was two years ago or three years ago. When you initially started with the organization, what current challenges is BPA faced with and how have you been working to overcome them or already overcame some of them?


Dr. LouAnn Ross (07:15):
Well, yeah, and I think it’s a different place in, for every single person. And so, you know, if you think about it there are so many challenges that the COVID situation is taking on families on the economy, on schools, on students. So from our perspective, right students were alive and then they’re online and then they’re hybrid. And just when you get all settled in, everything changes again. So I keep thinking two things. I keep thinking that one, we’re all in a collective state of trauma. And I think that it’s been long and it’s been hard and it’s not over. And none of us know when it’s going to be over. And the sheer uncertainty of all of it just makes it so difficult to navigate through. And so part of my, you know, my, my overall philosophy of making the world a better place is also that you have to do what you can do.


Dr. LouAnn Ross (08:05):
So what can we do as BPA we’ve tried to reach out, we’ve tried to be a constant in the lives of our students to be there, to provide what students have become accustomed to, to give him some normality. But at the same time, how do we stay flexible and, you know, connect with people in the way we continue to try to strive to understand what the challenges are. So we’ve had conversations with our students. We’ve had conversations through a variety of methods with our classroom advisors. We’ve had conversations with our state leaders, just trying to figure out like staying connected, staying you know, it changes every day. So you just have to be nimble right now. You have to operate from a state of a place of grace and, and keep on keeping on.


Sam Demma (08:49):
Ah, I love that you sound and seem like someone who’s very principled and I know the organization the organization has, but you sound like you have some great guiding philosophies and principles as well. And I’m curious to know more about some of your personal principles around, you know, life and leadership. If any, come to mind that you think are worth sharing with other educators who are listening right now, we would love to hear some.


Dr. LouAnn Ross (09:13):
Well, I’d like to believe I’m principled. And I’d like to believe that those principles are aligned with my actions. And I think that’s really the most important thing, right? And I think about these things all the time, but I think, you know, leaving is learning and learning is leading. If you never quit learning. And the way that you learn is by listening. So I think that’s probably the single most important thing you can go. And the one thing that I would say, the one thing that I, I really believe that I believe, but learned wholeheartedly when I became an educator, is that you have to meet people where they are, you know, from a place of no judgment or a place of an open heart and open mind because what we don’t know about people and their circumstances, good, just about filling the grand canyon. And you can get the, you can bring the best to people and get the best from people. If, if you are in a place of open-minded.


Sam Demma (10:04):
I love that. That’s awesome. And when you were a student, we’re going to go back in time for a minute. Did you have an educator or an advisor in your life who pushed you in a certain direction or did your urge to work with students and to be in a leadership position, start to develop in yourself after your high school and university days?


Dr. LouAnn Ross (10:26):
Well, you know, so I’ve probably never really quick. I’m going to school. I have two master’s degrees and a doctorate, and I just keep going back and I’m actually thinking, I was just looking at some programs because I, I just love learning. So I grew up in poverty and I didn’t go to a school that had anything. I never took a science course. Until I went to high school, they just didn’t have access to that kind of thing. So I think more than, than anything, my desire to do all of this come from a place of not having more than having and, and trying to make sure that other people have those things that I didn’t have so that I could be a more positive impact.


Sam Demma (11:05):
I love that. It’s amazing. And in the topic of being that supporter or being that person for others, you mentioned that one sticky where the students said, BPA gives me purpose. Do you have any other examples? I know there’s probably thousands of examples of students who have been impacted by the work that your whole organization is doing. Is there any other story that comes to mind that you think might be worthwhile to share, to remind an educator, the power that they have over young people in the work that they’re doing? And you can change the student’s name if it’s a very personal story, just for privacy reasons, but does any specific story come to mind?


Dr. LouAnn Ross (11:43):
You know, so I have a specific service. I want to just tell you a general story is that we are an organization that’s 53 years old serving, you know, tens of thousands of students every year. And there’s lots and lots and lots of students. And we have a remarkable alumni core, and those are people who say without BPA, I’m not where I am without BPA. I don’t do what I’m doing. And so just this year, because of COVID because of the financial impact that we anticipated, students might experience our alumni core made up of all kinds of people that believe that BPA changed their lives started. I don’t want to get the name wrong. I’m sorry, the financial I went to look it up because I don’t want to get it wrong.


Sam Demma (12:36):
No, yea of course. So a bunch of alumni students started…They launched the national dude’s assistance program. Wow.


Dr. LouAnn Ross (12:38):
They launched the They have been collecting money, raising money, donating money, asking other people to donate money so that our students who otherwise cannot afford membership can still join. And because of that, we’ve had partners like the AACPA and stoking that have also donated money. And so now we have a fund that we’re a substantial number of students, and we’re going to roll it out. Actually this month are going to be able to, and that really is a testimony to the impact that BPA has had on us. The alumni is lives. Those students who we serve throughout the last 50 years and who without a second hesitation said, yes, this is what we want to do, because we believe that the BPA experience is so important that we want to do this.


Sam Demma (13:26):
Oh, I love that. That’s such a, that’s such a great success story of, you know, the students being impacted and then, you know, returning and, and helping out. Are they still actively very actively involved in the organization with events and conferences and whatnot?


Dr. LouAnn Ross (13:41):
Right. You know, we have a conference, well, we typically have a conference of, you know, 7,000 people or more. And it is, you know, we’re a small staff, we have a team of eight and you don’t hold a conference for 7,000 people. We’ve got a whole lot of volunteers. And most of those volunteers are, are former officers and lots of other folks like that are former alumni. I mean, they’re just wonderful. They comment in droves and they’re wonderful and they support the students. It’s, it’s really inspirational.


Sam Demma (14:11):
And that’s awesome. And if there’s an educator listening right now who’s in their initial years in education, maybe they just started teaching with all the wisdom that you’ve gained over the years that you’ve been teaching. What pieces of advice would you give your younger self or someone else who’s just getting into this amazing work?


Dr. LouAnn Ross (14:31):
I think I said it before I meet them where they are, you know, open heart, open mind. I, I don’t believe anybody comes to school, not really wanting to succeed the, the guard they might put up that it looks like they don’t, it’s just a guard for whatever reason everybody’s there because they want to do well. And if you approach that student with the belief that they want to do well, and that’s the relationship from the very beginning, you’re going to get the best out of them. And it’s the same with family members. I’ve heard people be fairly, I’ve heard educators be fairly critical with family members. And I would say that all parents want their kids to be the best they can be. And so if you truly approach every person that you deal with, knowing that everybody’s doing the best they can and supporting them where they are, you’re going to get the most from them. And you’re going to have a really successful and meaningful career.


Sam Demma (15:20):
That and there’s a little bookshelf behind you. No one can see it because they’re just listening through audio over your left-hand shoulder. What’s one of your favorite books? Do you have one that you could, you could point out or recommend?


Dr. LouAnn Ross (15:35):
Mr. Rogers, Many ways to say I love you.


Sam Demma (15:39):
I love that. That’s awesome. Very cool. Dr. LouAnn, thank you so much for coming and chatting with me on the podcast here today. I really appreciate you making the time. It’s been a great conversation. If someone wants to reach out and bounce some ideas around, or have a conversation or hear more about BPA, what would be the best way for them to do so?


Dr. LouAnn Ross (15:58):
I’m LouAnn Ross. I’m at Business Professionals of America, and this is really easy. My email is lross@bpa.org. And I would love to talk to anybody who has any questions about the work that we do, or the work that they’re doing and ways that we can work together to make the world a better place.


Sam Demma (16:13):

Awesome. Thank you so much. And I’ll talk to you soon.


Dr. LouAnn Ross (16:16):
Sam. It was a pleasure. Thanks so much.


Sam Demma (16:18):
And you have it, the full interview with Dr. LouAnn Ross. I hope you took notes. I hope you feel inspired. I hope you feel energized and motivated and just ready to continue tackling your job in education. There are so many challenges right now, but that means there’s also so many opportunities and like Dr. LouAnn Ross, let’s try our best to take advantage of those opportunities and see the best in things. And remember why we initially got into this work in the first place. Anyways, I’ll see you on the next episode. If you are someone who is enjoying this content, consider leaving a rating and review or reaching out at info@samdemma.com. So we can get your inspiring insights and stories on the podcast as well. Talk to you soon. Bye.

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The High Performing Educator Podcast was brought to life during the outbreak of COVID-19 to provide you with inspirational stories and practical advice from your colleagues in education.  By tuning in, you will hear the stories and ideas of the world’s brightest and most ambitious educators.  You can expect interviews with Principals, Teachers, Guidance Counsellors, National Student Association, Directors and anybody that works with youth. You can find and listen to all the episodes for free here.