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.
**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 firstname.lastname@example.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 email@example.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.