Gen Y rising

    Meet today’s young professionals.

    They don’t do things the way their parents did them. They are forging a new path, working in careers that might not have even been available in their parents’ day.

    They work at credit unions and for nonprofit organizations. They are fully digital, and are willing to run the show at a young age. They are even rethinking how they want to live in the business world the Baby Boomers are just beginning to leave behind.

    This is Generation Y, in Wisconsin and across the country. They’re working hard to have the life they’ve imagined, and a career that is both profitable and meaningful.

    Allyson Watson
    Executive Director, Definitely De Pere

    Allyson Watson is big on collaboration. It fuels her job as executive director of Definitely De Pere, and as the only paid employee, she relies on volunteers.

    “I stumbled onto the program through the local college, St. Norbert. I moved to Wisconsin from New York.”

    Watson was working on her master’s degree in public and nonprofit administration from Marist College in Poughkeepsie when she got an internship with Definitely De Pere.

    “I worked as an intern for six months. I helped restructure the program,” she said. When it came time to hire a director, she was in the right place at the right time, with the right experience.

    “We rely heavily on volunteers,” she said, and that works because the business community is willing to pitch in to promote itself.

    Because De Pere is a Wisconsin Main Street Community, it works within the committee structure of promotions and marketing, organization, economic development, and beautification.

    “We’ve recruited for each of those committees, and those are our go-to people.”

    This year, Watson and Definitely De Pere worked on increasing connections to St. Norbert. They were on campus for orientation with gift bags and representatives.

    “Instead of just focusing on students, we made welcome gift bags for parents,” Watson said. “Before, we never had a presence on campus.”

    Watson’s family moved to Wisconsin while she was in college, but she says she wouldn’t have stayed if the right job had not come along.

    “I had no idea, honestly, what I was going to do. I had an undergrad degree in economics. I had’t realized in advance how not-very-useful that was. I wasn’t able to find a career.”

    So she went back to earn her master’s, thinking she would end up working in government. Instead, she is working alongside it, and Watson says that feels like a good fit for now.

    “I am 26 years old, and more than anything else, this job offer was integral to me staying in Wisconsin.  Now I’m passionate about the community I’m in. If you asked me five years ago where I was going to be, it wouldn’t have been De Pere. But I’m very happy in my role, and I’ve been very happy here as a young professional.”

    Watson

    Maurice Cheeks
    Director, Wisconsin Innovation Network

    Maurice Cheeks is a digital native.

    “Technology is how I think of everything.”

    So his position as director of the Wisconsin Innovation Network (WIN) is a good fit.

    He knows not everybody embraces technology, but you might as well give in, he said, because there is no escaping it. If you’re operating a company in today’s world, “You’re a technology company whether you like it or not.”

    He moved to Madison in 2007 to work in education sales for Apple. That background made him a natural for the job at WIN, where he gets to preach the gospel of technology.

    “My territory is the whole state. “

    WIN is part of the Wisconsin Technology Council, a nonpartisan, nonprofit advisory board to the governor and state legislature on how to grow the high-tech economy in Wisconsin. It’s Cheeks’ job to bring businesses and technology together so business leaders can figure out the best ways to make technology work for them and grow their businesses.

    “One of the key offerings we provide to our members is the informational and networking luncheons we host. The subject changes every month. Recently, we highlighted a cluster of video game development companies. There are about a dozen game studios in Madison, and there are four of medium-to-large size. All of them are currently hiring. The gaming industry is the largest entertainment industry in the world. It’s kind of a big deal, and it’s starting to gain traction.”

    In his role as director of WIN, Cheeks said he gets to meet some of the most ambitious people in the state and connect them to other movers and shakers.

    Cheeks himself is becoming a mover and shaker as a member of the Madison City Council. He ran for office, he said, because it’s another way to give back to the community he now thinks of as home.

    “I love it here. It’s been a great joy to get plugged into Wisconsin. My wife and I were high school sweethearts, both from the Chicago area,” he said. In Madison, they’ve found the right fit.

    “Since I’ve been here, I’ve had opportunities to volunteer. I tutor algebra in schools, I helped get a small neighborhood school off the ground and I’ve volunteered on other campaigns. I just want to serve my neighbors.”

    At 30, he’s one of the youngest members on the Council, and he thinks that’s a good thing to bring to the table.

    “I have the perspective of being a young professional who has moved to Wisconsin, who chose to make this my home.”

    Cheeks

    Heather Wessley
    Senior Business Development Officer, Fox Communities Credit Union

    Heather Wessley ran the fast track early in her career. And because of that, she said, she now feels like she can dial back the intensity a little and focus on her family.

    She has worked for credit unions, beginning with KimCentral Credit Union in Neenah, since she was 16.  After five years there as a teller, she moved to Fox Communities Credit Union and became head teller.

    But that wasn’t enough for her, Wessley said.

    “I didn’t want to be a teller the rest of my life.”
    When she was offered the business development job, she jumped at the opportunity, and she’s been on the run ever since.

    As senior business development officer for Fox Communities Credit Union in Appleton, she’s responsible for seeking new commercial clients, marketing and being the face of the credit union in the broader community.

    This used-to-be-introvert says she loved the fast-paced life she was living. But two years ago, at age 34, she got married. A year later, she had a baby and today she’s got another on the way.

    Now she’s back at work, but she’s cut down to 25 hours a week.

    “I’ve worked so hard to get to where I am. I was worried about gearing down to part-time.  I worked really hard for the position I’m in.”

    Luckily, she said, her employer is “very family-oriented. They said absolutely no problem.”

    Of course, it’s not perfect. “I’m taking a 50-hour week and cramming it into 25,” said Wessley. But this is what works for her.

    “My dream growing up was to be a stay-at-home mom. But I’ve realized I’m not cut out to be home with my kids every day of the week.”

    Her biggest challenge now is leaving work at the office, something she hasn’t quite mastered.

    “I’m just not wired to shut stuff off. But I am learning that the time goes by really, really fast as a new mom. Work will wait until I get back into the office. My family comes first for now.”

    Wessley

    Corry Joe Biddle
    Executive Director, FUEL Milwaukee

    Corry Joe Biddle knows what it’s like to feel insulated. Growing up on the mostly African American north side of Milwaukee, she stuck to her own neighborhood, never experiencing the scope of what multi-cultural, multi-faceted Milwaukee had to offer.

    But that’s all changed. Today, she’s the executive director of FUEL Milwaukee, a group sponsored and backed by the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce (MMAC). FUEL’s focus is retaining high-quality young professionals in Milwaukee.

    At 35, she herself is one of them, and eager to show newcomers all that Milwaukee has to offer.

    “I studied English and business in college. Once I graduated, my first job was as a corporate proposal writer for Manpower. But it didn’t suit my personality,” she said, because she didn’t have enough contact with other people.

    From there, she went to America’s Black Holocaust Museum in Milwaukee, eventually becoming the executive director.

    But she’s found her true calling at FUEL, and she got the job by doing the kind of networking she recommends to FUEL members.

    “I went back to Manpower after I left the Holocaust Museum, asking around for suggestions. Every job I’ve ever gotten has been through a conversation.”

    She just didn’t realize that she was networking.

    “In college, networking was talked about as a scholarly term. It was a nebulous concept to me. What is networking, and how do you do it?”

    Now that she knows, she tells FUEL members to worry about relationships and the networking will happen from there.

    “Come to our mixers and put your business card away, have a drink, have a conversation. Networking happens by you being in a room with other people.”

    FUEL also focuses on professional development, volunteering and civic engagement.

    “We’re helping young professionals knit themselves into the fabric of Milwaukee. We’re going to make it hard for them to leave.”

    That’s a tough job, Biddle said, because, “They don’t have property, they don’t have kids. They can go anywhere and find a great job.”

    One of the best qualities she brings to FUEL, Biddle said, is her own story and her own viewpoint.

    “I was born and raised in Milwaukee,” she said, “but didn’t realize what was always in front of me. I have really come to appreciate it. As much as I’ve been exposing our members to the city, I was also exposing myself. It’s worked on me, too.”

    Biddle

    Will Kratt
    Civil Engineer, I & S Group

    When the bridge you’re driving over holds the weight of your car, thank a civil engineer.

    When underground utilities function as they should, delivering water, gas and electricity to your house, do the same.

    Civil engineers make sure structures do what they’re supposed to do, and from the time he was in high school, Will Kratt knew that’s what he wanted to do for a living.

    “I have an appreciation for the built environment and gaining an understanding of how it works.”
    Now the 33-year-old La Crosse native is back home, working for I & S Group.

    “It’s a broad field,” he said, and civil engineering allows him to use the math and science that come naturally to him.

    “We work very closely with architects – on the structural side – to make the structure stand up, essentially.  Civils like me are more involved with transportation design, parking, landscaping and the streets around it.”

    After graduating from UW-Madison, Kratt took a job with a firm in Madison. But he felt a strong calling to focus on the community he came from, so he accepted a job with I & S in November 2012 and moved home.

    “We’re a full-service design firm, from planning and design through construction.  I & S Group really has a focus on our communities. That’s one of the things I really enjoyed when I first started talking to folks about working here. Being active in the community is basically expected of us.”

    He chose to focus his community-based effort on Downtown Mainstreet, Inc., which works for the economic redevelopment and revitalization of downtown La Crosse.

    “I could see good things happening with DMI. The pieces are falling into place,” he said.
    What amazes him, he said, is La Crosse’s ability to reinvent itself.

    “From logging town to blue collar industrial, and now it’s a center for education and health. In another 10 years it’s going to be completely different than it is today. You’re going to see a lot more people living downtown, and more mixed used developments.”

    Robin Moses, executive director of DMI, said Kratt is a natural fit with their design committee and has helped put together a parklets project, using parking spaces to become temporary outdoor common spaces.

    “It’s like a house with a deck that runs flush with the curb to create more green and common space,” she said, and they were already considering the concept when Kratt joined with his own ideas to make that happen.

    “He’s got some really great, innovative ideas,” Moses said. “He’s up and coming. He wants to make a difference in downtown and the community as a whole.”

    “I’m somebody who wants to be challenged and wants to solve problems,” Kratt said. “I think that’s pretty natural for an engineer.”

    Kratt

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