By Southwest Wisconsin Technical College
Southwestern Wisconsin often boasts about the natural beauty of the region, the immense amount of agriculture, the hard work ethic of the people, and the home of two prominent educational systems in Fennimore and Platteville. As partners in education, Southwest Wisconsin Technical College has collaborated with the University of Wisconsin-Platteville and Mineral Point’s Kristin Mitchell Design and Compounding Courage to host You First, a conference developed from the Ladies Leadership series that will focus on building a network of resilient women in southwestern Wisconsin.
Kim Schmelz, director of external relations and alumni development for the Southwest Tech Foundation, recently interviewed Julie Stephenson and Stacy Thousand, two of the women of Compounding Courage who will lead a discussion at the You First Conference. Schmelz wanted to learn about their Southwest Tech connection, how Compounding Courage got started and why building a network of resilient women in Southwest Wisconsin is so important to them.
Stephenson and Thousand both attended Southwest Tech right out of high school. They were both looking for an option where they could earn a degree and get to work.
Stephenson said, “Looking back, I think what I found at Southwest Tech was the autonomy I wanted coming out of high school but the same small classes I was able to learn best in. I thrived there. It was a completely different learning experience than what I was used to and I did really well!”
Thousand talked about the experience of having non-traditional students in her class who had been laid off from Advanced Transformers and how that positively affected her experience. “You could tell for some that they felt this was their last chance to really start over and they were so determined. It gave me a greater perspective on my education.” Stephenson graduated with a degree in early childhood in 1997 and Thousand earned her degree in marketing in 1999.
IF YOU GO
What: You First Conference featuring keynote address from Sagashus Levingston, author of “Infamous Mothers”
When: 8 a.m.-4 p.m. March 28
Where: Belmont Convention Center, 103 W. Mound View Ave.
How: For more information and to register by March 1, see www.uwplatt.edu/continuing/you-first. To learn more about Compounding Courage, see www.compoundingcourage.com and Compounding Courage on Facebook.
Fast-forward 20 years and these two women, along with Dana Gevelinger, have started Compounding Courage, a personal growth and leadership development company creating opportunities for women to find their voice, see beliefs that hold them back and develop the skills to create the life they dream about.
“How did Compounding Courage get started?” asked Schmelz.
“It grew out of hundreds of individual conversations I had with women all over southwest Wisconsin,” said Stephenson. “For years, I had been hearing women with diverse career and family lives dealing with the same struggle of feeling like they weren’t measuring up. For years, I wished those smart and capable women could develop the courage to work through the fears that were limiting their potential. Finally, in early 2018, I reached out to Dana and Stacey to make it happen with Compounding Courage. We knew, if we can be courageous, it will compound.”
Thousand talked about her experience of feeling like she needed to fit into the mold of what was expected of her. “A long part of my life I felt like I needed to do what other people thought I should be doing and not be my authentic self. There haven’t been workshops, places or schools teaching this stuff, so we wanted to develop a space where women can talk about it.”
Stephenson and Thousand saw the impacts of courage in their own lives after learning and discussing the research of Brene Brown. Stephenson even reached out to Brown’s team in Texas to try to get them to come to the area for a discussion, but it didn’t work out. That’s when they knew they had to be grassroots about courage here.
Schmelz asked, “Why is building a network of resilient women in southwest Wisconsin so important to you?”
Thousand talked about her feelings of thinking she needed to check all of her baggage at the door when she walked into work. “I thought that as a manager I always needed to keep my composure so that my staff wouldn’t know that I was struggling with something in my personal life.” This all hit home when Thousand’s mother-in-law passed away and no one from work attended the services because she realized she never talked about it. She didn’t want to burden her staff with talking about what she was going through so they had no idea.
“We only have so much emotional energy,” Thousand said. “So if we use it all at work it leaves less when trying to have those difficult and important conversations at home. We have to act as partners with our spouse to give kids the resilience and understanding of what to do with their emotions.”
“Having the courage, energy and skills to discuss the hard things in our homes and communities makes us all stronger,” said Stephenson. “Compounding Courage is working hard to create a connected network of people in rural Wisconsin who are willing to address their individual barriers related to being courageous and understand the unseen cultural and societal norms that are also working against us. We want to focus in on what we have in common and connect from that place. We all have something to give and receive when we focus on one another.”
As a fundraiser for the Southwest Tech Foundation, Schmelz wanted to ask what interests these women when it comes to being philanthropic. Stephenson’s response was simple but on point, “Feeling creates action. Make someone feel something.”
Thousand also added, “What you put out will come back. Courage will compound. We know that if we make anybody better, we are better.”