Samantha McKeough: WEN Board of Directors 2015-2019
Sam is an awesome human with an upbeat, can-do attitude who served on the WEN Board of Directors from 2015-2019. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin Madison with a dual BS in Environmental Sciences and BA in International Studies. She now lives in Minneapolis and is pursuing her goal to have a positive impact on the environment and communities around her. The following are excerpts from a lively conversation at Tracy’s Saloon in Minneapolis’ Seward neighborhood in September 2019.
Sam, what are you up to now?
I’m currently the Sustainability Consultant with HealthPartners in Minneapolis. I love working for a mission driven organization. Since sustainability supports our mission to improve health and well-being I get to work with people all across the organization, from the c-suite to front line staff. I work on a wide variety of projects from waste minimization, to calculating our greenhouse gas emissions, and environmentally preferred purchasing. I really enjoy working for HealthPartners because there is a lot of opportunities, in the health care industry as a whole, to minimize our impact on the environment and the health of our communities.
How did you end up in Minnesota and where you are now?
I grew up passionate about environmental issues and am just a passionate person in general (seconded!), so I knew I wanted to do something where I could really make an impact. While working on my BA/BS at UW Madison, I became very involved with the Wisconsin Public Interest Research Group (WISPIRG) where I did community organizing work. I engaged students in supporting renewable energy and green jobs legislation by calling their legislators and registered students to vote. Through my contacts at WISPIRG, I landed a job after graduation with an affiliated organization, Wisconsin Environment. I had two weeks of training which included doing door-to-door fundraising, which I quickly realized, I was not very good at. The Monday after training, my boss sat me down and stated that this role wasn’t a great fit for me and let me go. At first I was devastated and at a loss of as to what I was going to do. I was a recent graduate and the roadmap I had planned for my career just exploded in my face.
As I was thinking about my next move, I decided I was ready for a fresh start. I have family in the Twin Cities area, so started applying to jobs here. I ended up accepting a job in the Facilities Department at Saint Paul Public Schools, where I focused mostly on employee health and safety. A small part of my role was working on energy benchmarking and waste projects. The position was a great opportunity to gain experience and develop skills, such as project management. One project that I am particularly proud of was starting a playground maintenance program. I even became a certified Playground Safety Inspector, which was actually pretty fascinating.
However, as I mentioned previously, my passion is environmental stewardship and sustainability and I really wanted a job that would allow me to focus all of my time on these types of projects. I got the job at HealthPartners in 2015, as the Sustainability Coordinator. In this role, I learned a lot about the health care industry as a whole and about opportunities to reduce our impact on our surrounding environment. I spent a lot of time in the first year or so in the role reaching out to people and building relationships. These relationships and connections are extremely helpful when I am working on implementing projects, organizing events, or just promoting our sustainability efforts. I was in that position for over four years and was recently promoted to Sustainability Consultant. I am excited to continue this work, enhancing our program, and keep being leaders in healthcare sustainability.
How did being involved with WEN play a role in getting you to where you are now?
Well, I first heard of WEN from Shannon Pinc who was a colleague at Saint Paul Public Schools and has since become a great friend. I had just moved here from Wisconsin and was looking for a way to become more involved. She was on the Board of Directors at the time and convinced me to join to meet like-minded people and make friends.
Shannon was also instrumental in helping me land my current job at HealthPartners. She knew my current boss, through her professional network and when she saw the job posting sent it to me and encouraged me to apply. After I submitted my application she contacted my now boss and recommended me for the job.
During my first week at HealthPartners, we were sponsors of the 6th Annual Networking Event and it was my first WEN event. And the rest as they say, was history. I submitted my application to become a board member the next day.
From attending events and meeting different people from various parts of the environmental sector, WEN really helped build up my personal and professional network. Before I knew it, I would be at other events and see people I had met through WEN. Having that instant connection was a great feeling. I also feel so energized after WEN events and feel motivated after networking with all these amazing women doing great work.
What was your favorite part of being on the WEN board?
My favorite part of the WEN board was the people I got to work with and meet outside of my job. I got to know people that I may not have crossed paths with otherwise – people working in different sectors of the environment and people who were at different spots in their careers.
I also got to learn a lot about different leadership styles and see how these complemented each other. I had the opportunity to strengthen skills that I hadn’t had the opportunity to learn in the past. For example, when I started on the board I didn’t have any experience with websites so offered to become WEN’s Web Master. I also got hands-on experience with other skills like event planning, relationship building, and networking.
Do you have a favorite WEN event?
My favorite WEN event was the Speed Networking Event at Mason’s Restaurant Barre (now closed) in February 2016. We chose that location because their décor was repurposed and they had a focus on sustainability.
Before the event, we told everyone to practice an elevator pitch they would deliver with new people they met throughout the night. When people arrived, we organized them into an inner circle and an outer circle. After a set amount of time, we had the people in the inner circle rotate so everyone was talking to someone new.
I remember the room was so loud from everyone chatting. It was fun to meet so many new people. We also got a ton of positive feedback from our members about the event. It was rewarding to be a part of the planning process and then to see it come to fruition.
It was also at this event that I was introduced to someone that is now a close friend.
What’s your advice to someone interested in working in the environmental field?
If you are feeling stuck, or if you have received yet another automated rejection email from a job you just applied to, I found it helpful to remember that maybe people have felt this way before and been in that same position. But you’ve got to keep trying and networking can be a key part in landing the job you want. It can be intimidating, but I always pumped myself up with “Fake It ‘Til You Make It” mantra before events, interviews, and when starting a new job. It helps me build up my confidence! Before you know it, you will realize that you are no longer ‘faking it.’
Don’t be afraid to reach out to people, especially in WEN. Make it a point to support others and lift people up, we’re all in this together.
Thank you, Sam, for your WEN contributions and letting me pick your brain!