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From Rural Ohio to President of the Largest Student Leadership Program in the USA: The Story of Charles Knippen

by National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship
August 11th 2021

Join Charles Knippen and host Dr. Rebecca Corbin to learn how to ... More

have you joined our online community nace E meets? We're excited to have a platform dedicated to our members to network, connect, exchange ideas and support your entrepreneurial initiatives, joined the community at Macy meats dot Macy dot com. Welcome to Making our way forward a podcast where we share compelling life stories and learn from the experience of everyday entrepreneurs at Macy. We celebrate diversity and invite you to join the conversation as we talked to entrepreneurs and leaders from all walks of life. We hope that by telling their stories, we bring you inspiration, empower you to take action and ignite entrepreneurship in your community. Welcome to Making our Way Forward podcast. We have the pleasure of meeting everyday entrepreneurs and leaders from around the world and today we have a very special guest who has a great story to tell.

So help me welcome in this episode, Charles nip in Charles, how are you doing today, dr Corbin so well and thanks for having me here today. Pleasure to spend this time with you. I've had the privilege and thank you Charles of hearing you speak publicly at one of the nation's largest conferences in recent times prior to the pandemic and I know you are kind enough to share with us a little bit of your story when we were all together and perhaps you could share with our audience a memory or mentoring um experience that really got you started on your career path as we as we kick off this episode. Absolutely. And I have to tell you first that I blame my career on a woman by the name of Rana Car. And I mean that with all sincere appreciation for what she taught me. Um so Rhona was the program director for a program I went through between my junior to senior year in high school that would set the path for who I would become as professional. It was called the lead program in Business leadership education and development program.

It was hosted 10 different colleges around the country. They picked out diverse juniors, incoming seniors and it was a summer program for a month. And for that month you got to go, I got to go to Columbia University. So in this northwest Ohio rural farm kid being flown to new york city, going to Manhattan and you know, arrive on Columbia University's campus. And for the next month I got to attend all of these wonderful classes on campus, meet the program sponsors network with amazing other students. But it was run a car who on the last day changed my entire trajectory of my life That she came into that room on the last day and we're having the closing ceremony. Everyone's feeling so good and all those sponsors aren't there there congratulating. But she walked up to the front of that room, looked over the 36 of us and it was like she just looked into everyone's soul that day. And she said for the last month, we have done everything we can to help you become successful, all the classes, all the people, all the opportunities to help you become successful.

And then she said the words that would forever change my life and where I got my career going, she said, how are you going to do this for someone else? How are you going to help someone else become successful? And as that 17 year old kids sitting in there from rural Ohio in New York City, I just go, I don't know how I'm going to do that, but I am going to help other people become successful. I am going to go out and I'm going to continue the impact that this program made on me and I didn't know at that point what that looks like. But I sit here all these years later is now the president of the largest leadership on our society and accredited leadership on the program in the country. And now on an annual basis, we help over 100,000 students figure out what they want to do with their life Yeah. What they want to do with their life and how giving them the accredited program to go out and do it. And so Ronna want to say thank you. Um, I blame this on you. But it's all in the best, it's all in the best way. Oh, what a blessing and what a gift. And and I've um got to become aware of your organization and kind of an interesting way.

I met one of your staff members, you have a fantastic staff and I walked into the booth for the leadership society and they had this display of M and M's and a wheel and they asked me a question and okay you had me from that point, I was like oh my gosh, these people are on fire and I think it just speaks to a couple of the things about paying it forward, which is the generosity of spirit. I've seen that um time and time again, I wonder Charles, how many lives, you know, 100,000. My goodness. I mean making a difference all the time. And I think it's interesting to think about the things that shape us and I know you know as you've grown your organization, you have to make strategic decisions. So you're paying attention to making a difference in the lives of these students, but tell us about your mission because your mission is really making an impact and you're an honor society organization. How do you how do you create a mission? And how do you live that mission? Maybe give us some examples.

Sure. And so our mission is simple. We are building leaders who make a better world. And so while it's one line but we hope that it says a lot for who we are and what we want to do that first we want to build our members as leaders, we want to give them the skills to be successful. However they define that success to be effective in their leadership. But that takes us to the second part of our mission to make a better world. We give our members a call to action to go into their communities and to make a positive impact in the world that we live in and how divided some communities can be. And um you know, the challenges that are there for students to engage with the impacts of the pandemic. There's so many things that are challenging to them. And if we can train 100,000 students a year to understand themselves better to become better leaders and then to go out in the community and do something positive, whether it's just volunteering, doing five hours of community service or whether it's leading a whole initiatives. We created a new scholarship program called United by purpose where we had students and giving them might seed funding to go out and to actually create new programs.

And one woman create a program, Katarina I believe is her name create a program called remembering mom to help other brothers, new mothers who are experiencing postpartum to have resources to help them. And she's helped over 30. Mom's already in the last five months. She has amazon and Jeff Bezos um supporting her program. Now we have another student, Darrell who created a program to help foster racial communications conversations around race. Um, and all the issues that are going on around that he now has been highlighted in Atlanta for his work and what he's doing and he's getting additional funding to help. There's so many ways that we want to just empower our leaders from the education, they get to the resources that they receive from us to go out and to be those leaders who Charles. That's great. And I mean it gives you such hope for future generations. We see that with all the students and some of the faculty that we work with that really lean into social entrepreneurship because students, they do want to make the world a better place. And if anything like you said, we're learning through the pandemic, we are a global community, if nothing else, the virus has taught us that you know that that thing's spread and in the way that we can confront these issues um is really by working together and innovating together.

And I'd like to dig into that just a bit about the delivery of your programs during pandemic because obviously, um I remember this, everything shut down to varying degrees that happened around the country. So you have 100,000 people that are used to engaging with each other. So talk about maybe the strategies, maybe hit on, you know, did you adapt your curriculum at all to kind of meet people where they are, what did you do? I love it because to what you just said Dr. Corbin, March 16th hit last year, the world shut down. And we all looked around at each other. We go, how do we continue our work? Because in our work on campuses? Thanks to the amazing volunteers who are chapter leaders. They were having students come into mostly come into their classrooms and or onto their auditoriums and experience this program together and that all sound. And you're like the rest of world. We're all wondering, okay, now what? Right? And I have to give credit to our amazing executive team because they came together and they said this is they came up with the plan and in 2.5 months they created an entire live online.

So just like we were talking today on zoom, we created a program with program with big blue button and create our own custom software. And and by the fall semester we were able to roll out our programming to be able to do it live online. Students were in major rooms like this, they were interacting with each other online. They were able to have the programmatic experience to continue that leadership education experience. And I don't want to toot our own horn that. But I am so grateful for those chapter leaders who provided us the feedback to say this is the only way that we're able to stay in touch with our students and to actively engage with the students and so many administrators came back and just said this is the only touch point that we're having right now and thank you for helping them stay connected with our community, whether that was the leadership office or with the university itself, and again, I go back and I say are amazing team in Hoboken or I'm sorry, in Jersey City, they're the ones who made it happen in 2.5 months to create an entirely new live online platform for the students to engage with.

Yeah, that's it's amazing when people are presented with disruption and difficulty, you know, you need that support, especially young people that age. And I shared with you before we started the conversation in my own family, one of my Children going to roll in college, which is in the southern part of New Jersey at the time, um, received this invitation to your organization. What struck me is, you know, the work that we both do as association executives, you always want to have people feel invited and included. But she opened up this beautiful envelope and her name was right in the middle and she came, you know, because because that age you never know what you're going to get right, but she really felt so, so welcomed in. And I know the pandemic was difficult for young people because they weren't able to be together and I think that's probably one of the services that you provided, that not only leadership, but just giving people sort of hope that there are ways to recognize and include people.

Um and I think as you move forward, I guess as we all move forward, we're going to continue to innovate and come up with additional ways and get feedback and include that. But if I go back to one of my favorite memories which I also reminded you about earlier this morning, um Macy had its probably most impactful conference in Newport Beach the year before the pandemic. So this would have been october of 2000 and 19 and it was, we had so many people there. This would never happen today. We literally had like 12 people crammed around the table and um you were one of our keynote speakers and my staff was telling me, oh my gosh, look at look at these youtube videos of Charles nip in and I was like, oh my gosh, I don't know what he has in store. So I would love for you to share with our audience what you, you know, how you presented and what you did and and just bringing that level of enthusiasm to educators and leaders around the country, as maybe people would would wonder how do you deliver riveting keynotes about leadership?

Well, I have to say thank you first for the compliment is always an honor to get in front of an audience, but I have to tell you that I have a special memory from your conference and being a Newport beach with you all because as I mentioned at the conference, the beginning of my speech up there, um I didn't know a whole lot about Macy that that person you're referring to before, Marissa from our team introduced me to you and I just remember getting up on stage and going, these are my people, these are my people like, you know, just with the entrepreneurial mindset and everything I've done from being an entrepreneur to an entrepreneur, to being a business partner now and scaling the national society, leadership and success or to over 700 people or 700 colleges uh I just was like, this is an amazing group of individuals who are committing themselves to entrepreneurial, you know, education and you know, working in the community college environment and I just said there's such a sense of community here and so I just want to start first by just going, it was just palpable in the room, just how much people were engaged and jazzed into what it is that they have committed themselves to with your organization.

So first kudos to you and everything that you built over there um in terms of my engagement up there, one of the things that I always look at and it was used to be a cliche or it can still be looked at, but I love edge attainment, that education and entertainment, when you can, you know, when you can be in front of a group of people, getting them to think, gained them to think differently, asking them questions that allow them to ponder, you know, their perspective, but then also getting them up and involved, I will never forget that, I think I was known as the money guy that day because we had one of those that we had a participant, yep that we had, we did a little jumping exercise where we talked about, you know, setting your goals and you know, one of the activities that we did was we had we give that person a card and we gave them tone, walk up to the wall and jump as high as you can and you know, they took that card and they jumped up there and they put the card up and then I said now if you can get this other card above it, I'll give you 50 bucks and I know and all of a sudden we go back out to the audience and your audience was so good, give them ideas, give her ideas, you know, how she can do this and you know, everyone was just popping out, there was a couple of cheaters in the room, not gonna lie, they wanted to cut, you know, make a couple of cuts there, but uh but they got great ideas and she jumped up there, she got that card above the other one, I handed her 100 bucks and it was just an amazing moment in that room, um but then I became known as the money guy, but really focusing on again that edge attainment of saying how can you learn and in that moment, but I'm gonna tell you what I'm trying to communicate to that audience is I want you to know that you know about goals, it's about being specific, it's about getting help from your community, it's about doing all these things and if I can make that message come alive, it's a lot more than just getting up there to be successful with your goals.

You should be specific. But if they can actually see it live it, feel it and have an emotional response to them being successful, that person that volunteer being successful, that's the other part that they were so excited for that student. It was a student in that room. They were so excited for her and being successful. Um it was just contagious in that room. It positivity is so contagious. And someday if you come down to Raleigh we would welcome you into our office. We have a big photograph of all of the people standing there and so people that come down to my office, we have all these beautiful memories, many of them have been captured by our producer natalia, but that's one of my favorite ones and I think it's a really beautiful and it's fitting that the volunteer was a student. There's a little postscript to that um the student that volunteered was part of what they call club zeitgeist club Z and Maricopa and um their advisor was telling me how shy that student was. I don't know if you remember she had the flowers in her hair and she was an art student.

So she, you know, felt very kind of welcomed in, but she was one of those students that was really more interested in social entrepreneurship and um just how she had grown with leadership with entrepreneurial education and being surrounded by people that, you know, truly care about you and your experience of Macy, that culture was there. Prior to me getting there at seven years ago, I had an interesting little story, I had a the old the former president had stepped down, so I had applied for the job and I didn't even know if I was going to get an interview at that point and somebody invited me down to come to the conference and I just fell in love with the people I fell in love with the mission. And I remember flying back to New Jersey on the plane and I was like, I don't even care if I get this job. Like these are these are my people just like, I want to be around people that are willing to celebrate both success and failure because it's trying and it's learning and it's supporting each other and I think the example of what you give is a wonderful memory, We have it here in our headquarters and I think it's because of people like you that are willing to do those kind of things, we talk about improv a lot, you know, that sometimes we even are planning on this podcast journey in china new again, we're like, oh my gosh, we're not 100% sure the technology is going to work, so we're like, okay, listen, we're going to plan for the worst, and then we're going to go with it and we're going to have fun.

And I think that is a point to, I think when I wanted to kind of close out, because our time goes by so fast, but I love for you to comment on how you see the role of having fun and engagement, how that might lead to a sense of hope and purpose within your community, because I see that and I feel that every time I'm around you and every time I interact with your staff or see what you guys are doing and that might be a beautiful way to close out our conversation. Uh when I think about fun and I think about engagement and the world doesn't have to be a serious place to make an impact to learn. You can be engaged into that. And I think as educators, it is put on us to think in that perspective of going, we all learn better from a story, we all learn from, you know, putting our hands on something and actually learning, Um people learn by seeing by hearing all those things, but if you are engaged into that activity and if you people will remember more of how they feel than what you say, as always, you know, another statement and if you can remember that feeling of going, wow, it feels really good to give back or wow, I really, by helping someone else.

I feel like I made an impact in the world. I think from that perspective, going back to the original question, I think fun and activity and engagement are all hand in hand to making this world a better place and to getting people to feel compelled and to feel the and to do and to go out and make an an action towards making this a better world. Yeah, that's so well said, and I think for students of all ages and that's personally what I've always loved about community colleges, you get at community college graduation, you know, the youngest student might be a high school or middle school student, that's you know, a high achiever, that's earning credits and sometimes we have students as old as in their sixties and early seventies that went back and got a certificate and got on their way and and that's huge. That's huge, huge, huge speak to that a little bit. Why, why, why is that such an important thing? Do you think at this point in history? I think, I think it's for us, it's such a focus right now, and I think it's in response to what's going on in the world that voices, particularly minority voices that have not been heard and in the way that they needed to whether that is black lives matters the trans community, a number of, you know, communities that are coming in asian american hate occurrences that these communities are finally having a voice and these students are particularly collegiate level, are coming out of the woodwork to say we are here and we want to be heard and we want to be protected and we want to be a part of the conversation.

And so I think for us and particularly, and you know, we have traditional students, nontraditional students are primarily female in our membership. Uh you know, there's so many different audiences and we're actually introducing that into our curriculum this year, we're rolling this out to over 100,000 students, diversity, equity, and inclusion and going and starting first with awareness and um you may be familiar with the model, but using the iceberg where at the top of the iceberg above the water line, what you see and what you perceive and what your stories that you're creating at the waterline things that you may see or maybe they are just under and then those elements of diversity that are under the water and how much of a person is under the water in terms of that identification of who they are and so getting people to understand and have that awareness of first the stories that they create and then identification of who they are and what's important to them. Um that's the first step that we're making with 100,000 students this year and building on that in the future to talk more about inclusion. And how do you create an environment wherever you are, whether you are in the minority or the majority, you have to your you as a leader are responsible for creating that environment that is inclusive, that is equitable and that is making changes in the, in the world, the global society to actually go and do that.

So I think it's because of these conversations are now happening for the maybe it's not the first time in history, but in an elevated way in the ways that we haven't been able to see it before. Thanks to social media. Thanks to, you know, people sharing, sharing themselves in a way that they haven't felt comfortable before that were finally able to do this and we're we're so excited as an excuse to get behind this and you know, whether it is through our scholarship programs that united by purpose supporting these types of initiatives or through our curriculum that's going to be rolled out to all these students. It's such an important topic for us as an organization, but also for the world. Yeah. And I think it's timely to the Macy conferences. You know, because, because I think you all are going to be there, which were excited about is in Minneapolis Minnesota and you know, I think the sight of, you know, the George Floyd's death, but also his life and what it means to society. Um, it couldn't be a better time to have these conversations. That can be difficult conversations. But um, you know, giving people language and like you said, giving them agency.

Um, you know, it strikes me when you talk about people's stories and your experience as a rural Ohio college student. Um, somebody believed in you at Columbia University and gave you language and tools to do something and to make the world a better place? And, and those are the kinds of things that I know we talk about all the time at Macy about changing the world for the better and, and certainly doing it one person, one college at a time is phenomenal and never has been more important than it is today. So, um, all of us truly celebrate the work that you're doing and for all of our people that are listening perhaps you could share with people how they would get more information about the society if they are interested in joining or have a family member. Are you all over the world. Are you just in the United States and how can people learn more? Sure we want to encourage anyone that wants to learn more about us, go to NsLS dot org. Um, and right now we're at over 700 colleges across the country. We have over 1.5 million members.

We are in Puerto, rico bermuda Bahamas. Uh, and we are our long term goal. So when we're thinking of who we are as an organization, our long term goal is that everybody will know somebody positively impacted by the NsLS. And so we're taking the next step the next couple of years to bring our programs even more international, um, going into other spaces like high school, in corporate, we want to be a positive force for good in this world. And so, you know, when people are asking world would do you guys all about, we're about building leaders make of our world and that everybody will know somebody positively impacted bias and we invite anyone who wants to learn more about us or get on that journey with us to definitely reach out. Well, I think you're a wonderful spokesperson for um, for the organization and you know, our podcast listeners are truly all around the world. We're in, um, you know, continents, cities everywhere. So I really hope people will take the time to learn more about that. And also, you know, if you're looking for a way to get engaged, literally almost every community has a community college.

So, um, everyone has talents, whether they're young people that can be developed or whether they're students like you said of older age, that maybe, you know, stayed at home to raise their kids or they had a career change, you know, I love the inclusion there, so thank you so much Charles for being with us today. Thank you for the way that you're making the world a better place and I look forward to seeing this spread around the globe and we'll continue our conversations. Much appreciate dr corbin. You have a great day. Thank you. Thank you so much for joining us. We hope they're listening to this podcast will help you to explore the many ways we might define entrepreneurship, join us every other Wednesday for more episodes as we celebrate opportunity, learn from one another and grow together. Subscribe to this podcast, connect with us on social media and learn more about today's speakers at Macy dot com forward slash podcast. We look forward to making our way forward together with you, have you heard about our latest book impact ed, how community college entrepreneurship creates equity and prosperity?

This is our roadmap for building Back better in 50 States and globally. In each chapter, we share the inspiring stories of everyday entrepreneurs and explain how community colleges play a crucial role in their success. Visit us at Macy dot com slash impact add to order your copy now and join us in this work

From Rural Ohio to President of the Largest Student Leadership Program in the USA: The Story of Charles Knippen
From Rural Ohio to President of the Largest Student Leadership Program in the USA: The Story of Charles Knippen
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