After watching a co-worker complete Iowa Innovation Group (IIG) in 2019 and wrapping up my first six months at CENT Credit Union, I knew IIG was something I wanted to be a part of. I immediately emailed my boss to let her know this was something I was very interested in applying for - not only to learn more about the credit union industry but also to really help enhance the way I was servicing our members. When filling out the initial application, I was terrified. I was brand new to the credit union industry. After seven years in banking and insurance, much of this felt foreign. I did a little research on the industry when applying to make sure I really understood what I was doing and really grasping the People Helping People concept. After doing so, I knew I was making the right choice in applying.
When I received my email from Erin Coleman at Filene Research Institute about the next steps in the process, I felt a sense of relief. I couldn’t wait to get on the phone for my interview. After a few weeks, the email came inviting me to join IIG, and I will never forget the day. I was in the middle of opening an account for a new member, and our CEO stopped into the office with the biggest smile on his face. He let everyone in the building know that I had been accepted. I knew right then this was going to be an amazing experience.
What we didn’t know at this time was how quickly the experience would come to a halt. During our first large group call in March, the COVID-19 pandemic was a main topic of conversation. It had become very real in the United States and the Midwest by this point. We weren’t exactly sure how this was going to play out for everyone and how we were going to keep everyone safe. After about a month, it was finally decided that we would postpone the 2020 IIG experience and try again in 2021. While I think many of us were a little crushed, we all knew and understood this was best for everyone. ICUL made it even better for us by inviting us all back to be a part of the 2021 IIG program without any hesitation.
Fast forward to March 2021, we were eager and ready to go. However, our experience was going to be so much different that past groups. We went into the year fully expecting to have a hybrid approach to IIG, but as the year went on and COVID didn’t go away, we became 100% virtual. Thanks to Zoom, LucidSpark, Jodi Allen (ICUL) and Erin Coleman (Filene), the virtual experience became one none of us would ever forget or take for granted. As we navigated through and had more and more training and meetings with our teams, it became clear we were all just happy to be a part of IIG.
Getting to know my team, Mariko, Anthony, and Kari, through a screen vs. in person was intimidating at first. But the first day we met (virtually of course), we completely hit it off and had the best camaraderie through out the entire experience. By the time we got together in September at convention, it was like we’d been friends for years. We all had so much passion for our innovation and the members we were solving problems for, and it was very evident.
The highest point of this process was by far convention and our presentation. The feelings of excitement and pure happiness for being a part of something so great were the icing on the cake for the whole experience.
What I’ve learned this year after attending my first convention and doing so as an IIG participant is that if you’re considering applying, DO IT. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been at a credit union for two weeks or 10 years. This applies to anyone who shares the passion of helping people. The process will completely open your mind and allow you to do amazing things for your credit union and its members.
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to learn more about this impactful leadership development program.
Jana Erickson is a Marketing Coordinator at CENT Credit Union. She was a participant of the 2021 Iowa Innovation Group.