Encore careers make social impact

University of Minnesota’s Advanced Careers Initiative fellows Lisa Mattson of Shoreview, Sarah Meek of Mahtomedi, Executive Director Kate Schaefers of Shoreview and fellow Anne Colombo, of White Bear Lake.

Northeast metro adults are among those finding their path to encore careers in the University of Minnesota's new Advanced Careers Initiative (UMAC) led by Shoreview resident Kate Schaefers.

UMAC is like a gap year for adults retiring from longtime careers or transitioning to new ones, explained Schaefers. The focus is on finding a pathway to social impact by using professional skills, whether paid or volunteer. Fellows participate as mentors in undergraduate classes and do a “midternship” (midlife internship focused on using professional skills) with a nonprofit. This school year was the first year of the full-fledged program. There were 16 fellows who graduated May 15.

Shoreview resident Lisa Mattson did her midternship with Second Harvest Heartland. Co-owner of a medical research company for over 25 years, Mattson is looking for a new way to use her skills in the nonprofit sector. During her midternship, she used her management skills to contribute to the organization's strategic planning process.

White Bear Lake resident Anne Colombo's midternship was at Prepare & Prosper, which offers free financial coaching to low- to middle-income families. She retired two years ago after a 30-year career at a medical device company. She didn't want to just relax, and was led to the book “Encore Adulthood: Boomers on the Edge of Risk, Renewal and Purpose” by U of M Professor Phyllis Moen, who founded UMAC.

The program was modeled loosely after similar programs at Harvard and Stanford, Schaefers said. The Life Course Center program is geared toward those in their 50s through 70s who are winding down careers but aren't ready to simply golf and fish. It is for people who want to learn how to use their career skills for good and leave a legacy of social impact.

Mahtomedi resident Sarah Meek worked in sales and marketing for 30 years. Now that her children are out of the house and her husband won't retire for several years, she wants to use her skills for something she is passionate about. Her midternship was at Be the Match, which was personally significant since she was a stem cell donor for her brother. She helped the organization's donor services with a business plan.

Fellows volunteered in the U of M's “grand challenge” courses on social justice topics — like poverty, world hunger, affordable housing and sensory loss equity. Fellows learn alongside students while also acting as mentors with life experience. They don't earn credit and don't have to take exams or write papers. Colombo said she learned a lot about socioeconomic justice, something that just isn't a perspective in corporate America.

They also learned from the younger students. “They've got such creative ideas and perspectives,” Mattson noted. “I was really struck by how these students have really good perspectives and our future is in good hands,” Colombo said. All three northeast metro fellows studied at the U of M as undergraduates and enjoyed coming back to campus.

Applications are being accepted for next year's program through June 15. The cost of the program is $15,000. For more information, contact Schaefers at k-scha@umn.edu or 612-624-3100, or visit encore.org.

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