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Young Professionals director works to redefine how residents see themselves

Kathryn Kester is the executive director of the Greater Grand Forks Young Professionals. Photo by Bonnie Meibers/Grand Forks Herald

When Kathryn Kester was a senior at UND, she had plans to move as far away from North Dakota and Grand Forks as possible.

That is until she won a free membership to the Greater Grand Forks Young Professionals.

“Being a member really showed me all the parts of my community that I didn't think existed,” Kester said. “And the parts of my community I didn’t think existed were the reason why I was planning on leaving the state.”

Now, nearly four years later, Kester has been executive director of the organization for almost a year and she is trying to change the way people think about the words “young” and “professional.”

“I think having that personal experience of wanting to leave Grand Forks really adds value to my position because I have the perspective of the college student who said there was nothing to do here,” she said. “I was so wrong about the people that existed in our community.”

Before taking on her role as executive director, Kester was a member of the Greater Grand Forks Young Professionals for three years. She worked for Global Friends Coalition before moving to the executive director position.

“I fully give credit to the organization for being the reason why I stayed in Grand Forks,” Kester said.

There are opportunities for everyone to get involved, Kester said.

The Greater Grand Forks Young Professionals put on more than 40 events a year, from lunch-and-learns to yoga on the Greenway.

On Friday, May 17, the organization will hold its 13th annual Art See event in partnership with Happy Harry’s. The event’s goal is to introduce young professionals and the greater Grand Forks community to the arts. Ten established and up-and-coming artists will be featured at the event, from painters to musicians to a digital artist.

“We wanted to create an art event that’s not intimidating to walk into,” Kester said.

Redefining ‘young professional’

In her time as executive director, Kester said she has been working to increase the diversity of membership.

“We have electricians, we have engineers, we have bankers, construction workers, and that's something we are always working on creating culture around,” Kester said. “Any job that you work, you can be a young professional. It doesn’t matter what color collar you wear. There’s room for everyone in our organization.”

Kester said she sees a lot of people self selecting out of the group because they don’t consider themselves “young” or don’t consider themselves “professional.”

One example of this, Kester said, is when she was talking to a 30-year-old nurse at Altru. She said that she didn’t consider herself young or professional.

“I was like ‘you are both of those things,’” Kester said. “There is a culture shift that needs to happen around the word 'young’ and the word ‘professional.’ It’s not if you wear nice clothes to work -- that does not determine if you are a professional or not.”

There is no age limit for joining the organization, Kester said. However, the suggested age is from 20 to 40.

One thing Kester thinks may help with that shift is a new student chapter of young professionals at Northland Community and Technical College.

“We think that will help us create that culture shift in the younger generation,” Kester said.

Bonnie Meibers

Meibers joined the Herald in September of 2018. She reports on all things business in Grand Forks and the surrounding areas. Have a tip or want to get to know her? Call her at (701) 780-1114 or email her at bmeibers@gfherald.com.

(701) 780-1114