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Meant for Mentorship

Two pairs of hands exchanging threads symbolizing a networking relationship.

The Columbia Chamber of Commerce Women’s Network cultivates connections and creates leaders in the COMO community.

As chief operating officer of Burrell Behavioral Health’s central region and current chair of the Columbia Chamber of Commerce Women’s Network, Megan Steen has witnessed up close countless examples of mentorship. But it was the view from mere inches away — of her 1-½-year-old daughter coloring while Steen earned her MBA from home during the pandemic — that expanded her appreciation of the concept.

“I have tons of pictures during that time period where she is ‘helping me with homework’ while I’m on my laptop,” Steen says. “I look back often and think about how glad I am that she got to see me earn that degree and be a part of it as much as possible.”

Sometimes Mom is our first mentor.

Of course, mentorship can take many forms across generations and throughout a lifetime, a reality championed by the Women’s Network. Founded in 1981, the Women’s Network dedicates itself to the personal and professional growth of business people, encouraging participation and recognition of women in the community.

Its Mentorship Program connects community leaders with women at different points on their career paths. Mentors provide support, facilitate opportunities, make introductions, assist with establishing goals, and challenge mentees to seek leadership opportunities.

An alumna of the program herself, Steen was paired with Teresa Snow — who imparted many pearls of wisdom as a former anchorwoman, MU Health Care public relations director, and mother of not one but two sets of twins. She is also an emeritus chair of the Women’s Network.

“I remember telling Megan, ‘You can do everything, but you don’t have to do it all at once,’” says Snow, who now runs multiple businesses with her husband, Ben. “In the scheme of things, if a mentor gives you one nugget of good advice, then it’s worthwhile.”

With the benefit of hindsight, Steen concurs — and now strives to maintain healthy work-life boundaries. 

“It was beneficial for me to hear that perspective,” Steen says. “Teresa connected me to a lot of great individuals at MU Health, and she also helped me gain a better understanding of striking that balance.”

Pay it Forward

A rising star in the local business community and a dedicated townie involved in various COMO endeavors, Michele Curry can look back at the moment and laugh. But as a young professional seeking guidance, as she began her professional ascent, she was mortified.

The year was 2016, and Curry had been paired with then-Boone County Commissioner Karen Miller. The get-to-know-you coffee date was on the calendar, and Curry, well — forgot it.

“She’s a very powerful woman, and you don’t miss a meeting with Karen,” says Curry with a sheepish laugh. “This is one of those pairings where you’re supposed to show up, be accountable, and prove that you’re here to work on yourself. It was very unlike me.

“Fortunately, she figured that out quickly.”

Curry and Miller would go on to forge a tight bond, working in tandem as Curry explored opportunities, focused on her career goals, and began notching achievements. For Curry, the relationship was a lesson in the fundamentals of the mentorship dynamic — one she would embody when she was matched with her first mentee only a year later.

“Some folks might struggle in mentorship and try to be more of a friend than a mentor,” says Curry, who served as Women’s Network chair in 2021. “It can be both. And sometimes that Venn diagram is highly overlapped. But to be a friend and a confidant can sometimes get in the way of telling somebody what they don’t want to hear.”

These days, Curry is assistant vice president treasury management officer for Commerce Bank. Curry also indulges a side hobby as an actor with the Columbia Entertainment Company where she has a role in the stage classic Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, opening this month.

Curry says she uses lessons learned from her mentor-mentee relationships almost daily, something thirteen pairs can look forward to in the Mentorship Program’s 2024 cohort. Lisa Driskel-Hawksby, co-chair of the program, helps orchestrate the matchmaking process.

“We gather information about what applicants are seeking from the program, and it really runs the gamut,” says Driskel-Hawksby, a business development specialist for REDI. “Some people are at the entry level of their career and want to grow in that field. Others are interested in a variety of fields. Some are looking for things on a more personal level. And some are young moms balancing work and life, trying to figure out how they’re not going to lose their personal identity.”

For Liz Townsend Bird, another former Women’s Network chair and mentorship program alumna, it was a means to expand her horizons. Townsend Bird had spent seventeen years in advancement, external relations, and donor relations with the University of Missouri, Kansas State University, and Stephens College. Her mother is retired MU English Professor Marty Townsend, and her husband, Scott Bird, is a former strength and conditioning coach for Mizzou Athletics.

The Women’s Network and Mentorship Program helped Townsend Bird discover her true passion for community building, and she now serves as director of development at the Food Bank for Central and Northeast Missouri.

“My whole world revolved around higher ed, and there’s so much more to Columbia,” Townsend Bird says. “I’m proud of the work we do at the Food Bank serving thirty-two counties and about 100,000 people every month through our partner pantries, soup kitchens, and shelters. We all know society doesn’t work perfectly, and that’s why we have nonprofits.”

She adds, “That’s also why we have professional organizations like the Women’s Network. It’s why we seek out people to help us be better, do things better and to just be good.”

Michele Curry
Michele Curry
Katie Steele Danner
Katie Steele Danner
Liz Townsend Bird
Liz Townsend Bird
Megan Steen
Megan Steen

Leading Ladies

Katie Steele Danner might have leadership in her DNA, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t self-made. A former member of the Missouri House of Representatives, she is also the former director of admissions at Truman State University and former director of various administrative offices for the State of Missouri.

These days she is aptly tasked with directing the Greater Missouri Leadership Foundation, the Show-Me State’s premier women’s professional development program. Over the years, the Women’s Network has sponsored participants to join the cohort of women in the Greater Missouri Leadership Challenge, a yearlong, statewide traveling symposium providing women leaders with education and experiences to help them address critical issues facing Missouri.

“The Women’s Network is a strong, committed group of communitarians who embrace change,” Steele Danner says. “All of the city’s higher education institutions, I think, bring in some fresh blood that wouldn’t normally be there in a community the size of Columbia. The Chamber of Commerce understands the value of broadening horizons by participating in the Greater Missouri Leadership Challenge and then bringing those learnings back to Columbia.”

As Steen helps amplify that enthusiasm while presiding over her one-year term as chair of the Women’s Network, she has an eye fixed on sustainability.

“We want to reach a broad pool of people in different parts of their careers, and we want our programming to speak to all aspects of professional development,” Steen says. “The theme this year is ‘I’m with her,’ which celebrates the idea that you don’t have to be a woman to support women. It’s part of the reason why we opened this year’s program with Matt Moore [CEO of Shelter Insurance and chair of the Columbia Chamber of Commerce] and I addressing the importance of male sponsorship.”

For the twenty-five women — and one man — participating in this year’s Mentorship Program, there are many common themes. Among them: ambition, open-mindedness, confidence, and a sense of community.

There is also a fundamental commitment to cultivating relationships and fostering success — perhaps the most critical elements of mentorship.

“There might be a tendency to think of the mentor-mentee journey as finite — I was a mentee, I graduated, now I’m an alumna and forever a mentor,” Curry says. “But you continue to be a mentee in all aspects of your life. There’s a flowing stream of energy in our network. If I hear something that changes my life, I’m going to change somebody else’s life someday.”

Curry summarizes that ongoing experience, adding, “I’ve got some golden nuggets that I’m ready to share with anybody who’s willing to hear.”

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