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PYSK: Sydney Olsen

Sydney Olsen

Engagement and Public Communications Manager, city of Columbia

Job description: I help craft the city’s message and identify the best way to engage with and communicate information to the public. That includes working closely with media partners to help disseminate information.  

Professional background: After receiving my degree in broadcast journalism from the University of Missouri, I worked in broadcast news for several years as an anchor, producer, and investigative reporter. After that, I stepped into my current role in Columbia and have been here for three years.  

Hometown: Centralia, Missouri  

Years lived in Columbia or Central Missouri: I have lived in Columbia since 2015 but have spent my entire life in Central Missouri.  

Favorite quote: I honestly can never remember a full quote to save my life.  

Favorite volunteer/community activity: I am an active member of Columbia Rotary South. I love the opportunity to work with other community members on a variety of projects. Those include volunteering at the Food Bank and other organizations like Caring Hearts and Hands of Columbia.  

Favorite recent project: Partnering with Local Motion to hire an engagement coordinator position for Columbia. This position will help the city manager’s office identify better ways to engage with community members who often do not have a seat at the table by removing barriers and meeting them where they are at.  

Why you are passionate about your job? I have always loved educating people so that they can become involved. As a reporter I enjoyed telling people’s stories. Now with the city, I enjoy educating citizens on the many services we provide to make their community the best place to live.  

If you weren’t doing this for a living, you would: If I could get out of bed that early I have always thought it would be fun to own a coffee shop.  

The big challenges facing your industry: Distrust in government and the number of ways people now get their information.  

Your next professional goal: I would like to attend FEMA’s Advanced Public Information Officer course.  

One of the biggest lessons You’ve learned in your field: You will make mistakes in your work. You must look at those as opportunities for improvement and be able to admit when you are wrong. 

How you want to impact your community or your state: I would like to help change and shape the way local government communicates with residents in our community. Government is slow to change, but I know the city has a desire to find new and more effective ways to reach people. I hope to play an integral role in that change.  

Greatest strength: I feel I can connect with anyone. I find it easy to strike up conversations with strangers and learn something we have in common.  

Greatest weakness: Imposter syndrome. I am still early in my career, and I struggle to feel like I am making a difference or capable of achieving great things. 

What you do for fun: I don’t have an overly exciting life outside of work. On the weekends I typically play video games, read, or cook. I also enjoy volunteering with my Rotary Club.  

Who makes up your family? My mother and father live in Nixa and my sister lives in Kansas City.  

Who has been an important influence on your life? I know a lot of people say this, but my answer is my mother. Growing up in Centralia, my mom was involved in what felt like every club and organization including the school board, planning and zoning board, Women’s Network, and more — on top of running the public library. I do not believe I would have gotten into this line of work or started volunteering if I had not seen that from such a young age. Her involvement also taught me that not everyone will agree with your decisions, but you must be confident in your decision-making and do the right thing.  

How do you manage prioritizing tasks? As a former news reporter, I can say one thing that line of work does is teach you how to meet deadlines. My basic approach is to prioritize projects by deadlines. I always try to work ahead because anyone in communications will tell you unexpected projects and deadlines pop up all the time. 

Accomplishment you are most proud of: Getting this job with the city. I remember receiving the phone call from former City Manager John Glascock and being unable to hide my smile. This is a great place to work with people who are passionate about helping others, and I enjoy the complexity and nature of the work I do.  

Most people don’t know that you: I minored in German in college. I still take lessons once a week, but if anyone in town wants to start a routine coffee date to help me sharpen my skills, I would greatly appreciate it!

Sydney Olsen
Sydney Olsen

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