By Marci Narum
A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of moderating a panel discussion in Minot with four outstanding women. The theme of the event was “Be a Woman of Impact,” and it was presented by Minot Women Connect, a program focused on developing female professionals through sessions that focus on topics important to a woman’s professional and personal life — follow them on Facebook! As with all of my experiences involving Inspired Woman, I made discoveries, gained new perspectives, and felt enriched by women willing to share their stories.
When I’m asked to do a panel discussion, I like to connect with the panelists ahead of time and learn as much as I can to formulate a few baseline questions appropriate for the particular event. The conversations I had with the four panelists were so inspiring, I had to share.
MEGAN LAUDENSCHLAGER, Founder of Strengthen ND
Impact With Confidence, Intelligence, & Perseverance
If there is one influence Megan Laudenschlager would credit for her success, it’s her parents.
“My parents were really good, they always told me how smart I was, how funny I was. It was always reinforced in my head that there’s never anything you can’t figure out or can’t learn,” Megan explains. “So yeah, I blame my mom, she instilled a little bit too much confidence in this blonde head of mine,” Megan laughs.
That confidence has led to good things for Megan and even better things for North Dakota. In 2015, Megan founded Strengthen ND, a non-profit organization which supports and accelerates community development in rural North Dakota.
“We do this by building the capacity of nonprofits and rural community leaders, advancing regional issues, and facilitating community solutions.”
Megan is a problem solver for communities and nonprofit organizations that need help, and she knows a thing or two about navigating uncertainty. After high school, Megan wasn’t sure where she was headed with her life, and it took her a few years to figure it out. She “college-hopped,” as she puts it, studying radiologic technology at Jamestown College (now University of Jamestown), and then math and English at Rochester Community & Technical College in Rochester, Minnesota. She ended up at Minot State University, earned her degree in math, and got a job at MSU with the North Dakota Center for Persons with Disabilities.
“I found out working in grant management — trying to figure out big dreams to meet community needs — that’s where I fit the most and that’s what I enjoyed doing the most.”
A few years and lots of experience later, Megan founded Strengthen ND and began helping communities and organizations find a way forward and grow.
“It seems like we’re really lucky in that the work that we do, everything is practical and applicable. It’s our goal that when you leave a strategic planning session or anytime you interact with us, you can take at least one tool back and utilize it to make your community or committee or organization a better place.
“One thing we’re really good at is meeting people where they’re at concerning attitude, skill sets, and even geographically. Rural communities are used to having to go somewhere else to get what they need. We have shifted what that looks like,” Megan says.
It looks like windshield time. Megan logged 25,000 miles on her car in 2019 driving from Minot out to rural North Dakota communities to work alongside them.
“There’s a big difference in doing for or on behalf of a community rather than work WITH a community. We strive to do work with, co-creation rather than saying, ‘Here, do this.’”
Megan is there to help them navigate the unknowns. The confidence her parents nurtured in her may have been exactly what she needed when she decided to launch Strengthen ND, celebrating its fifth anniversary this year.
“I was incredibly naive. In my head at that time there was no way it couldn’t work. There was no way that Strengthen ND wasn’t going to be a success. I just up and quit my job. I don’t know if I would take that risk now. Everything came together the way it was supposed to.”
STORIES TO WATCH FOR:
Cindy Cook, principal of Minot Sunnyside Elementary School
Annie Carlson, owner of Morning Joy Farm
Victoria Morales, Msgt. in the United States Air Force, Section Chief, Food Service Operations