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Sharon Wingate- Believe the HYPE

We met Sharon back when in person events were a thing at the Minnesota Credit Union Network Annual Conference and we talked about young professional development. This was before Cultivate started and once we saw the impact Sharon was having at Crashing the GAC we knew an interview must take place.

Minnesota does so much for YPs, I’m always impressed with everything they are doing to help career and personal development. What do you think sets them apart?

I really attribute a lot of the Young Pro engagement to Minnesota Credit Union Network’s (MnCUN) willingness to have a group for YP’s in Minnesota. CREW is highly engaged and frequently visits. We ideate creative events (now mostly virtual) and guest speakers to inspire and motivate the next gen of future leaders. Those of us involved in CREW bring back these events and ideas to our own personal young professional credit union groups as well as bring in ideas from our credit unions to CREW so it’s a full circle experience. It really is a great example of the cooperative nature of CUs and helps the younger gens immerse themselves in the Credit Union Difference.

I love that you are bringing ideas back to the Credit Union.Hiway Credit Union has their own YP group called HYPE, tell me about this and what can other financials do to implement similar programs?

Fun story! Before I joined Hiway’s HYPE committee, I was pretty uncomfortable networking with others. I actually grew up extremely shy. Andrew Deans was the YP chair at the time and he would prompt me to attend these YP events and I was so nervous! Though, I hardly passed up an opportunity to grow, so I kept going. Since attending these events, I’ve now been able to open up and speak at all associate meetings, become an active voice on MnCUN’s CREW, speak at the MnCUN annual event, and CRASH the GAC! This growth that I had within myself impassioned me to support and encourage others. I cannot thank Andrew enough for his persistence and encouragement to join Hiway’s YP: I wouldn’t be here without it (Thank you Andy!). I hope my story alone shows the value.

When I chaired the Hiway YP committee, I decided to give it a rebrand: HYPE: Hiway Young Professionals Engage. With a mission to Inspire Future Leaders (we hype each other up!). Hiway and our CEO/President, David Boden believes it’s important to support, encourage, and recognize our next generation of leaders by offering a budget and space to learn and develop that not all younger associates may have access to within their busy departments, so our HYPE group links our YPs to webinars or events that are being put out by our league (MnCUN), the local chamber’s YP group, amongst other resources. One of our favorite internal events HYPE puts on is CEO on the Hotseat! Our CEO will offer a safe space for YPs to put him on the spot and answer our queries.

Andrew is incredible, it is rare to not see him at a YP Event. Tell me about CRASHING GAC this year.

Key words that I’d take from the 2021 Virtual Crasher experience: Authenticity, Vulnerability, and Inclusion.

There is so much more to learn! Never stop learning, keep working towards your dreams, leave a ladder behind you as you create your legacy. I already knew this: but credit unions are amazing, and the CU family exists on a national level. I absolutely adore the level of collaboration credit unions have. It really is a remarkable movement to be a part of. I have PAGES of notes. I’ve taken away so much that I couldn’t possibly share it all in one paragraph.

The downside to virtual is it can be hard to fully engage and truly be engulfed in the experience, but CUNA did an outstanding job of making the virtual event as interactive as possible. I enjoyed the ability to discuss the keynote sessions with other crashers and engage in live chat while the event was broadcasting as it did make it feel as if all of the people were truly there with you. Alike that to Live Tweeting!

I fully plan to integrate many of the tips and information I’ve learned from the GAC and Crasher experience. It was recommended that we don’t flood people with information we learned all at once. Though, we get a sugar rush from all of the Credit Union Kool-Aid, I’ll try to remain cool and collected. 😊 One key point I loved hearing was to make sure to “leave the ladder behind you” meaning, once you start climbing up and succeeding, don’t forget to encourage people to climb also. Or, be a CEO: Chief Encouragement Officer. For those that know me, I really do get a thrill out of seeing others succeed. To be authentic, engaged, and kind. The whole reason why I created the name HYPE, was because our purpose was to inspire future leaders. Essentially to hype each other up!

If you are considering or unsure, just do it. GAC and other conferences offered through CUNA, The Cooperative Trust, or Filene are such career changers. You truly experience the Credit Union Difference and realize what an opportunity it is to be a part of such an important movement for our communities at large.

Virtual Events are definitely a different experience but still powerful, nonetheless. I would imagine your job and marketing during a pandemic has changed quite a lot as well, tell me all about it and what has the pandemic taught you.

Oof. Lots of twists and turns on a limited timeframe amidst the chaos. If a stay-home order erupted into play, we had to be ready for it. All social posts or media that featured associates or the community had to be vetted for distancing and mask etiquette. Though a photo may have been taken prior to the pandemic, it can still prompt negative feedback. Tread lightly. The pandemic ultimately taught us resiliency and taught every Hiway associate how to creatively use and adapt to technology.

I should specify that I started in a member facing role before I graduated from college for marketing/design. I have always tried to work at places where I aligned with their values or supposed “values.” At first I adored my job and the training from the bank, I hadn’t a lot of financial knowledge and I learned quick, but it became clear that sales pushing and ensuring every customer had specific products was more important than their actual financial success, literacy or need for the product. When I discovered the Credit Union, I applied right away. Training day one, I was absolutely floored. I had no idea what a credit union actually was past that of a financial institution. I adored the ability to truly feel like I could empower members to be financially successful. Not only that, we support our community, go the extra mile to make our members feel valued, and CUs also empower their associates!

I appreciate everything MnCUN, Hiway, Filene, The Cooperative Trust, Cultivate and CUNA are doing for employee development and wish to keep these types of events available and accessible to all credit union employees.

CUltivate is people helping people with our mission to spread the word, connect the people, and give an outlet to share your stories. Know someone in the industry we should interview? Drop us a line at


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