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Anne Kotleba is our newest staff member, joining us as a lecturer in the School of Community Resources & Development and coordinator of the Nonprofit Leadership Alliance and the Certified Nonprofit Professional Credential. She joins us just in time to start a new school year and meet a new group of wonderful nonprofit students!
How would you describe yourself in 5-10 words?
Passionate, enthusiastic, creative, loving, and tall.
What is your main area of interest?
Being a force for justice and arming young people with the courage and freedom to define their own identity.
This means access and encouragement to step outside of the boundaries of what society or the world places on people based on where they grew up, what they look like, all the ways that we try to classify people. Also, the importance of telling your own story with your own voice. Education as a tool to extend one’s understanding, build on shared and individual experiences, and think critically about the world. When they leave here, I want my students to continue to question, learn, teach, and continue to use their education to change the world.
Creatively engaging with the world.
To me, that means new ways of looking at the world around you. Asking questions like: Where am I in this place? What surrounds me? How do all these other people that I engage with also see this place, how do we coexist, and how can we work together to make it more fun, effective, and just for everybody?
I have a background in community arts, using the arts to creatively think about the spaces and people around us. This includes visual arts, sculpture, paintings, murals, as well as better designed buildings, parks, and shared spaces and projects to foster relationships and understanding.
How long have you worked at the ASU Lodestar Center?
What were you doing before this?
I was the co-founder and director of the Baltimore United Viewfinders, a youth-driven leadership organization using multimedia arts for community action and income. Their programming focuses on building skills in community organizing, critical and creative thinking, technical skills, entrepreneurism, and college preparation.
I was a graduate student at the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) when the school opened a satellite building in Middle East Baltimore, an under-resourced neighborhood, with the hopes of it serving as a hub for community arts. I worked with some community organizers and youth development people in the area to ask what they would like to see happen in this neighborhood. All of the feedback that we got was that they wanted to see long-term investment for young people around the arts. A lot of what we existed were drop-in projects—people coming in to teach one activity or work on a project and then leave. There were all these young people who were interested but had little sustainable outlet. I got a group of 8 teens together and I taught them a simple Photoshop project. They kept coming back, and it escalated into its own organization.
One day we went to a farmers market that also sold art, and we made $250 in one afternoon. So we looked to expand on that and developed a whole product line and a business plan for them to be able to sell their work. From there, people asked to hire us for event photos, so we started selling those services too. The money that we brought in from the art markets went back into the program, and the money that they made from their time spent on the services they got to keep. So, their after school program became their after school job as well.
What has been your most rewarding experience, or the proudest moment in your career so far?
I co-founded the Viewfinders with 8 young people in 2010, and now most of that core group is about to graduate high school. I am SO proud of the thoughtful, caring, and passionate people they have become, and the things we have accomplished thus far. I can’t wait to see where the future leads them.
Engaging with students over such a long period of time, I think, was crucial to the development of their skills and the mentorship that we were able to build together. I’m very grateful to those young people for teaching me so much. They have had a lot of adults coming in and out of their lives, so to be a part of their lives for 5 years, and still being involved now, is a really special relationship that I treasure. I encourage my current students to think about the difference they can make in nonprofits, and I stress the importance of longevity—there’s value in being fully committed.
What has been the most important lesson you’ve learned in your career?
Take time to have conversations and listen, really listen.
Especially working in the nonprofit sector, we tend to want to fix things based on the knowledge that we have, when really I believe that the better way is to ask first and listen, and then come up with solutions together.
I've also learned that experiences outside of the classroom are just as valuable as those that occur inside. There are teachers all around us, including our peers.
What do you like to do when you’re not here at the Center?
Cheer for the Phoenix Mercury, go on outdoor adventures (camping, hiking, and kayaking), travel, and create art (check out some of my work at annekotleba.com!)
What do you think people should know about your work, or about the Lodestar Center, that they might not be aware of?
The Certified Nonprofit Professional (CNP) credential is now available online to anyone who wants to beef up their nonprofit resume!
I’m excited to be working with national partnerships and the network that those partnerships can create for our students and their future endeavors. I'm excited for the university to be able to share and discuss new and innovative ideas in the field.
Do you have any advice for nonprofit professionals and/or aspiring nonprofit professionals?
Don’t plan your future with too many details, because you never know where the winds will take you if you let them. I didn’t even know my current career field existed when I was an undergrad. I studied art and political science and I didn’t know what path I’d end up taking. Sometimes you just have to try things, go and do it, and if it works out it’s great, and if not, try something else. No matter what happens, you’ll still learn and you’ll meet some really cool people along the way.
Anything else you'd like to add?
I see my role at ASU as a liaison between community actions and student ideas and projects. If your organization has projects or internship opportunities for student engagement, feel free to contact me.