YPN Event Recap: Biotech and Beyond – Monsanto Through Your Eyes

20140731_154605Members of the Regional Business Council’s Young Professionals Network were given an exclusive opportunity to get a behind the scenes tour of agricultural and biotechnology leader Monsanto Company‘s labs, greenhouses and chemical production facilities, as well as hear a presentation on topics including industry technologies such as plant breeding, demystifying myths about the company, and how Monsanto is committed to shaping the future of agriculture.

This event was sponsored in part by the Monsanto Young Professionals Network, a group of Monsanto employees that collaborates to do community service, networking events, and professional development outside of the workplace.

The tour and presentation ended in the Monsanto main lobby where attendees  enjoyed a networking reception with members of the RBC YPN, Monsanto YPN, BMO Harris Young Professionals as well as senior leaders of RBC and Monsanto.

We were able to catch up with two of the organizers of this event that are helping to connect Monsanto young professionals to the community, as well as help shed any confusion about the global vision of Monsanto: Raegan Johnson, Environmental Safety & Health Project Manager, and coordinator for the Monsanto Young Professionals group, and Linda Jing, Director, Global Breeding Strategy & Operations. Here’s what they had to say about how Monsanto is making a difference in the agribusiness industry and in local communities:

Monsanto is obviously one of the region’s largest and most visible corporations. For a company with thousands of employees, personal development and growth must be a key to success. What exactly is the Monsanto Young Professionals Network and what does it do?

20140731_172237Johnson: The Monsanto Young Professionals Network was launched in 2012, and currently has more than 700 members within St. Louis. It is one of nine diversity networks at Monsanto. The network’s purpose is to connect young professionals—both in age and at heart—to Monsanto’s global business, leadership opportunities, the community, and their peers.

How is the MYPN benefiting young professionals in your company and other companies in the region? What are they doing to make an impact in the community?

Johnson: The network provides unique professional, personal and networking opportunities individuals might not otherwise experience.  For the past three years, we have hosted a Career Expo on campus. All company functions and diversity networks are represented during the event. Hundreds of employees attend, network, and learn more about different facets of the company.

In addition to professional development, our network is adamant about connecting to the communities where we live and work. Almost monthly, we host a service project.  The list of projects is diverse—from participation in World Food Day and community gardening to partnerships with the St. Louis Arc and the Queen of Peace Center.

By providing a range of opportunities, we are able to address the diverse interests of our network members and connect with a variety of organizations.  The hope is that beyond the network’s projects, individuals will get more involved in their community through volunteerism.

What are three things that Monsanto is doing to change the way we think about biotech in our society? How is Monsanto demystifying the preconceived ideas of GMOs and plant breeding?

Jing: 1) We are committed to engaging in broad dialogue about our business with many stakeholders. The nearly 23,000 people who work at Monsanto have strong values that drive our business in agriculture, and we are dedicated to providing transparency about what we do.

2) We partner and collaborate with farmers and organizations around the world, like Conservation International, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, the Clinton Global Initiative and the U.S. Agency for International Development. We believe in approaching global challenges like food security holistically and in collaboration with others to achieve the best solutions for today and tomorrow.

3) We strive to play a positive role in the communities where we work and live. The Monsanto Fund is the philanthropic arm of Monsanto Company.  The Monsanto Fund provides basic education support designed to improve education in farming communities around the world, including supporting schools, libraries, science centers, farmer training programs and academic programs that enrich or supplement school programs.


Monsanto plays a large role in the overall production of much of the world’s food supply. Are foods or crops that are produced through biotechnology (or GMOs) safe to consume? Are there any known long-term health effects of crops with GMOS?

Jing: GMO foods or crops that are de-regulated by government agencies for commercialization are safe to consume. Over 600 independent studies by scientists from around the world have resulted in broad consensus that GMO crops are as safe as any other crops.  Currently, only eight GM crops are available to farmers. These crops are: corn, soybeans, cotton, canola, alfalfa, sugar beets, papaya and summer squash. The vast majority of fresh food available in your produce aisle is not derived from GMOs. There is no known long-term health effect of GMO crops.

For more information about Monsanto, you can visit Discover.Monsanto.com to learn more, or submit your own question to the scientists and medical professionals at GMOAnswers.com.

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The Importance of Professional Development

TK.Facenhe RBC launched the Young Professionals Network to attract and retain young, ethnically diverse talent to the region and to give future leaders unique opportunities for networking, professional development, and community involvement.

With that mission in mind YPN Leadership 100 member Kelly Facen, shared her views about the importance of professional development. Kelly is the Marketing Coordinator for Kwame Building Group, Inc. and she understands the significance of professional development throughout one’s career.

  1. In your opinion, why is it important to seek professional development opportunities?

Professional development opportunities encourage career growth and networking. Without professional development opportunities, one can become complacent and miss a multitude of wide open doors.

  1. How do networking events aid in career development of young professionals?

Networking is the single most powerful marketing tactic to accelerate and sustain success for any individual or organization. Networking events can help you meet the right people at the right time. You never know if that “right person” will come around to help advance to the next chapter of your career.

  1. Outside of networking events, what additional professional development opportunities are available for YPNs?

There are many opportunities to serve as a mentor to younger individuals, specifically  students at regional universities, who seek guidance from someone other than their peers and parents. There are also community involvement opportunities, such as serving on non-profit boards, which can expand your network of beneficial relationships.

  1. We live in a world where social media is constantly changing. Would you suggest using social media to network and find professional development opportunities in the community?

Social media is another form of marketing and networking, but it certainly doesn’t replace in-person communication. Although the millennial generation has been raised on technology, not everyone has become accustomed to the evolving world of social media. I see the benefits of social media, but there is nothing like a firm handshake and face-to-face conversation to start a relationship and spark opportunities.

  1. Do you have anything more you would like to share?

Networking is very important; without it, you could miss valuable opportunities.  I am 100% positive that neither Kwame Building Group, Inc. nor I would be where we are today without networking. “It’s not what you know, but who you know” has proven itself to be a true statement.

Music, Art, and Culture in St. Louis

Recently, young professionals attended a YPN exclusive event at the newly opened KDHX Larry J. Weir Center for Independent Media building in Grand Center. YPNs enjoyed an evening of conversation with RBC members Michael Staenberg and John Ferring that centered around philanthropy in our region. Read more on Staenberg and Ferring’s philanthropic achievements here.

KDHX_flyer_4x6 - buildingYPNs were excited for the unique opportunity to visit one of the most high-tech performance venues in the region. Located at 3524 Washington Avenue in Grand Center, the KDHX Larry J. Weir Center for Independent Media is an arts destination with a café and music venue for the entire community to enjoy. Audiences can enjoy concerts, film series, and thought-provoking sessions on music and art. Down the street, the Folk School of KDHX offers music classes, workshops and more.

In an increasingly commercial world, KDHX is a non-profit arts organization celebrating over 25 years of independent music, art and culture in St. Louis. The Folk School, The Stage, the Magnolia Café, KDHX.org, and 88.1 FM all work together to form a flourishing arts destination committed to building community through media.

We had the opportunity to speak with KDHX staff member Kelly Wells, to discuss music, art, and culture in St. Louis.

  1. Celebrating over 25 years of independent music, art, and culture is impressive. Can you tell us about the history of KDHX?

 What KDHX does is pretty rare. Back in 1987, some hippies, societal outcasts and aggressively insubordinate troublemakers all came together with an insane idea: “Why don’t we do radio the way it’s supposed to be done: with real DJs playing music you’ll never hear anywhere else. And why don’t we do it without any commercials.” We’ve carried on that spirit while getting better each year at what we now do best: delivering quality, independent arts and music programming that competes on the national stage.

 Because of this hard work from volunteers and grassroots listener support, KDHX is now a St. Louis institution — promoting music, art, talent, and big ideas from the little guys.

  1. As a non-profit organization, you work with a diverse group of professional staff and volunteers. Why is diversity important to the organization?

Diversity is at the very heart of KDHX.  Our mission of building community through media creates a foundation of outreach and inclusiveness.  We like to say that “KDHX is for you” meaning that we’ve got something for everyone and that’s very important to us. Diversity is something we strive for, talk about, and keep at the forefront of our plans and vision. KDHX has always been the sum of its parts and it takes all the parts to keep KDHX strong: listeners, supporters, volunteers, and staff all function as part of the whole creating a community that is rare and unique.

3. Volunteers play a vital role in the continuation and success of KDHX. How can YPN members get involved?

Volunteers do play a crucial role at KDHX.  With only 14 staff members, volunteers make things happen that we could never accomplish on our own.  Volunteers do everything from programming on air content (all our DJs are volunteers), to helping at events, stuffing envelopes, answering phones during our donor drives, producing live video, concert reviews, concert photo reviews, and more.  Our newest volunteer role is our digital street team.  We’re gathering a group of committed volunteers to share upcoming events, news, photos, and video on social media to get the word out about everything KDHX has to offer.

Whatever a person’s interests and availability are, we strive to find a volunteer opportunity that is interesting and fulfilling. We are always excited to welcome new volunteers, so anyone interested can email our volunteer coordinator, Scott Bahan at volunteer@kdhx.org for more information.

4. Please share some upcoming events from the jam-packed KDHX events calendar.

  • Tuesdays at KDHX: Each Tuesday night of the month, KDHX hosts free events at The Stage. First Tuesdays feature a musical narrative film. Second Tuesdays feature 40s & 45s – bring your vinyl, enjoy local beer releases, and listen to a playlist curated by a KDHX DJ created from your vinyl. Third Tuesdays feature a musical documentary film. Fourth Tuesdays feature Sessions: an interactive educational event including panels, multi-media presentations, and live music.
  • Harvest Sessions: Weekly live music hosted by KDHX at the Tower Grove Farmers Market.  Upcoming this Saturday: Greg Silsby
  • Friday, June 13, 7:30pm: “Nothing Can Hurt Me,” an evening with the music of Big Star, featuring Jody Stephens of Big Star; a screening of “Nothing Can Hurt Me: The Music of Big Star”; and a live musical performance by members of Magnolia Summer and The Feed.
  • Thursday, July 31: Concert at The Stage: Bradford Lee Folk & the Bluegrass Playboys
  • Wednesday, August 6: Concert at The Stage: Mandolin Orange

 For more information about any of our events, visit KDHX.org/Events.

  1. Can you explain more about the exciting new app that allows listeners to stream 88.1?  

88.1 KDHX is on the air 24 hours a day with unique and diverse programming.  You can stream KDHX on your computer at KDHX.org, but you can also listen in on your smartphone. There are a couple of different radio apps that facilitate listening, but we especially use TuneIn.  TuneIn’s free app allows you to stream KDHX anytime – just choose KDHX as a “favorite” and take KDHX with you everywhere you go!

  1. Do you have anything more you would like to share?

KDHX is a thoughtful, progressive, and visionary institution.  We are always striving to be even better than we’ve been before. We’re committed to creating a community like no other and being on the cutting edge of technology and media. There’s something very special here that can’t be denied.  KDHX is magic!

Philanthropy in Local Arts and Culture

Recently, 50 young professionals attended a YPN-exclusive event at the newly opened KDHX  Larry J. Weir Center for Independent Media building in Grand Center. Two of the most generous philanthropists in the region, RBC members Michael Staenberg and John Ferring, discussed philanthropy in local arts and culture.

Both Staenberg and Ferring responded to questions about their philanthropic giving and discussed how they have prioritized giving back since they were young.  Staenberg cited a mentor who took an interest in him during high school and encouraged him to begin on the path to success. Ferring originally moved to Lafayette Square when the neighborhood was experiencing a renewal; in a new community that needed support, service was an obvious choice for John and his wife.

 Michael Staenberg communicated his pride in his investment in the Jewish Community Center which he also helped design and build. The Jewish Community Center is a resource provided to the entire community and serves thousands of local residents each year. He’s also proud of the RBC’s It’s Our Region Fund and the thousands of people impacted by the Small Change Big Impact grant program. 

 John Ferring is pleased with his involvement in the fundraising efforts for the renovation of the Central Library building. His favorite spot in the building is the Fine Arts Room with its beautiful ceiling, and he encourages young professionals to visit. In October, Ferring looks forward to leading the fundraising efforts for the renovation and reopening of Jazz at the Bistro.

 Both men advocated for young professionals to find an organization they can put “sweat equity” into, in order to make a difference now.

 The Regional Business Council understands that corporate involvement and investment are critical to improving the region’s health, prosperity and general quality of life. For member participation, the RBC supports several key regional institutions including Forest Park, the Zoo-Museum District, the United Way of Greater St. Louis, Forest Park Forever, the Saint Louis Art Museum., Missouri Botanical Garden, the Missouri Historical Society, the Saint Louis Science Center, and the Saint Louis Zoo. The RBC’s signature entrepreneurial program, Social Venture Partners, focuses on building capacity for select area nonprofits by providing funds and hands-on expertise. The It’s Our Region Fund invests in high-impact capital projects in the St. Louis region.

Developing a Diverse and Talented Professional Workforce

Through the Mentor Network program, the RBC connects over 145 business and engineering students with RBC executives each academic year. The Mentor Network program pairs students from universities in the region with executives who share career experiences, practical knowledge and insight into opportunities in our Louis region.

 We had the opportunity to sit down with Alexandria McCuien, who has participated as a mentee in the Mentor Network program.

  •  How did you learn about Mentor Network program?

I learned about the program from our Director of Operations of the Herbert Walker School of Business and Technology, Caprice Moore, at Webster University during my sophomore year of undergrad. Caprice felt I would be a good match for the program and encouraged me to apply.

  •  Did the Mentor Network program provide you with impactful insight into the St. Louis business community?

Yes, it did. The Mentor Network program allowed me to see how large the St. Louis business community really is and has helped shape me into the professional I’ve become.

  • Can you share an important piece of advice from your mentor?

One of my mentors encouraged me to continue to be myself, work hard no matter what, and give back to my community. He said everything else will come together if I remember those three things.

  • What piece of advice would you provide to upcoming or recent graduates?

I would tell upcoming and recent graduates the three pieces of advice my mentor gave me (see above). Also, networking and branding are very important.

  •  Why would you suggest others partake in the Mentor Network program?

I met individuals who assisted in the development of my professional network, my professional support system and individuals who offered professional guidance.The Mentor Network program is a great opportunity that students should definitely partake in.

Advice for Upcoming and Recent Graduates

Through the Mentor Network program, the RBC connects over 145 business and engineering students with RBC executives each academic year. The Mentor Network program pairs students from universities in the region with executives who share career experiences, practical knowledge and insight into opportunities in our Louis region.

We had the opportunity to sit down with YPN Leadership 100 member Sameer Andi, who has participated as a mentor in the Mentor Network program.

His advice for upcoming and recent graduates:

  • Is social media an important tool for professional growth? How does your social media image affect career opportunities?

Yes, social media has an impact! Whether or not we like it, what we do, how we interact and how we come across is out there for everybody to see and analyze. Perception is key; our online presence makes it easy for potential partners and employers to scrutinize us.

  • Would you suggest seeking professional help to draft a resume?

Everybody should either use some sort of self-help guide or seek advice and feedback on resumes from people who work in the same area of interest. If seeking professional help is a viable option financially, then go for it.

  • When interviewing, what is one attribute that sets a recent graduate apart from other candidates?

As a recent graduate, I can see that many students have similar backgrounds and education, so evaluating a student only on that basis becomes difficult. I look for passion and a “fire in the belly” to prove that you have what it takes to deliver and be successful.

  • What are common interviewing or networking mistakes?

Interviewing is like taking a test; you should be prepared for it. Do your homework about the company and weave the company background into your interview. Remember, the interview is as much about the employer determining if you are a fit, as you are deciding if the company is a fit for you! Asking relevant questions of the interviewer is critically important.

  • When preparing for an interview, how important is proper company research? What can happen if a candidate doesn’t do the research?

I give high points to any candidate who has researched the company and brings up relevant research points in the interview. This indicates that the candidate is serious about the job and is willing to go the extra mile to learn more about the company.

  • How should an interviewee follow up after an interview?

Always send an email either directly to the interviewer or the recruiter thanking them for their time and consideration. If you feel the job is of interest to you, then follow up in a sentence or two about how you can add value to the position and how it fits your goals.

  • Is networking important to upcoming and recent graduates?

Huge! There is no substitute for networking. Your ability to network will not only help you in your initial years, but will stand you in good stead for the future.

  • Is there anything more you would like to share with upcoming and recent graduates?

Believe in yourself. Don’t get disheartened if you don’t get an offer from each place where you interview. Employers decide on a candidate based not only credentials and capabilities, but also on cultural fit with the organization. Make use of all resources that are available to you in your job search – networking, social media and personal contacts. Seek a mentor who will guide you. Students who are part of the RBC have already shown the initiative and intent to be more than just graduates.

Career Advice for Upcoming and Recent Graduates

Through the Mentor Network program, the RBC connects over 125 business and engineering students with RBC executives each academic year. The Mentor Network program pairs students from regional universities with executives who share career experiences, practical knowledge, and insight into opportunities that exist in the St. Louis region.

We had the opportunity to sit down with YPN member Lori Eaton, who has participated in the Mentor Network program, and discuss her advice for upcoming and recent graduates.

  • Is social media an important tool for professional growth? How does a clean social media image aid in networking and career opportunities?

Social media plays a very important role in networking.  Your social media sites need to project the image you want others to see, as many employers review social media sites of potential applicants before making a hiring decision.

  • Would you suggest seeking professional help to draft a resume?

 Yes, I would encourage working with the college career center, an employment agency and/or anyone who is already in the field you are looking to enter.  They can help critique your resume, offer buzz words or suggestions to make your resume stand out, or suggest additional information to include.

  • When interviewing, what is one attribute that sets a recent graduate apart from other candidates?

For me, the most important attributes are passion, drive and motivation. I can train on many things but these characteristics are things I can’t control.

  •  What are common interviewing or networking mistakes?

 It’s important to remember that networking involves two people with different interests. I suggest always asking how you could possibly help that person now or in the future.

  • When preparing for an interview, how important is proper company research? What can happen if a candidate doesn’t do the research?

 I am a true believer that preparation is often the key to success.  Take the time to educate yourself about the company, the role you are interviewing for and the background of the interviewer.  It is important to show the interviewer how invested you are in the process and that you are motivated and interested in the role.   By taking time to learn about the interviewer you might be able to find some common interests, which could help ease the conversation flow throughout the interview process.  If you are not prepared, the interviewer will notice and will likely disregard you as a viable candidate.

  • How should an interviewee follow up after an interview?

A personal thank-you note (preferably handwritten) can help you stand out from the competition.   This is also a great technique to sell yourself on anything you missed out on during the interview, or a chance to recover from a stumble. You’d be surprised how many people don’t send a thank-you note.  This could truly make the difference between getting the offer and coming in second place.  Remember to thank the interviewer for his/her time, but also mention again sell why you are a good fit for the position and what you would bring to the role.  I would follow up with the person you interviewed with, but be prepared that you might be referred back to HR.

  • Is networking important to upcoming and recent graduates?

Employers receive loads of resumes and applications; your best chance of securing a position is through a personal relationship or a referral.

  • Is there anything more you would like to share with upcoming and recent graduates?

 Remember that you control where your future takes you and it’s your responsibility to invest in yourself.  As you look to progress in your future, make sure you are taking the initiative to be more and to learn more.