Even before she became part of the credit union movement, Melissa Janssen of Royal CU, Eau Claire, Wis., was passionate about education.
“When I got hired I honestly couldn’t tell you the difference between a bank and a credit union,” she recalls. “I had no financial background.”
Janssen was as eager to learn as she was to teach. After just two years in her role as Royal Credit Union’s Community Financial Education Coordinator, she’d already taken significant steps in her professional development, including becoming a Certified Credit Union Financial Counselor (CCUFC).
That’s when she heard about CUNA National Young Professionals Conference.
“It was something that wasn’t necessarily in the budget,” Janssen says, remembering the initial uncertainty she felt about asking to attend the conference. “I think a lot of young professionals get nervous when they see registration fees or think about travel costs, but a lot of leaders out there are very supportive of these opportunities. It’s always beneficial just to ask.”
Janssen’s credit union was fully supportive, and in June 2018 she attended the first ever CUNA National Young Professionals Conference.
Lighting the spark
For Janssen, the impact of the conference couldn’t be overstated.
“I knew that I loved working for Royal Credit Union. I knew that I loved my job as a financial educator,” she says. “But going to this national conference made me realize how much I love being a part of the credit union movement. It really opened my eyes to something much bigger than my day to day.”
In addition to networking opportunities with fellow young professionals from across the country—many of whom she’s kept in contact with—she felt that the sessions on advocacy and inclusivity were especially beneficial.
“That’s huge, especially in credit unions, where we’re working to serve the underserved,” says Janssen regarding the inclusivity breakout session. As an educator with a background in political science, she’s equally passionate about both high-level advocacy and on-the-ground community organizing. “A lot of people don’t realize all the good things that credit unions have to offer them.”
Since the conference, Janssen has been diving deeper into credit union leadership. She’s recently taken on the role of vice-president of Royal CU’s own young professionals group and was just elected to a 2-year term on the Wisconsin Credit Union League Advisory Board.
This all comes in addition to her responsibilities as a financial educator, where she’s still hard at work connecting with a diverse range of community members—from elementary school students to incarcerated individuals—and helping them understand the importance of talking about money.
Despite her jam-packed schedule, she’s still happy to sit down for an interview, and encourages her peers to attend next year’s conference.
“Do whatever you have to do to get there, because it is an incredible experience. It was honestly something that changed my life,” she says. “After going to the YP National Conference I realized that I had a career in credit unions and I didn’t want to leave the credit union movement.”
She also shared a message for credit union leaders:
“I think if you want to retain young professionals, you have to give them an opportunity to continue to grow as leaders, to feel engaged and to understand why. Why the things they do day to day matter, and I think this YP Conference encompasses all of those things. It gives people an opportunity to grow as leaders. It gives them an opportunity to understand why what they do at their credit union matters on a much bigger level and how much the credit union movement is working to help people.”
2019’s CUNA National Young Professionals Conference will be held June 13-14 in Madison, Wis.