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7 Young Professionals Making an Impact in Fargo-Moorhead

It sounds corny, but young professionals really are the backbone of our business community. Not only are they the future, but their unique perspective and ideas can also greatly impact a businesses NOW!

The Fargo Moorhead West Fargo Chamber of Commerce understands
this and helps to promote our area’s up and comer’s with their Young Professionals Network (YPN). Each month, YPN puts on a host of activities for its members to help them stay informed, involved and networked in order to make the most positive possible impacts.

In celebration of this, we teamed up with YPN to introduce you to some of its highest achieving members.


Justin Gustofson, Commercial Sales & Leasing, Property Resources Group

Justin Gustofson was born, raised, and currently lives in West Fargo. Prior to joining Property Resources Group as a commercial real estate agent, Justin was active in
the construction and aviation industries. Through these experiences, he gained a variety of traits and skills that contribute to his success today. Early on in his career while working with his father in construction, he learned quickly the importance of being a hard worker, and an advocate for all clients and customers. As a commercial pilot and flight instructor, Justin learned the importance of being patient, detailed oriented, and proactive. This combination of experiences and learned skills helped to create the patient, knowledgeable and client- focused agent he is today.

How did you get to the position you are currently in?

I always knew I wanted to be in the world of real estate. With that goal in mind, I became licensed at the age of 21 and have never looked back.

What are some of the intentional steps you took along the way to get there?

I understood that a life of real estate was not going to be the easiest. Because of this,
I worked towards making intentional connections with a variety of mentors who have and continue to be so giving of their time, knowledge, and experience. I cannot express enough gratitude for these mentors as they are critical in my journey of seeking and finding success.

What advice do you have for other young professionals out there aspiring to achieve their goals?

Network. Network. Network.

How has YPN helped you?

YPN has helped me meet like-minded individuals who share similar work-ethic, goals, and values.

Are there any trainings or events you have attended that have been instrumental in your professional life?

I select a variety of events, programs and webinars that are centered on commercial real estate and the economy as a whole. I have always been appreciative of the opportunities that the FMWF Chamber brings to our community such as topics covered at their business training events, Eggs and Issues, and the Economic Outlook.

Are there any books podcasts or TED Talks that have helped you?

There are a variety of resources I use daily to support my continuing education and understanding of the work I do today. This includes simply being informed on what is happening within the community and the world as a whole. In previous years, I had not paid much attention to podcasts, but as of recently, I have become interested in a variety of different ones that have industry-related discussions.

Looking back on your earliest years of professional employment, what do you wish would’ve been available to you that wasn’t?

Overall, this is a difficult question for me. Based on the career path that I have taken, most of my early success has been based on the connections that I have made. This brings me back to the importance of networking. The more people you know, can get to know, or even have a brief conversation with, the better. I think the FMWF Chamber does a great job at planning a variety of events that provide young professionals with these networking opportunities.

Why do you do what you do?

I do what I do simply because I love it! I enjoy meeting people, knowing the ins and outs of every street corner, and being a valuable resource for anyone who comes to me for guidance.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

In 10 years, professionally, I see myself continuing on my current career path but on a larger scale.


Erin D. Larsgaard, Associate Attorney, Wold Johnson, P.C.

Erin D. Larsgaard

Erin Larsgaard grew up on her family’s century farm in Blooming Prairie, Minnesota, a small town of about 2,000 people. Knowing she wanted to pursue a career in the legal field, Larsgaard attended Minnesota State University Moorhead (MSUM) and graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelor’s Degree in Paralegal in three years. After a year as a paralegal at Wold Johnson, P.C. (WJPC), Erin went to law school having earned a full scholarship to the University of St. Thomas School of Law in Minneapolis, Minnesota. However, she continued to work at WJPC on weekends and during breaks, as well as at St. Thomas for Professor Gregory Sisk as a Research Assistant.

During law school, Erin served in a variety of law school roles, including Student Government President and Publications Editor for the University of St. Thomas Law Journal. She was on the Dean’s List each semester of her three years in law school and received the Dean’s Award for the highest grade in Lawyering Skills I, Lawyering Skills II, Property, Lawyering Skills III, Professional Responsibility, Civil Procedure II and Evidence. In addition, Erin completed a judicial externship with Magistrate Judge Becky R. Thorson for the District of Minnesota. Upon graduating summa cum laude with her Juris Doctor from St. Thomas, Erin returned to WJPC as an associate attorney.

Erin’s developing practice focuses on estate planning and probate, real estate, collections and business and corporate. She is currently licensed in both the federal and state courts of Minnesota and North Dakota. Erin also serves as the Secretary for the CCRI Board of Directors and as Vice Chair of the Leadership Committee of YPN.

In 2019, the Chamber honored Erin with the Young Professional of the Year Award. Erin was also named a Rising Star on the 2021 Great Plains Super Lawyers list.

Erin currently lives in Horace with her husband, Matthew, and their rescue dog, Millie. When she is not working on house projects, Erin enjoys reading, hosting get-togethers with friends and spending time with her family.

How did you get to the position you are currently in?

I began my career at WJPC as a runner while attending MSUM. While this was only a foot in the door, I immediately knew I loved working in the legal field. After graduating from MSUM, I was promoted to a paralegal and thoroughly enjoyed the new responsibilities. I gained a tremendous amount of hands-on experience that I would not have otherwise had without this exposure.

As I was preparing to attend law school, one of the WJPC partners approached me about returning to the firm after graduation. With that in mind, I continued working weekends and breaks at WJPC, so I could hit the ground running upon graduation.

What are some of the intentional steps you took along the way to get there?

Consistently doing more than what is expected was vital to my succession at WJPC. Going to the next step without having to be told or checked up on made me a valuable employee, especially since I came straight from college with little experience. In the legal field (and most workplaces quite frankly), no one has time to make sure others are doing their work or to spoon-feed them instructions. Not only did this impress my employer, it also gave me a better understanding of the process as a whole when I had to work through the steps myself. It was trial by fire at times, but I am grateful for all that I learned through it.

What advice do you have for other young professionals out there aspiring to achieve their goals?

Be intentional about doing what is right, even in the small things: be on time; smile a lot; go the extra mile; be kind to everyone no matter the circumstances. These are the little things that matter more than we realize in the moment, both professionally and personally. We don’t know who is watching or how these small actions will affect us later on.

I also strongly recommend seeking out mentors. In every aspect of life, having someone to look up to and ask questions is crucial. Some of the most successful people I know point back to one or more mentors that helped them along the way. In my own life, having mentors has been both an anchor to hold onto in the challenging times and a motivator to go higher in the successful times.

How has YPN helped you?

YPN has been a great organization for me to be involved in! I have found both professional connections and good friends. Since I am not originally from this area, it was initially difficult to build a business network. And let’s be honest, large crowds of people are intimidating when you do not know a soul there. YPN provides so many options for everyone to feel comfortable: from large group gatherings to more intimate morning coffee meetings. Not only are there opportunities to expand meaningful connections, YPN also provides ways to become more involved in the community itself. Book clubs, volunteer efforts for a local organization and training sessions are only a handful of what is offered beyond merely networking opportunities.

Are there any trainings or events you have attended that have been instrumental in your professional life?

There is not one specific event that comes to mind. However, continued training and education is vital, regardless of the profession. We always have something new to learn. Red River Valley Estate Planning Council has been a great way for me to remain knowledgeable as an estate planning attorney.

Are there any books, podcasts or TED talks that have helped you?

Although good business advice can be found in many books, there is only one book that describes how to build a successful career and life. There is no greater wisdom than what is found in the Bible. Particularly, the book of Proverbs contains some of the most basic principles that set people up for success if we could only put them into practice: be diligent and hard-working, exude humility and not pride, always communicate honestly, plan and prepare before taking action, seek wise counsel out, the list goes on and on.

Looking back on your earliest years of professional employment, what do you wish would’ve been available to you that wasn’t?

Facilitating community mentor relationships are instrumental to helping young professionals succeed. There are so many things education cannot teach; yet, professionals are expected to know. Having someone to ask the “dumb” questions and getting a real answer is invaluable when starting out. I was fortunate to have these relationships, but I know there are many who do not.

Why do you do what you do?

Simply put, I love my job. I enjoy coming to work every day and helping people problem- solve. Whether it is creating an effective estate plan unique to that client, guiding heirs through the probate process after the death of a loved one, or facilitating a real estate transaction, I thrive on being a knowledgeable resource to my clients. I am able to use the talents I have been given to better enhance others’ lives and work towards their goals and dreams. It does not get much better than that!

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

Professionally, I consider it a great success to enjoy what I do every day. If that is still the case, I will be grateful and satisfied, regardless of where or what that entails.

Is there anything else we should know about you or is there anything else that you would like to say?

The FM area is such an amazing place to live and grow professionally. I am thankful to have found a community like this to invest back into! I do not take it for granted and am always willing to help out other young professionals connect and develop strong relationships.


Drew Sannes, Marketing Director, Light Consulting Coaching/CoreCounts

Drew Sannes

Drew Sannes, MBA, joined Light Consulting & Coaching in May 2020, a big shift from her previous job as a professional basketball player in Germany. She runs the marketing for Light Consulting as well as for Sarah West’s new venture, CoreCounts. Drew chairs the Young Professional Network’s marketing sub-committee for The Fargo-Moorhead- West Fargo (FMWF) Chamber, is a BIO Girls mentor, and volunteers her time with Gigi’s Playhouse. In whatever she is doing, Drew strives to live out the core values of authenticity, mindfulness, meaningful relationships, faith and service.

How did you get to the position you are currently in?

As with so many things in life, it’s all about connections! I was introduced to Sarah West (Owner of Light Consulting & Coaching and Co-founder of CoreCounts) by Matt Baasch (Co-founder of CoreCounts) and Karla Nelson (MSUM Women’s Basketball Coach). At the time, Sarah didn’t have a full-time position open, but Matt knew we needed to meet each other anyways. The rest is history… Sarah created a position and here we are working together with Light Consulting as well as with Corecounts!

What are some of the intentional steps you took along the way to get there?

I don’t believe in going half- ass with anything in life. If I am passionate and believe
in the WHY behind what I’m doing, I am going to work as hard as I can to reach success. Throughout my life, I have been intentional about being a good person, working hard in all I do, and forcing myself into uncomfortable situations in order to grow.

What advice do you have for other young professionals out there aspiring to achieve their goals?

Do your best, be true to yourself and put yourself out there even though it can sometimes feel intimidating. Reach out to somebody new every month for coffee, a beer, or lunch. You never know; that person could end up being your future mentor, your future client or maybe even your future best friend!

How has YPN helped you?

YPN has allowed me to get directly involved in our community in a different way than before and has helped me grow exponentially as a business professional and leader. It has given me the perfect platform to make meaningful connections and help further the growth of YPN by leading the marketing sub-committee.

Are there any books, podcasts or TED talks that have helped you?

Books

Podcasts

TED Talks

Looking back on your earliest years of professional employment, what do you wish would’ve been available to you that wasn’t?

Our community is doing great things for young professionals right now. One thing that could better the business community is getting individuals introduced and involved even before they enter the business world, whether it be in high school or college. Helping to bridge the gap between students and business professionals will help individuals as well as our entire community.

Why do you do what you do?

I do what I do because I’m passionate about the underlying mission and values for both companies I work for. I’m able to go to work each day knowing I’m making life easier for others with our products and services.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

In 10 years, I would like to be in a leadership position at an organization with a mission I’m passionate about. My goal is to be in a position that allows me to capitalize on my strengths and lead others to do the same so they can reach their full potential.

Is there anything else we should know about you or is there anything else that you would like to say?

I love growing and strengthening my network, so let’s get coffee or a beer sometime and learn more about each other! Reach out to me on LinkedIn and we’ll set something up.


Meagan McDougall, Account Manager, High Point Networks

Meagan McDougall is an Account Manager at High Point Networks in West Fargo, which means that she helps clients in the region buy and use technology to achieve their organizational goals. McDougall has been with the company as an employee for seven years, and as a supportive bystander since 2003, when her dad, Tom McDougall, founded High Point Networks with his business partner, Justin Fetsch.

Meagan also co-directs the Miss West Fargo Scholarship Organization, volunteers with the United Way and is newly involved with the Prairie Family Business Association.

When not working, Meagan can be found listening to audiobooks while walking her dog, drinking brews at Junkyard with her fiancee and planning her next trip.

How did you get to the position you are currently in?

Nepotism! Just kidding. Sort of? I was looking for a job change in 2014 and received a call from my dad, who asked if I would consider joining the team at HPN and learn the ins and outs of the Inside Sales team. At the time, the primary leader of that group was going to be out on maternity leave and they needed support in her absence. I thought it would be a great way to learn if there could be a place for me at HPN and if I could be passionate about the world of technology. Clearly, it was a fit, because I have been here ever since!

What are some of the intentional steps you took along the way to get there?

I clearly got the job at HPN because of my last name. I don’t deny that in the least. But, I can also say with 100 percent certainty that I have earned every promotion I have received since joining the team in 2014. When you share the last name of the CEO, you have two options – use it or prove it. I chose the route of proving that I could succeed in this organization and on our sales team by working hard, looking for areas I could improve our organization for the benefit of everyone, learning as much as I possibly could and earning the respect of those in my department and beyond.

What advice do you have other young professionals out there aspiring to achieve their goals?

Find an organization to work for that exists in the community and world in the same way you want to. When I started at HPN, I came in with zero educational background in technology. You would probably be horrified at my Google searches from early on – for example, I vividly remember the day I searched “what is a network switch?” I never thought technology would be a world I would find I was passionate about, but because HPN exists to help companies in our communities perform at their absolute best, I quickly got on board and work to make a difference every day.

How has YPN helped you?

The Young Professionals Network, and the FMWF Chamber of Commerce, as a whole, do a remarkable job connecting individuals across industries, job roles and years of experience. I specifically enjoy the opportunities they provide for continuing education in the many trainings and workshops they offer for young professionals and professional women.

Are there any trainings or events you have attended that have been instrumental in your professional life?

I had the honor of being in the 2019 class of the United Way 35 Under 35 Women’s Leadership Program, and my six months in that program truly helped me “level up” in my personal and professional life. I found confidence in the unique strengths I bring to the table, I was encouraged to form healthy habits around wellness, balance and boundaries and I made 34 really awesome friends who span industries, backgrounds and interests from our community.

Are there any books, podcasts or TED talks that have helped you?

Oh wow. This is a super hard question, as I have a personal reading goal of at least 52 books a year. Of recent favorites, I recommend are Daring to Lead by Brene Brown, Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell, The Infinite Game by Simon Sinek, The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters by Priya Parker, Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World by David Epstein and I Think You’re Wrong (But I’m Listening): A Guide to Grace-Filled Political Conversations by Sarah Stewart Holland and Beth Silvers. I also read a lot of memoirs, which are a great way to understand the lived experiences of people and what makes them tick. The same can be said for reading fiction, so really, just read anything – it all helps your brain and your ability to connect with humans!

For podcasts, I binge Skimm This, Call Your Girlfriend, How I Built This, Work Life with Adam Grant, The Stacks, Pantsuit Politics, and Armchair Expert.

Looking back on your earliest years of professional employment, what do you wish would’ve been available to you that wasn’t?

I wish that I had understood the ins and outs of mentorship when I was in my earlier years of employment. Even today, it is a very common comment from professional women especially that they wish they had a professional mentor to help guide them throughout their career, either within their organization or outside of it. I think it would be remarkably valuable to find a way to educate both mentors and mentees on the value of building mentorship relationships and find ways to help individuals seek out these relationships.

Why do you do what you do?

I love getting to know people and getting to help them do what they do, but better. It is so rewarding to be a part of the thriving business community in the Fargo-Moorhead area and beyond and know that my work and the work of my colleagues has a small part of that growth and success.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

I love my job. I plan to continue to be involved in the sales organization at High Point Networks and eventually become an owner, carrying on both the legacy of my family and the legacy of High Point Networks. I hope to be a part of HPN continuing to be a premier place to work and a premier technology partner not only in the Great Plains region but for businesses and organizations across the United States.


Celine Paulson, Cash Management Officer, Choice Bank

Celine Paulson

Celine Paulson specializes in cash management for business banking clients. In this role, Paulson provides customers with progressive online banking tools and discusses with them an overall receivables/payables strategy. She is an extremely driven individual with a strong desire to understand and problem solve. In her free time, she enjoys living an active lifestyle – from biking and camping in the summer to snowboarding in the winter, Paulson is always open to trying something new!

How did you get to the position you are currently in?

During my final year at NDSU, I applied for and was chosen to participate in a Business Banking Internship at Wells Fargo. Following my graduation, I was invited back and hired full-time to join a two-year Business Banking Credit and Relationship Management training program. This program focused on credit analysis and underwriting as well as managing a portfolio of business clients. After my program ended, I was promoted to a Relationship Manager where I continued to analyze financials while growing my own portfolio. During this time, I was also working to expand my knowledge of the various partner groups at the bank as well as networks within our community. A year later, I had the opportunity to specialize in an area of banking that I was very interested in, cash management. This opportunity brought me to Choice Bank, as a Cash Management Officer, and is where I have been since July of 2020.

What are some of the intentional steps you took along the way to get there?

  1. Be positive and work hard – Your attitude and effort are in your control each day.
  2. Find a mentor(s) – Look for those who inspire you. Learn from them, be respectful of their time, and ask thoughtful questions.
  3. Get involved in our community – Personally, I joined the FMWF Chamber’s Young Professional Network, served as a volunteer for NDSU’s Business Connections program, and volunteered for the YWCA. These opportunities helped me grow personally and expand my professional network. Today, I’m proud to serve as Treasurer on the YWCA Board of Directors.
  4. Take on responsibilities outside of your job description – People recognize and appreciate those willing to go above and beyond what’s expected of them.

What advice do you have for other young professionals out there aspiring to achieve their goals?

  1. Stay curious and ask questions
  2. Request and be receptive to feedback about your performance

How has YPN helped you?

YPN has helped me build a professional network in the FMWF area. It has also given me leadership opportunities through volunteering on sub-committees and leading
as the Chair of YPN. Furthermore, YPN has brought me out of my comfort zone and encouraged me to grow as a young professional and experience local businesses.

Are there any books, podcasts or TED Talks that have helped you?

Looking back on your earliest years of professional employment, what do you wish would’ve been available to you that wasn’t?

More formal and structured training programs that offer a blend of actual work experience and opportunities to advance within the company. These types of programs are extremely beneficial for young professionals who know what they are interested in but need the experience to get there.


Danne Doering, Retail Location Manager, Choice Bank

Danne Doering

Danne Doering lives in Fargo with her husband, Trevor, toddler, Bray, and two dogs. Doerring loves going to events and meeting new people. You can usually find her and her family camping or fishing on the weekends.

How did you get to the position you are currently in?

I have worked at Choice Bank for the last five years. I became interested in Choice, because two YPN members worked at Choice and really showed how great the company culture is.

What are some of the intentional steps you took along the way to get there?

Networking and professional development. I love talking to people and learning about them, even though it doesn’t directly benefit my work, it creates great relationships. I also became very involved with YPN committees.

What advice do you have for other young professionals out there aspiring to achieve their goals?

Get involved. No matter the organization, join the committees and find more ways to contribute to the organization. You will get the most out of your experience.

How has YPN helped you?

YPN has helped me grow my network, develop my professional skills and gave me great experience to navigate life.

Are there any trainings or events you have attended that have been instrumental in your professional life?

Eggs and Issues is a great program and Lattes’ with Leaders is my favorite event.

Are there any books, podcasts or TED talk that have helped you?

The Rachel Hollis Podcast

Why do you do what you do?

I enjoy helping people and going above and beyond to help people. Choice Bank empowers employees to do that. If I see a need in the community, I can help and I can do something.


John Fisher, Executive Director, Friends of the Children Fargo Moorhead

John Fisher earned his bachelor’s degree from Western Kentucky University in Religious Studies and Psychology; he then earned his graduate degree from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY. He is married to Abby and has three wonderful children. He has been the Executive Director at Friends of the Children Fargo Moorhead for the last 2+ years. When he is not with his family or leading Friends he is also a pastor at his Church, Sojourn.

How did you get to the position you are currently in?

My nonprofit story starts as a junior in college when I and my close circle of friends founded a nonprofit youth organization. It was during this time that the entrepreneurial spirit and passion for bettering communities and developing people was first sparked. That passion solidified as I worked with youth in church-based ministries in Tennessee and Kentucky. This desire to impact communities brought me and his wife, Abby, to North Dakota. I started three churches, grew attendance and recruited leaders to help. All the while, I worked in the nonprofit sector. I was a program coordinator with the YMCA in school- based programs for almost six years developing youth, staff and families. From there, I worked in a Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) grant at North Dakota State University as
a program director. Before coming to Friends of the Children Fargo-Moorhead, I served as the executive director of CHARISM for three and a half years, a neighborhood nonprofit serving youth through mentoring. I was asked to explore founding the Fargo- Moorhead chapter at Friends in 2019 and was chosen to be the founding Executive Director.

What are some of the intentional steps you took along the way to get there?

Being open to new adventures. From the get go I made the point to make sure I didn’t shy away from something new, scary or different.

Taking opportunities when an opportunity presented itself, I would lunge at it and made it known to my superiors and mentors that I was open to opportunities to grow personally and professionally.

What advice do you have for other young professionals out there aspiring to achieve their goals?

Find a mentor that is double (or close to) your age (or more). Someone that has seen several more decades than you. Someone who will tell you the raw, unfiltered and real truth. Someone that will encourage you but also won’t pet your head and blow smoke but will point you to more.

Also, read biographies of dead people. I take a real interest in presidential history, and other figures throughout history that were made for “such a time.” Outside of studying my Bible, I find being a student of history to be one of the most impactful pieces of achieving my goals.

Set your mind to it. Don’t give yourself an out but dig deep, put your mind to it and make it happen.

How has YPN helped you?

Oh yes! Friendship, networking, practice in building cross-discipline relationships. It has been terribly influential in my growth as a person and a professional.

Are their any books, podcasts or TED Talks that have helped you?

I love history and biography, more specifically so anything from David McCullough. I read the Bible daily and find it to be life changing.

For podcasts, I like to listen to ones about current events and faith: The Briefing, Breakpoint and Christianity Today.

I also love Ken Burns documentaries, and American Experience on PBS.

Looking back on your earliest years of professional employment, what do you wish would’ve been available to you that wasn’t?

I wish I had found a coach earlier, a mentor earlier and been able to pursue a pipeline kind of program to leadership earlier.

Why do you do what you do?

I love being the one to tell the story, build the infrastructure and oversee the organization for the people that are changing people’s lives daily. The team that is all around me at Friends willfully toil to better the lives of precious children with immense challenges and my job is to give them the resources, and foundation to go do that. It is epic level awesome.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

Leading teams, serving my family and my church, and hopefully helping others in meaningful ways.

Is there anything else we should know about you or is there anything else that you would like to say?

If you struggle with discipline in your life really hone in on that. Seek spiritual, personal and physical discipline and watch how so many other areas of your life flourish. I find these three areas as infinitely more important than anything professionally and that by having that mentality my professional life continues to grow.

What do you think?

Written by Brady Drake

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