Miss CEO Leadership Spotlight: Katie Stoudemire

Meet Katie Stoudemire. In 2006, she founded Wonder Connection, a unique outreach program run through the North Carolina Botanical Garden at UNC-Chapel Hill, to empower pediatric patients with the wonders of nature and science through multi-sensory learning experiences. Learn how this one-woman powerhouse combined her passions for nature, biology, education, and volunteering to provide joy and inspiration for countless young patients in need.

Q: Tell us a little bit about yourself: How did you get to where you are today? What path has your career taken?

A: I’ve sort of had two paths merge to create this job that I love.

First there’s the nature path, which started way back when I was a kid romping around in my neighbor’s backyard, and bloomed when I first started attending Green River Preserve, an incredible nature camp in the NC Mountains. I felt a deep sense of connection to the land and particularly to the river itself. When I was in high school and college, I worked as a counselor, and I loved helping kids connect to nature. I still have several favorite spots along the river, and my journals are dappled with notes of visits to Green River for renewed connection, happiness, peace, and four seasons of river dunking to keep myself in the moment. My connection to nature, nurtured by my time at GRP, has sustained me in times of difficulty and inspired me in times of happiness.

Second there’s the hospital path. For most of my childhood and adolescence, I thought I wanted to be a doctor. I loved studying biology and loved the idea of helping people. When I started volunteering at a children’s hospital during college, I realized that the doctors didn’t get to spend much time with the kids. I knew I wanted to build rapport with the kids and get to know them. I just wasn’t quite sure what that would look like.

Here’s where they came together:

After I graduated, I started working as an outreach specialist at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences (note: This was not my very first job out of college. Finding a good job fit was difficult!). I was putting together themed nature kits (e.g. monarch butterflies) and providing programming for schools in Eastern NC. I was also volunteering at the children’s hospital in Raleigh. With the hospital’s permission, I started bringing natural objects with me to the hospital and was amazed at the positive results.

My outreach job at the museum was time-limited and I wanted the museum to try find funding to extend the timing and the programming to focus on hospitalized children, but they said that they were not interested. But that only encouraged me.

That job ended, and I worked as a backpacking guide and white water canoeing instructor for two summers and as a nanny during the school year. I kept trying to figure out how to find funding for hospital science outreach, and after two years, including time spent sleeping on a friend’s floor, the family I was nannying for helped me make an incredible connection to a funder. Wonder Connection was founded in 2006 with a small discretionary grant from the Oak Foundation, as a part of Duke Gardens. Since then, Wonder Connection has moved to the North Carolina Botanical Garden. Wonder Connection is a one-of-a-kind program that provides pediatric patients with a connection to the natural world via hands-on natural science activities. Our nature based activities and lessons are designed to be hands-on, interactive, patient-centered, and based on North Carolina plants and animals.

Q: What is your leadership philosophy and how do you practice it in your life?

A: I really like the Pike Place Fish Market’s FISH! Philosophy. The four practices of The FISH! Philosophy are:

Choose Your Attitude

Be There

Make Their Day

Play

I think the other big thing is trying to make sure that you genuinely care about whoever you are leading and that he/she/they know(s) that you care about them and their goals and needs.

Q: Favorite quote?

“The very least you can do in your life is to figure out what you hope
for. And the most you can do it live inside that hope. Not admire it
from a distance but live right in it, under its roof…Right now I’m
living in that hope, running down its hallway and touching the walls
on both sides.”

~Barbara Kingsolver from Animal Dreams

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life.”

~Mary Oliver from The Summer Day

Q: How do you make time to innovate and or grow your business?

A: I think that the innovating just happened because I noticed a need for it and then wanted to try to create a solution. It’s always hard to find time for ‘extra things’ though. I’ve started carving out a day each quarter or so for retreats that I hope are both nourishing and allow for contemplation and planning. For example, last month spent a morning on a farm making wreaths and table arrangements and then we had lunch and spent some time brainstorming and then we took a hike.

Q: What is your typical morning/daily routine?

I get up when my toddler gets up, usually around 6:30a. Then we spend about an hour and a half just trying to make sure we are both dressed and fed. ☺ Then I take him to ‘school’ and I go to work. When we get home, we eat dinner while he throws food on the floor. Recently, I’ve been trying to exercise in the evenings. He likes to bounce on my belly while I stretch and do crunches. After he goes to bed, I like to read (especially fiction).

Q: Which female leader (past or living) do you admire most and why?

A: My mom. She made tough decisions that were ultimately good for her own mental health and for following her career passions.

Q: Could you share an example of a time you were stuck in a rut or presented with a challenge? How did you get out of this rut and what did you learn?

A: The story of how I got to where I am included several challenges… I think that one of the biggest lessons I learned is how invaluable friendships are. My friends encouraged me, helped me move, sheltered me, checked in with me, and celebrated with me when things worked out. They also listened to me talk and talk and talk!

Q: What is the most beneficial/meaningful/valuable purchase you have made for under $100 in the last 6 months?

A: Last week I bought a bunch of food and then cooked and cooked for my family and for friends. I love good food and I love feeding people and I had a chance to do so while my son was at school which was really a treat.

Q: What advice can you give to a 15 year-old girl hoping to become a leader someday?

A: I have a quote that I kept on my wall when I was in high school which inspired me:

Do not suffer from loneliness.
Go outside.
Go away. It’s all the people making you lonely.
Pick a spot on the horizon and head straight for it.
Weave your way through a stand of redwoods.
Kayak an island chain.
Pear over your toes at the edge of a canyon.
Go to your favorite place. Again, and again.
This is what you need to do. Not just because it fuels your independence. But because it reminds you you’re a part of something bigger.
And although it may not occur to the baffled onlookers, who cant take there eyes off your smiling, mud-covered wired-up insane self, it will occur to you:
You aren’t the one who’s lonely.

~Author Unknown