We connected with Minnestar’s newly named Executive Director Maria Ploessl in this Q&A
Can you take us back a bit?
I’m originally from St. Paul, Minnesota and went to college at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.
My first foray into the nonprofit sector was while studying abroad in Latin America, focused around education programs and public health in Central America. There, I became passionate about the nexus of education and nonprofit.
I also received a Fulbright Scholarship through the US Department of State for a project focused on fundraising and development for a community in the Amazon Rainforest that needed access to water via well.
Meanwhile, my husband was accepted into graduate school in Boston and so we ended up there for three years. While he was studying, I was managing an AmeriCorps program. After leaving that role in Boston, when we came back home here to Minnesota, where I then I started with Minneapolis Public Schools in ESL/Afterschool programs.
I then had the opportunity to become the Campus Director in Minneapolis as The Iron Yard Coding School opened here in early 2016. We had a great team, smart students, and awesome advisors that participated. Unfortunately, that organization stopped existing here eventually, which was a bummer.
No regrets though because that’s what kinda introduced me to the Twin Cities tech scene. In retrospect, my three common threads are: community engagement, education, and nonprofit.
When and how were you first exposed to Minnestar?
One of my very first tech events was Minnedemo and I didn’t really know anyone there, though I met a few people right away because it was so welcoming and inclusive.
What were you thinking once you found out Minnestar was seeking an Executive Director?
I was talking with some folks that I knew who had more experience participating more in their events. Just asking about their take on things, which was overwhelmingly positive. I liked the idea of cultivating community as they do and learning from one another. So I submitted my application and got pretty excited when I thought about the ‘what if’ it were to actually happen.
…and you are the chosen one – what do you think about that?
I’m honored, of course (giggle).
As objectively as you can say, why do thou think they picked you?
Well I’m not a technologist but do enjoy learning so much about it. I think it was my combined background with the energy around an opportunity to serve this organization and the tech community going forward.
What’s are some of the first things you’re doing?
Right off the bat, I’m meeting with each board member individually to hear more about their passions, visions, and such. So far that’s illuminating and reinforcing why I’m here and how I can serve. Also meeting with sponsors and members of the tech community to gather a holistic view of things…to understand anything that could be improved. Building relationships, operationalizing current activities, and thinking ahead.
That and we’re ramping up planning for our Minnedemo in October during Twin Cities Startup Week.
Is there an aspect of Minnestar that you see opportunity to improve upon?
At this time, I’m really thinking about that and what else we can do to support our community as a whole to thrive.
Hiring an Executive Director for the first time after all these years is a big change for Minnestar. What other changes to the organization do you foresee ahead?
That’s a good question. In my conversations so far with the board that will involve ensuring sustainability of the organization while fulfilling our core mission. The second part is around serving as a strategic though partner who is helping us look into the future.
Do you have any specific strategies at this time around your mandate to serve the board and broader community?
In meeting with people, it’s starting with determining the greatest value add overall. Some of that involves helping the committees become more efficient and ease of communications.
Having one person like me who can lift the day to day burden will go a long way. As far as any specific strategies, I think my hire is the first step in operationalizing and looking ahead.
Is your role subject to a term or more open-ended?
There is no term limit, it’s wide open.
Do you have any specific thoughts or goals on the impact you’d like to create while at Minnestar?
Yes! I’m subscribed to a model of servant leadership and that involves listening first and want to make sure I hear all the voices and perspective. I have a bunch of ideas right now…just have to stay tuned on those…
What are you into as a person?
My husband is a performance and installation artist, so naturally art is big on my list of things. We have a black lab named Frankie and just bought our first home where I’m really digging the gardening. That and just soaking up what we have left of summer while looking forward to the Minnesota State Fair and listening to some Lizzo.
Is there anything you would like to add in closing?
For anyone out there who wants to connect, just email me directly, I’m always open: [email protected]