Women choosing careers in STEM fields or trades are still few and far between. Why? That’s what Daniel Larson, chair of the St Cloud Area Technical and Community Colleges would like to know. And what he’s dancing to change. You can donate here to support Daniel and his cause. 


02:13 Dancing with our Stars is raising funds for women and girls

04:09 Foundation is a huge benefactor that helps a lot of people

06:44 Honing skills and learning is a good combination in educating young people

07:58 Helping other people doesn’t always involve money, sometimes you only need to volunteer

11:02 What’s a gender barrier?

15:35 It will always benefit you to be kind and sensitive

17:12 Is it easy to accept feedback and criticism?

20:01 Learn more about the fundraising

23:02 Join Daniel on June 13th, out at St. Ben’s in the evening



00:02 Michelle: Hi, everybody. Welcome to “If These Heels Could Talk.” My name is Michelle. I’m with BadCat Digital.

00:07 JoyGenea: And I’m JoyGenea with Solutions by JoyGenea. And today, we have a special guest. Yay. Today, we have…

00 :15 Michelle: That’s a lot of excitement.

00 :16 JoyGenea: Well, what can I say? I’m working at home.

00 :19 Michelle: You better be really good, Daniel. That’s a lot of excitement. That’s a big go-back.

00:22 Daniel: We’ll see.

00:24 JoyGenea: So as most… if you don’t know, most, I will share with you that I am a graduate of the St. Cloud Technical and Community College, and it was an amazing experience for me. And I went into a field of study, civil engineering land surveying technician, that is not traditionally women. And so I actually, in the end, was the only woman graduating with the class. And that’s pretty common, actually. There’s typically maybe two or three women in that particular field.

And then also I did all of my firefighting courses and first responder classes also through the technical community college. So, again, another less than traditional area of study for women. And so, I was really excited when Daniel, who l’ll introduce in a minute, came up with the idea that he was going to be raising money for scholarships and to help women in the trades and STEM at the technical community college. So I’m like, “We have to have Daniel on.”

01:26 Michelle: Yes. So thank you, Daniel.

01:27 JoyGenea: Lemme give a little introduction here. Daniel is born and raised in the middle of North Dakota, so he knows Flatland. Moved to Saint Louis for Washington University. Salmon fisherman in Alaska for three seasons, after college, youth director and coach in south-central Los Angeles and San Francisco for 15 years. Came home to the Midwest to bring baby daughter, Chloe. Chloe?

01:53 Daniel: Cole.

01:54 JoyGenea: Cole. Thank you. Close to her grandparents and six years at United Way of Central Minnesota before joining us at the St. Cloud Technical and Community College Foundation. Thank you, Daniel, for being our guest today.

02:09 Daniel: Thank you for that warm welcome. I’m excited to be here.

02:12 JoyGenea: Awesome.

02:13 Michelle: And, Daniel, to add to his amazing credentials, is going to be Dancing with our Stars, which is the women’s foundation annual event that raises money for nonprofits for issues that disproportionately affect women and girls. And Daniel’s raising money for scholarships and things for… is it for the technical college, Daniel? What are you raising money for exactly?

02:40 Daniel: For women attending the technical and community college and anything STEM-related. So non-academic support scholarships, recruitment, just trying to create access and remove barriers for women in STEM and trades at SCTCC.

02:53 Michelle: Awesome. Awesome. Awesome. So thank you so much for being here today, Daniel. And we are going to start with a question we start with all of our guests, which is, what is your favorite kind of shoe?

 03:06 Daniel: Well, that’s an easy one for me. There’s two, but it’s really easy. I love Dana boots because they last forever and they’re stylish and they’re great for going to community events at fundraisers and also good for wearing every day. And I love Dune London sneakers. If I’m going to a concert or I’m going to a fancy restaurant, I love wearing sneakers that look sharp and are very unique. So are my two recommendations for all you there, Dana and Dune London.

03:35 Michelle: Awesome. That’s super exciting. I’ve never heard of those. I’ll have to check them out.

03:39 JoyGenea: There we go.

03:40 Michelle: Very nice. Very nice. 

03:41 JoyGenea: Oh, I have seen those.

03:43 Michelle: Yeah, very nice.

03:46 JoyGenea: He came prepared. I like that.

 03:49 Michelle: Stylish shoes. Stylish shoes. Well, we’ll get into the meat of the questions. JoyGenea, did you have something to ask Daniel right away?

03:55 JoyGenea: Yeah, I do. Tell us about the foundation a little bit and what it does for the college and what some of its big future goals are that you’re working on right now.

04:09 Daniel: Well, thanks for asking that. The foundation is an institutionally related foundation solely exists to support the interests and aims and pursuits of St. Cloud Technical and Community College. So while we are a separate nonprofit, all of our interests and goals in work have to support the students, the faculty, staff, equipment, and program needs of the college.

Primarily right now, we serve to provide over 220 scholarships a year to students to help with recruitment, retention, and completion. We also support things like the cycles covered for students to try to make us a zero hunger campus.

We support programs like career achievement, which gives very intrusive and a good way of mentoring and advising. And our big goals in the future are to grow those programs to meet more and more demand for scholarships, to use our scholarships for strategic recruitment into pathways to well-earning careers in our community, and to build an advanced manufacturing center that lives and breathes and is owned by the community and is up to date on providing the most efficient training for our employers.

05:22 Michelle: Wow. That’s a lofty set of goals. There’s a lot of words attached.

05:27 Daniel: I do think SCTCC is the critical bridge for our employers and our students.

05:33 Michelle: Absolutely.

05:34 Daniel: And that pathway can just get smoother and faster but not without a lot of hard work.

05:40 Michelle: Absolutely.

05:43 JoyGenea: So as a follow-up, so we, because at BadCat, of course, you know, we’re right in St. Cloud, we hire a lot of people directly out of the programs, both at the four-year university and at technical college. And in the technical college marketing program, what I’ve noticed about the difference in candidates from one versus the other, is there really isn’t a lot of difference in terms of skill set.

So, you know, from an employer perspective, the education at the technical college seems to be really incredibly robust for a two-year education. Is that even… so I know that it focuses and a lot of people think about technical colleges like for trades or for more kind of what Georgina was talking about, surveying or engineering or things like that, but even kind of liberal arts disciplines, is that kind of intentional? Is that a big focus of the technical college moving forward?

06:44 Daniel: It’s around 10 years ago when the college expanded to a community college in addition to a technical college. And the skilled trades and our nursing programs will always be the bedrock of the college and meeting community needs as a manufacturing leader in Minnesota and as a… you know, as a healthcare center for the region.

But as we all know, college has gotten costly exponentially more so, than when I went 25 years ago, and kids need to see a return and they need to enter as efficiently as possible and also have the right type of size and supportive environments. And if you’re not sure exactly what career pathway you’re going to, I think the two-year college is a great way to explore that, either as a way to transfer to a four-year college or to come out with a marketing, or sales, or business degree, or even in engineering and go right into the workforce after two years.

So it’s really about providing that service for the students and the service for employers. Getting people into the workforce as soon as possible and making it as efficient so they’re not burdened with the debt, and it’ll have some flexibility when they get out there.

07:52 Michelle: Yeah. Yeah. So tell us a little bit more about Dancing with our Stars? How did you get involved?

07:58 Daniel: Well, a couple friends of mine who are on the women’s foundation board just started texting me if I was interested in dancing. And I said, “Sure, if it’s a crowded wedding floor or a mosh pit around a fire like how I grew up in North Dakota.”

But I figured what they were up to. I’ve been to the event several times before and seen the great publicity and awareness that can come for the causes in addition to the money raised. I’m always game to put myself out there to embarrass myself if necessary or to show my energy and determination for a big cause, and I’m hoping my willingness to show this shows my commitment to this cause.

08:40 Michelle: Absolutely.

08:41 JoyGenea: Very nice. So what got you passionate about focusing on STEM? Like, they asked you if you wanted to do this, then you had to pick, you know, what in particular at the foundation would you focus on. So what got you focusing on stem and women in the trades?

08:56 Daniel: Well, a couple things. I asked President Xi right away when I got asked to do this. I was only a month on the job at the foundation. And I said, “If there’s one need we have right now, if you could just pick one thing out of the air for a new focus for us to develop, what would it be?” And she said, “Women in STEM and women in STEM in trades.”

No matter where we think we’re at in 2022, there are still so many barriers, either visible or not, for access and stigma and stereotypes on the right time of climate. And since I’ve focused on it, I’ve learned so much about how early this starts. About the spatial skills developed by boys, encouraged to play with cars and construction things give them a leg up in some ways. How girls are stigmatized when they’re successful in science and math and how they become unlikable because of that instead of being lauded for it as men do.

So that’s the picture for the college. And I think for the big picture of our economy and our community, it depends on diversifying gender-wise, ethnically, all of our routes to careers that we absolutely will have to do that. And I think the last two years have revealed the need for that workforce and the different streams of workforce more than ever.

But also, I’m a dad. I have a healthy, energetic bouncy nine-year-old daughter who loves to try new things all the time. And the last thing I wanna picture is that she is interested in a STEM or trades career and she goes into her climate or is told that that’s something she can do. So anyone that I can knock down or remove those barriers for other girls and women as well, that’s also a personal passion of mine.

10:42 JoyGenea: Thank you.

10:43 Michelle: Fantastic.

10:44 JoyGenea: I wanna add a little bit of a story just how this really manifests in the world. I did actually show up to take… I was signed up actually at the Wilmer technical community college to go for insurance claims adjuster. 

10:59 Daniel: Oh, wow.

11:00 JoyGenea: Yeah. And I showed up, and I did not meet the teachers. They didn’t reach out to me in advance or anything. And I showed up the first day and I was the only girl there and I was 20 years old. And I just, I can’t explain what that feels like. I didn’t go back. They kept calling me and they were like, “We need you to withdraw so other people can get in the class.” And I just froze. I just froze because there was just, nobody looked like me, nobody sounded like me, and I couldn’t figure out at 20 years old how I was gonna make it through that class.

So there, you know, and people are like, “Well, what’s a barrier?” Well, a barrier is when you show up there and you’re just like, “Ugh, I don’t look like everybody else. How am I gonna make it through two years of this?”

So I was more prepared the next time when I showed up and I felt like, I’m like, “Ugh. Like, I’ve seen this before. Like, I can do this.” But I’d been working, you know, I’d been loading semi-trailers by then, so I was more comfortable in that environment but that’s the difference.

12:03 Michelle: Well, mine actually, JoyGenea, is from when I was seven. I was in a summer science program when I was seven years old. My parents, you know, we didn’t have a lot of money, but they really valued education. And so, any sort of, kind of free, you know, enrichment or community education stuff, they would enroll us in.

I was in the summer science program and we were asked to bring in something to look at under a microscope. So I look around and I see something my dad had was this super old, really cool coin. And I thought because of how old it was, it would have some really interesting dirt on it or something. So I brought it in and I’m so proud to show the teacher, and the teacher said coins are really… because he didn’t let me explain what. You know, I said, “I wanna look at this.” Not like associating it.

And he said, “Well, coins are really more of a social science thing.” I mean, girls really tend to like the social sciences more anyway, and just wouldn’t let me look at it under the microscope. Dismissed it and we went on to somebody else and that was it. I never…

13:06 JoyGenea: Wow.

13:07 Michelle: When I think about it, like, I think about what it was, I just never engaged again. I did well in my science classes, I did well in math, but I just never engaged, never enjoyed it, never wanted to be involved. And, you know, when you do that as a child and you make all of those decisions, you pick different classes in high school, you don’t pick those classes in college, you pick a major. Like, it’s like a path that trunks out. And if you just are shutting doors on people along the way or they’re shutting them on themselves because of something that happened, it just changes the whole course of the choices that they have to make.

So I love this cause. It’s fantastic. And speaking of the stories that we just told Daniel, is there anything that, you know, in your life you’re thinking, “Oh, gosh. I wish I had known this just a lot sooner than what I know now.” I mean, don’t get me wrong. We all have things we wish we had known a lot sooner.

14:14 JoyGenea: I got a few of those beauties.

14:16 Michelle: Yeah. Don’t we all? What are some of yours, Daniel?

14:20 Daniel: Well, I don’t think we have time for all that list, but I’ve probably got a few. But let me circle back to what you both just said real quick though.

As I’ve been studying this and trying to learn more and go past the generic idea of just removing barriers to women in STEM, so much of it is creating the aspiration and the belief in growth that they can do this and wanna do this. But then it’s also about knocking down the unconscious bias and the climate that pushed them away right away, just as both of you were pushed away, even though you were interested, and took those steps forward, even as a seven-year-old or as a 20-year-old.

You know, it’s about having those professors know, wow, if I have one person standing out in this class of gender, or ethnic, or whatever it is, then let me think about what’s gonna help them stay here. And let me think about how to make this inclusive and welcoming instead of just saying, “Yeah, we’ve had girls before. They never seem to stick around. I wonder why that is.” I guess… [crosstalk :15:21

15:22 Michelle: Maybe it’s that joke the professor told on the second day or somebody in the class told and the professor laughed at, you know?

15:30 JoyGenea: Yeah. It can be that simple.

15:32 Michelle: It’s that fast.

15:35 Daniel: Well, to that point, Michelle, I guess, you know, to your question of what I wish I had learned earlier, I think life for me got a lot easier professionally and definitely personally the quicker I was able to apologize and ask a lot of questions.

Boy, I sure remember going off to college and knowing everything about the world. And I remember leaving college, knowing everything about the world, and telling my aunts and uncles and everyone how I’m not gonna get trapped into whatever life, you know, I didn’t like about theirs.

And, you know, so now I really try to work with my staff and my board members and my teammates and ask what are my blind spots and say that I have them so please honk. And I’ve found that people are much more willing to do that when you’re open yourself up to that. And it’s a lot easier to get some course correction when people do and friends and coworkers honk at your blind spots than just assuming that you didn’t want to hear it and you go on.

16:37 Michelle: That’s awesome. That’s awesome.

16:40 JoyGenea: I have a follow-up question because a big part of that… I love the answer to that, but a big part of that is being comfortable with feedback. Did that take some effort or was it really easy to get? Because if you really allow your staff, if you allow people to really honk at your blind spot, like, it means that you’re available to that feedback at any time.

17:04 Daniel: Well, I didn’t say I’m good at it or it doesn’t still take work. It’s just something I’m better at than I used to be.

17:11 JoyGenea: Right.

17:12 Daniel: I think it’s really easy to accept feedback and criticism when you intentionally seek it out. I will probably have a lifelong journey of not being defensive when I’m not prepared for it, but I get better and better. And I guess as life goes on as a father and now as, you know, in my third or fourth job that I’ve been that for over five years, it’s you know, you get humbled enough to recognize, and it’s also not the end of the world to worry about a few mistakes.

And I guess I’ve also definitely, I wish I could go back to… Michelle, you made me think of those young years. I think of middle school and high school. And I just spent so much time worrying about what other people were thinking, and it took me a long time to realize that everyone else has their own life going on. They’re starring in their own movie, and I probably can do a lot less worrying about what they’re thinking while I’m working on myself. So I think those two work together for me, both things that have helped me but are certainly a continued challenge.

18:21 JoyGenea: I can relate to those. Thank you.

18:23 Michelle: Yeah. They’re incredibly valuable though. You get to learn so much more about your life and your world and you get to get… It’s a huge gift to be able to hear what other people are saying, but not spend all of your time worrying about what other people are thinking.

And I’ve discovered that the more you can hear what other people are saying, the less people think things about you that they don’t say. So they feed into each other, right? Like, you don’t have to worry about it as much because they’ve told you what they think whether you want to hear it or not.

19:04 Daniel: Right.

19:05 JoyGenea: It’s actually accurate. So you can actually make decisions based on that instead of what you think they might be thinking that you then need to adjust to maybe get that. We’ve all done that too much.

19:18 Michelle: So this is an amazing…

19:18 Daniel: And knowing that they’re all going home to their own worries about their own dog…

19:22 Michelle: Their own stuff.

19:23 Daniel: Or their own leaky basement or their mother or their child and their own review coming up. And they might not be spending any time tonight thinking about Daniel Larson.

19:38 JoyGenea: So true. Were you gonna ask something, Michelle?

19:41 Michelle: No, go ahead.

19:42 JoyGenea: All right. I’m gonna head into our closing question. Now that you’ve told us more about what you’re doing and what you’re making available through Dancing with the Stars and working on, do you have a particular goal that you’re aiming for in your…

19:58 Michelle: Fundraising?

19:59 JoyGenea: Yes.

20: Daniel: Yeah. Well basically, our premier goal is to offer a hundred more scholarships, and those can average $1,0, but they can be above $250 to $5.

So we have over 6 applicants every year for scholarships at SCTCC. We’re currently supplying 225 of those. Next year, I want to be at least 3 or more. I’d love to be at 325. We hope to use them more strategically, we hope to re-enroll students who have 45 or 50 credits and may have gone away for some reason, and we hope to create very specific pathways for women coming out of our local high schools and surrounding rural areas. You know, roughly we are hoping for $75,0 to $1,0, and that will help us meet the goals for scholarships.

20:54 Michelle: So how do people donate? Because it’s an amazing cause, and I obviously wanna donate, and everybody who listens is gonna wanna donate. How do people do that?

21:03 Daniel: So, you know, instead of trying to say out a URL, what I’m gonna say is, go to your Google bar and put in “Women’s Fund Presents.” The first one that’s gonna come up is the community giving women’s fund, and you’ll see all the information there. You can enter your credit card within 90 seconds and make a donation, and support us, and vote with your dollars for this cause because I can tell you that I will try as hard as I can, but the dancing is not gonna be the thing that wins the judges on this. We need our voters for this cause.

21:38 Michelle: Well, and we’ll put a link when we publish the podcast. There’ll be a link on our website on iftheseheels.com. Right in the podcast post about Daniel’s interview, there’ll be a link right there. So if you can’t find it through Google, then you can absolutely find it that way.

21:58 Daniel: Great.

22:00 JoyGenea: This has been great. Daniel, have you had any surprising donations so far in the process?

22:06 Daniel: That is a great question. Our first donation, before we at the foundation put anything online or talk to any individual or major donors, just when the women’s fund put the cause that I’m dancing for on Facebook, a woman in the St. Cloud Community gave us a large donation saying that she is seeking to see more women mechanics and drivers because that’s the industry she’s in and she wants to support that.

So she made a very generous donation that kickstarted us and let us know that we’re on the right path in needing to get publicity out for this.

22:48 Michelle: Excellent. Excellent.

22:50 JoyGenea: That’s cool. I love that. Well, thank you Daniel so much for giving us your time and talents. And when is it dancing with the stars again? What day do you get to perform?

23:02 Daniel: I will share my talents on June 13th, out at St. Ben’s in the evening. And it’s Monday, June 13th. It’s a great event, there’s always a great meal, a lot of fun getting to know all the dancers and their supporters to hear about some nonprofits you might not know about and needs and opportunities in the community, and to support some people who’ve been working really, really hard to give a good show and to support good causes.

23:33 Michelle: And just to remind everybody who may not be familiar with Dancing with our Stars, it is an annual event from the women’s fund. Those who compete, I think there are five dancers. Isn’t that right, Daniel? There are five dancers. They’re all representing different causes that are competing, and those that win both in, you know, dollars that they’ve raised as well as a score for their dancing, those that win, there’s actually a matching fund from the women’s fund.

And I think first place last year was $15,0. So you can impact, you know, your dollar stretches further when you donate and you vote with your dollars for Daniel and the future women graduates of SCTCC, and you expand those dollars to the women’s fund through generous donations.

24:28 Daniel: Spot on, Michelle. I couldn’t have said it better myself, and I thank you for that endorsement and promotion.

24:34 Michelle: Absolutely. This has been the most amazing conversation. I really, really appreciate your time today, Daniel. Thank you so much.

24:42 Daniel: I thank you both. I’m so honored to be here and, again, to be working and spreading the word and dancing for this cause.

24:49 Michelle: Yes, absolutely.

24:50 JoyGenea: Thanks for joining us this week on “If These Heels Could Talk.” We look forward to seeing you or talking with you next week. Thank you and have a fabulous…