Crystal Olson

Crystal Olson is the programs & events manager for Greater Mankato Growth. She manages talent development programs, like the Greater Mankato Young Professionals, and downtown development programs, like the Holiday Bonus Gift Card Program. Olson has been in this role since January 2020. Let’s learn more about the vital role she plays for GMG.

What steps did you take to get to your current position?
I was the marketing & convention sales intern for Visit Mankato (a business unit of GMG) in spring 2017 during my last semester of college at Bethany Lutheran College. In April 2017, I was hired temporarily as the interim special events manager to fill a six-month gap when two staff members were on maternity leave. In June that summer, a permanent position as the visitor services specialist became available. 2017 was a good year for me! I also had another job title change and an interim role (again, filling in during a colleague’s maternity leave) somewhere between 2018 and 2020.

I grew tremendously through my various roles. It was clear that one of my supervisors had never seen my resume because she would ask me to do something, typically in (design software) InDesign, and I would think, “I don’t actually know how to do that … but I’m sure I can figure it out!” All of those “other duties as assigned” tasks helped me develop my skill set and identify what I am good at and what I am not good at!

Why did you choose this career path?
I was never one of those kids who knew exactly what they wanted to do when they grew up. In early 2019, I had coffee with Jonathan Zierdt, the previous president and CEO of Greater Mankato Growth. He asked me what I wanted to do “when I grew up.” I told him I honestly didn’t know, so he asked me what I liked to do. I talked at length about some of the planning work I did as the visitor services specialist — I assisted with Alive After 5, the CityArt Walking Sculpture Tour, Shop Small — and how much I enjoyed developing those programs.

Jonathan said, “It sounds like you want to be a program manager.” Then, he explained what a program manager did, and how that related to the work I was already doing and future opportunities. When he finished explaining, I said, “Yes! That’s what I want to do when I grow up!”

What personal strengths help you excel in your chosen career?
My True Colors are gold, meaning I’m organized and dependable, and blue, meaning I care about people and relationships. I think that is a very good mix for my work. I strive to be like “Parks and Rec’s” Leslie Knope: very organized and caring.

What is your favorite part of your job?
I love serving this community and the Young Professionals. It is very rewarding to hear people talk about my programs “in the wild” and the positive impact they have.

What inspires/drives you?
I genuinely enjoy helping others. I also love learning and developing the best version of myself.

What advice would you give to other young professionals?
Get involved. Whether it be a work committee, volunteer organization, church, networking program like Young Professionals, etc., I have found that the more active and engaged I am, the more I have enjoyed my experience. It is also very rewarding to give back.

Also, don’t be afraid to ask for the things you want. Do you want to attend a workshop or join a networking program? Ask your supervisor. Do you want to take on a project or move into a different position? Talk with your supervisor about it. A lot of doors opened for me just by speaking up.

Are there any events or training that have significantly impacted your career?
This might sound biased, but Greater Mankato Young Professionals has had a huge impact on me personally and professionally. I met most of my friends in town through Young Professionals. There were job opportunities in Mankato and other communities I did not pursue because I could not participate in Young Professionals in those roles. I have learned so much about myself and my community through the monthly events.

I joined YP in 2017, was on the social committee from 2018 to 2020, co-chaired the social committee in 2018 and took over the program in 2020. I value my YP experience, and I hope others do, as well.

What books, podcasts or videos have helped you?
It seems that every year I read a self-help book that says what I need to hear in that season. In 2020, I read “Success by Design” by Dr. Peter Hirsch. My hours were cut due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and I was very anxious about my future. Hirsch’s message to find a positive outcome that could come from a negative situation inspired me to pursue my MBA.

In 2021, I read “The Art of Showing Up” by Rachel Wilkerson Miller while my grandpa was going through cancer treatment. Her message on how to show up, both for yourself and your people, helped me through that difficult time and taught me new ways to care about and support my people better. I’m hoping to read my 2022 self-help book this summer!

What app can’t you live without?
Spotify. It wasn’t working the other day, and I had to work to the sound of my thoughts instead of music.

Looking back on the beginning of your career, what do you know now that you wish you’d known then?
In hindsight, every step I have taken in my short career has led me to where I am today, despite not having a specific career goal until three years ago. My high school experiences opened doors for collegiate experiences, which then opened doors for my career. It is very clear now, but not so much at the time. I wish I could tell myself that seasons change, and the experiences — personal and professional — in those seasons are so valuable.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
In about a year and a half, I will have my MBA with an emphasis in organizational leadership. I’m a lifelong learner, so in the next 10 years, I might pursue other educational opportunities. Professionally, I hope to be the Talent Programs director for Greater Mankato Growth. Personally, I would love to live in Greater Mankato, have a family and for my 1-year-old dog, Benji, to calm down a bit!

Anything else you want to share?
I mentioned Jonathan Zierdt, but I would be remiss not to call out my other mentors who helped me grow into who I am today. Anna Thill was my first grown-up boss, and we share the same top five strengths. She, Patrick Baker and Jessica Beyer have supported me and taught me so much. They have always believed in my abilities, even when I wasn’t confident in myself. Mentors — personal, professional, spiritual — are so incredibly valuable.

Photo by Jonathan Smith

Ashley Hanley

A freelance writer from Mankato.