In this Stand-To Veteran Leadership Program Scholar spotlight, Kathryn Warren, COO/Integrator at Solutions for Change, shares her passion and approach to serving the military-connected community.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your personal leadership project (PLP).
I am a Marine Corps veteran who served on active duty for 26 ½ years as a financial manager. During my time on active duty, I was able to take part in the development of several financial management programs throughout the Marine Corps that streamlined financial management operations both in garrison and overseas. I am a proud mom of two daughters – and a military mom! We are growing “the family business” of military service and have my younger daughter serving as a captain in the Air Force, and my stepson serving as an Information Systems Technician, Level 3 in the Navy. I will always cherish my time in the Marine Corps, but I have really enjoyed my years in the workforce post service. I have made several career changes and, like many veterans, I had to really decide what was important to me and how I was going to contribute to my community.
Like many veterans, I faced challenges I didn’t realize I would encounter after leaving military service. It took me a while to realize I had missed out on genuine, authentic mentorship to help guide me on my workforce journey. The lessons I learned brought me to a place where I wanted to do more with women veterans, mentorship, and the value of having different perspectives can bring to light when making career decisions. Thus, my PLP on Mentorship and Women Veterans came to fruition.
Which lessons learned during the Stand-To Veteran Leadership Program have stayed with you the most, and how have you put those lessons into action?
I really enjoyed Michael O’Leary’s conversation on partnerships, influence, and networks while at Georgetown University, specifically, the Principle of Reciprocity. I always have had a knack for building relationships, but learning more and leaning into how to leverage my stakeholders has created new awareness for me. One size doesn’t fit all, and it’s learning what currencies motivate specific stakeholders and how to strengthen the relationships. I get to do this daily in my current role for both my internal and external stakeholders. I also am eternally grateful for the 49 people that I got to experience this program with and the lasting relationships I have created.
What drives your passion for serving the military-connected community?
When I left active duty in 2013, I didn’t think that transitioning from the military was going to be a big deal to me. It was during my EMBA program at Pepperdine University that it really hit home that I was different than many of my classmates and had a hard time connecting with them. I was experiencing feelings I had never had a problem with in my adult life, such as my confidence and my identity. I felt lost and continued to experience this feeling, lack of belonging and friendships, for several years. After two jobs, I found exactly what I needed professionally in my role as a Program Manager for Syracuse University’s D’Aniello Institute for Veterans and Military Families’ Onward to Opportunity program. There, I was able to guide and advise our San Diego military connected population [on] what life could look like for them in the workforce post service. I loved the O2O program because, not only did it touch on many of the important elements of what has been deemed essential for a successful career transition, but [it] also gave the military connected community an opportunity to earn a relevant, in-demand hard skill set that potentially would increase their value in the workforce. While everyone experiences leaving service differently, I now had the chance to help others grow and understand that change was inevitable. It was the success of the SoCal O2O participants that drove my passion!
What do you currently see as the greatest challenge facing the military-connected community, and why?
While this may not be the greatest challenge, through my work with the Onward to Opportunity program, I encouraged our military connected community to research and embrace having a growth mindset. I love this topic because it forces you to thrive on challenges and embrace failure that comes with career changes. I was amazed at how many people would give up on pursuing their certifications simply because it was taking them longer to pass the practice exams and not embracing the fact that with every practice exam they were taking, they were learning more about themselves as well as the topic they were studying. While embracing change can be hard, what you learn along the way, especially when making a career change, is invaluable in the long run.
You recently began a new position as COO/Integrator at Solutions for Change. What drew you to this organization, and what excites you about your new role?
The VLP program opened my eyes on many levels, but it was … several conversations with VLP staff and my classmates that made me realize I had a calling outside of the military connected space. Through networking, I was introduced to Solutions for Change, a San Diego nonprofit that is solving family homelessness – one family, one community at a time. Solutions for Change addresses root causes of poverty and dependency and equips people with the skills, knowledge, and resources to permanently solve their challenges and transform their lives. We blend affordable housing, education, employment training, career pathways and personal development all within one cohesive program. This opportunity not only opened my eyes to the pressing homelessness crisis in my local community but also ignited a newfound sense of purpose within me. As a veteran, I am deeply committed to serving my community, and this role aligns perfectly with my values and experiences. Plus, my CEO is a Marine, and you couldn’t get a better aligned visionary/integrator duo!
Earlier this year, I made the bold decision to leave my position at Onward to Opportunity, and despite a few twists and turns, I remained steadfast in my belief in myself and my commitment to my values, which ultimately led me to this role at Solutions for Change – a place where I am confident I can be part of my community and help make a difference.