Q&A with past participants of CUES Emerge and its predecessor program, Next Top Credit Union Executive, highlights the value of the experience.
What better way to convey the value of the CUES Emerge leadership program and its predecessor program, the Next Top Credit Union Executive, than to ask the participants themselves?
CUES, together with its partner, Currency Marketing, based in Chilliwack, British Columbia, launched NTCUE in 2010 to educate and develop future credit union leaders. In 2020, they reimagined the program as CUES Emerge to combine online learning, peer collaboration and an exciting competition component. The annual program consists of a cohort of 30 individuals, from which five finalists are selected to present their business cases during a live pitch show that determines the CUES Emerging Leader.
For this year’s program, the pitch show will take place on Oct. 5. The 2022 CUES Emerge winner will be announced on Oct. 11 and celebrated at the online CUES Member Appreciation & Awards Event, coinciding with International Credit Union Day on Oct. 20.
An impressive array of emerging leaders has participated in the CUES Emerge/NTCUE programs throughout the past 12 years. We asked five previous participants to describe their experiences with the program and how it has affected their careers. Below are brief biographies of these participants, followed by their responses.
Q: What led you to participate in Next Top Credit Union Executive/CUES Emerge?
Walker: I am a scholar at heart and thrive on learning. I knew it would be a great opportunity to learn from leaders in the field, masterminds and peers. While this was something that displaced me and took me outside my comfort zone, it was an experience that carved pathways for my future.
Marquez: I was encouraged to apply by some fellow credit union advocates who believed in my passion and ambition to strengthen the credit union movement. I ultimately applied to participate in a wonderful networking and educational opportunity to continue my professional growth and evolution.
Macias: I was nominated, unbeknownst to me, by an industry rock star, who I spent time with as a GAC crasher in 2014. He never admitted it, but I’m almost certain it was him. He saw something in me that he knew should be highlighted, and I’m glad he did.
Huls: I was nominated by a colleague and one of my team members. I remember being shocked and my first response being “I can’t do this. I am not ready.” It was my colleague who ultimately helped me step forward in the first round. She told me she wished I believed in myself as much as she believed in me. After thinking about it, I realized it was my mindset holding me back—not only from investing in myself through the opportunity but also in honoring our relationship and their actions in nominating me. Further, we are never fully ready for the opportunities and challenges life presents us. So what?! Going for it helps us move forward and helps us prepare and build skill for the next challenge/opportunity.
Q: How has NTCUE/Emerge changed your career?
Castañeda-Ball: After participating in the CUES Emerge program, I continued my self-development and took any additional opportunity to prepare myself when a career opportunity presented itself. The items I learned on projects, networking and presentation were essential in preparing myself to take on this next role within my organization.
Macias: It gave me the confidence I needed at the right time in my career. I was a coordinator at the time the competition started and was up against senior-level executives. Despite not having the same resources or experience, I made a compelling case that proved I had the creativity, resourcefulness and tenacity to be a top industry executive. Everyone at Ascentra was cheering for me and supporting me in the competition. By the time I made it to the CUES CEO/Executive Team Network conference for the final Top 5 competition, I arrived as a manager. Since then, I have been an AVP and currently serve as a VP.
Walker: In my professional life, I’m competitive, driven and very focused. Those who work with me know this, and many appreciate it. Being named the 2020 CUES Emerge winner continued to build on my professional brand and further showcase my skillset and abilities.
Q: What happened with your challenge project/business case?
Walker: My business case focused on Tampa Bay Federal Credit Union’s Hispanic outreach program, Reducing Linguistics Barriers. The credit union has successfully translated our membership applications, loan documents, website and marketing material into Spanish. These translations were critical for the credit union to further serve and reach the growing Hispanic population, many of whom are underserved and unbanked in our market.
Marquez: My project was known as the People Project: ISO (Innovative Street Outreach) to help credit unions get back to their roots of organized grassroots community outreach. After the contest and making the Top 15, I continued working with local credit unions, leagues and chapters to organize community music events focusing on financial literacy, advocacy and philanthropy. The people project is currently dormant since the start of the pandemic, with hopes to come back around in the future.
Macias: My project was to provide a financing option for clients of low-cost immigration services providers while introducing them to credit unions. We created a grant-funded revolving loan program called The New Iowans Initiative, which became The Newcomers Initiative, and it is still going strong since its inception in 2014. We are helping immigrants, refugees and their families pay for costly immigration cases while connecting them to a trusted mainstream financial services partner in Ascentra. Since my presentation, I’ve partnered with two more community organizations to expand the program. My hope is that more credit unions do their own version of this program so that we can help this underserved segment of our population.
Q: What are you up to now?
Marquez: I have developed a drag persona known as Madam Nymphadora, who is a credit union development educator, drag entertainer and speaker. Madam specializes in advocacy, disruption, inclusion, culture and socioeconomic issues impacting marginalized communities. I live in San Diego with my two rescue dogs, Honey and Queenie, and am a software implementations analyst with Corelation Inc.
Castañeda-Ball: I have my hands full as a busy mom of two, but now I am getting settled into my new role as director of branch operations. As a proud military spouse, I have had the unique experience of having worked in various locations, including Texas (for Randolph Brooks Federal Credit Union in Live Oak), Germany (for Service Credit Union, which is headquartered in Portsmouth, New Hampshire) and now Virginia. I have truly found a career home in the credit union industry, which enabled me to utilize my experience and find a new job each time we were relocated due to my spouse’s military service.
Q: What’s something you learned from the program?
Huls: I was familiar with the Canadian credit union system, but wow—the system in the U.S. is so different, let alone credit unions across the world. I had the opportunity to meet and work alongside young leaders from the U.S. and even Australia. I came away reinvigorated by amazing people who all had a lot of energy and passion for helping people in a variety of ways. My learning was that perhaps our strength as credit unions comes more from our diversity of thought and action in serving members, regardless of size or scope of the organization.
Marquez: I learned the importance of structure and strategy involving project development, implementation and delivery. There’s much more involved than just having a great idea and having support from a professional network. It takes patience, tenacity and resilience.
Q: What’s something you learned from the mentors/coaches/cohort or continuing education from CUES after the program?
Huls: I was terrified of public speaking and putting myself out there! NTCUE certainly makes a person stare that fear in the face. Participation and moving forward helped me practice skills and techniques in storytelling, experiment with my ability to stay calm and focused, and to participate, engage and collaborate with a team of people to help gain momentum. As I kept moving forward, ultimately I had to stand alone on the stage and share my story. … My biggest “aha” moment came from Tim McAlpine (of Currency Marketing) with one small sentence: “Remember—people are wishing the best for you and just want to hear what you have to say.”
Q: How did participating in the program impact your professional network?
Castañeda-Ball: I connected with so many amazing credit union professionals during and after the program. As a CUES Emerge participant, I was able to not only grow my LinkedIn network but strengthen my resource network. When I transitioned roles within my organization, I was able to reach out to a few colleagues in similar roles to bend their ear on processes and other challenges they were facing. This enabled me to gather perspective that some of the challenges my organization was facing were not unique and to get feedback and ideas on how to approach them.
Macias: My experience literally put me in an international stage. I was able to meet and mingle with people from Canada and the Bahamas, then present a project I was working on in front of hundreds of industry decision-makers. Just last year, three of us from our Top 5 had a Zoom call to catch up. It’s great seeing how our careers took off!
Q: What’s one thing you want other aspiring credit union leaders to know about this program?
Walker: Seize every opportunity available! The credit union industry needs young, up-and-coming leaders to step up and share their ideas. Both credit unions and these future leaders can only benefit.
Huls: Apply. The opportunity to learn and grow alongside a group of great people is valuable and a lot of fun. The exposure and networking opportunity has the potential to change you as a person.
Castañeda-Ball: Not only are the material and lessons provided excellent, but the collaboration phase is invaluable as you get ideas or suggestions from different points of view. Everyone who is selected comes from various backgrounds with differing opinions, but the great experience is that everyone genuinely wants you to succeed.
Marquez: This is a great program to connect with other credit union professionals with big dreams to be an executive of a credit union. There’s great value in learning from seasoned executives to leverage our talents and foster our skills. It’s hugely important to remember that contests do not define one’s value or worth but rather help us grow and evolve into quality leaders.
Q: Who should participate in the program?
Macias: Anyone who is looking at taking their career to the next level should take part in this. If you have a creative idea or project that you feel deserves the eyes and ears of our industry, this is the competition for you.
Castañeda-Ball: Any credit union professional looking to expand their knowledge, and those who enjoy networking or projects. … In my previous position as the learning and development manager, it was my mission to share professional development opportunities to my peers and colleagues in our credit union to help build capabilities and skills. In early 2022, I recommended [CUES member] Jeannie Burkett (formerly a learning and development specialist at Justice FCU and my direct report, now working at Interra CU) to apply for CUES Emerge because I knew how much I gained from my experience. I learned so much about my professional presence and strengthened my project management acumen, which I knew would be valuable to Jeannie as she develops and grows in her career. CUES Emerge is such a great experience and I hope to guide and recommend another colleague to apply for the 2023 CUES Emerge program.
Marquez: Anyone who is passionate about disruption and innovation. This a great program for folks to bring fascinating dreams to life.
Walker: It’s a unique and proven program that combines online learning, peer collaboration and competition to foster our industry’s future leaders. Anyone who has the drive to do more and be more should apply. You will walk away a better individual and leader. cues icon
Based in Missouri, Diane Franklin is a longtime contributor to Credit Union Management magazine.