The Beauty of Blossoming Opportunities: Karen Price-Ward '92

The Beauty of Blossoming Opportunities: Karen Price-Ward '92

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Kristin Simonetti
December 17, 2014

Without Karen Price-Ward '92, dozens of recent TWC students would never have made it to Washington and back home again - literally. Thanks to a partnership Price-Ward fostered a few years ago between TWC and her employer, Southwest Airlines, scores of interns with financial need have received complimentary roundtrip airfare to the Nation's Capital.

The arrangement balances the personal and professional sides of Price-Ward, who received TWC's inaugural Alumni Engagement Award for her efforts in 2013. She serves as Southwest's corporate community affairs and grassroots regional leader - which means she's in charge of helping connect the airline to nonprofit and governmental organizations throughout the country. She credits her participation in TWC's Minority Leaders Program with helping her discover her career path - which has included becoming Southwest's first female African-American district marketing manager in 2007.


Price-Ward shared lessons she's learned along the way with TWC's fall 2014 interns at Commencement on Dec. 8. She offers some more thoughts in this Q&A with Alumni Engagement Manager Kristin Simonetti.


You're a dedicated TWC alumna in part because your time in D.C. in 1992 significantly impacted your career. How so?


It was a great time to do The Washington Center program and intern with the Democratic National Committee (DNC) because it was a campaign year. Bill Clinton was running, and I was helping the DNC staff move the headquarters from Washington to New York City for the Convention that summer. I learned about politics, logistics, major events - so much of what I did with the DNC exposed me to what I do now with Southwest.


It even helped when I interviewed to move from St. Louis to Baltimore - at the time Southwest's only East Coast city - for a marketing position. They asked me, "What do you know about the East Coast?" I talked about my summer with TWC and the DNC, the people I knew and the relationships I built. That was key to getting that opportunity.

What exactly does a corporate community affairs and grassroots regional leader do?


I work to build mutually beneficial partnerships with about 100 organizations in 11 cities each year. I'm charged with going out into the community and finding out where Southwest can contribute as a good corporate citizen and connect with customers about things they care about. I try to find ways for Southwest to use the resources we have in the best way we can.


Have an example?


Donated airline tickets are among the most meaningful assets we can give an organization. Take the National Campaign to Stop Violence. Students participate in their essay contest on a local level to qualify to compete on a national level. When they become a national finalist, Southwest Airlines flies the students, teachers and program coordinators to Washington. Some of these students have never flown before - others don't have the funds to travel. But the airline tickets we donate to the National Campaign to Stop Violence give these students an experience, and their essays can help the community at large. They're writing about ideas for how to stop violence - not just in their hometowns, but across the country. This kind of partnership lets Southwest use its resources in a very meaningful way.


Southwest seems like a great place to work. Tell us something we don't know about the airline.


We dress comfortably - at least I do when I'm not out meeting with community partners! Even our executives and CEO wear jeans to work.


Yet, I'm sure you wouldn't recommend TWC students and alumni wear jeans to interview with your CEO - or any other executive. What would be your best advice to them?


You really have to understand relaltionships - to value them and build them. I can't stress how much word-of-mouth has opened the door to so many opportunities for me. You never know what someone's story might be, so take time to introduce yourself, learn about that person, follow up - they may become your best friend, or they may benefit your career.


And don't always think it's the other person who can help you. You may be able to help them. It could be something that starts small and evolves, like how my college biology partner introduced me to a job opening in the Southwest Airlines marketing department three years after we graduated. Then, years later, I was able to introduce a friend to a job at Southwest. We have to learn to be unselfish with our contacts and new opportunities. When you help someone, it's not an opportunity stolen - it's an opportunity that blossoms.

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