Lee Gurke and Virginia Nygard Wood addressed a group of 40 YPN members on July 9th. Mr. Gurke and Ms. Wood are both Bismarck natives who have gone on to have incredible careers in government and private industry.
Upon graduation from Bismarck State College, Mr. Gurke entered the Navy. The military paid his way to finish an engineering degree in exchange for active service. He immediately entered the service and quickly rose through the ranks ultimately becoming a captain and overseeing 50,000 sailors. Mr. Gurke’s wife was also in the military and keeping the family together was difficult but vital. He realized once his youngest daughter was entering high school that it would be an opportune time to retire and seek private employment. He took a more unconventional method to his job search, reading the Washington Post and looking for employment opportunities. When he spotted something that intrigued him, he would craft a resume unique to that position. He did this for a few months prior to his retirement without success. However, one week before retiring from the Navy he encountered a couple executives from two companies and handed them both resumes, which resulted in a job offer to become the President of CAE of Canada (U.S. subsidiary company CAE Electronics Inc.). Later in his private industry career he was recruited by Boeing in Washington D.C. Mr. Gurke discussed the transition from being mission-focused in the military to profit focused in the private industry. He credited his strong North Dakota upbringing to help him navigate the change and make decisions, citing the importance of understanding that each decision made has consequences but the foundation you have been given will help you determine the best outcome. He advised YPN members, “Don’t find reasons not to do something”, instead search for ways to get past a stumbling block.
Ms. Wood graduated from Bismarck High School and went to UND to pursue the career everyone said she ‘was supposed to have’ – becoming a doctor. However, shortly into her studies at UND she decided to partake in the foreign exchange program which sent her to Poland to become an exchange student for 3 months. During her stay in Poland in the late ‘60’s she observed the US Embassy being completely gutted. Although a strange reason, this inspired Ms. Wood to pursue a career in the foreign service. She switched her major, and after teaching French in Michigan for a year, she was offered a position as a US Consulate officer in Trinidad. After moving to Trinidad, Ms. Wood fell in love with the culture and the people ultimately marrying a Trinidadian and putting down permanent roots in the Country. After leaving the US Foreign Affairs service, she struggled with her next step. Several individuals approached her for assistance navigating the immigration process, and at the suggestion of her husband she started a small consulting business. Her business grew to 12 full-time employees and their current focus is placing students in schools to pursue their masters’ degrees. Ms. Wood told the attendees she is encouraged by the steps toward ‘globalization’ that her hometown has already taken such as U-Mary’s steel drum band embracing another form of cultural music. She indicated her next pursuit and passion in life would be to encourage more of this cultural diversity in her home country of the United States. She also encouraged YPN members to practice some things she has learned from the culture in Trinidad such as the importance of true relaxation and making sure we take the time to ‘unplug’.
Both presenters had fascinating stories and fantastic advice for all in attendance. The YPN would like to thank Bismarck State College for hosting the event as well as providing lunch for all the attendees!