The best teachers are the ones who empower us to be better than we ever thought we could be.
Janet Niewold is one of the best, most inspiring mentors, teachers and friends. Inspired by the popular social media hashtag (#wcw), Janet also happens to be our Woman Crush Wednesday --and everyday for that matter-- because Wisconsin Without Borders Marketplace would not exist without her.
In many ways, Janet’s story, especially her impact, is the origin for the Marketplace. Our organization has humble roots of passionate people connecting. Janet has provided the solid foundation for continued growth. Global Health Institute Director Lori Diprete Brown met the women of Sumak Muyo in La Calera, Ecuador in 2010 and shortly after called Janet Niewold, who had passion and experience with artisanal work and South America.
The two women recognized the potential of a partnership in Ecuador, not only for the women of Sumak Muyo, but also for university students. The project morphed into a field study course through the University of Wisconsin-Madison Global Health Certificate program. Janet was one of the UW staff leading the trips, and inspired the founders of the Marketplace.
Reading the letters of the students who have returned from the trips led by Janet, I am reminded of the lessons she shared while in Ecuador. Janet has taught her students to be flexible, believe in themselves, embody confidence, connect with others and always continue learning. She showed so many students on those trips, as well as numerous students in our organization, that every experience is what you make of it.
Time and time again the students wrote about how the best learning happens when you keep your eyes and ears open. Almost all of them underscored how important it is to step outside of your comfort zone. I cannot help but attribute this to Janet’s leadership and guidance. So many people have developed into today’s leaders thanks to her.
She leads by example
In a lot of ways, Janet is superwoman. She’s active and present, constantly biking, running, or in yoga class. She cooks amazing meals and appreciates the little things in life. She is a mother of two adult children and a loving wife.
When I first became a Student Director for the Marketplace, Janet had said that she was trying to center her life around balance. She manages to be exactly the person you want to be. She makes time for her friends and family and works to maintain authentic connections and relationships with the people in her life. In our organization, our work is never done. We are a part of a dynamic, constantly evolving project. That means the work day never seems to end. To achieve this balance, Janet would always set personal deadlines for herself and keep us smiling with her jokes and stories. She embraces well-being.
She kept us learning through conversations. She taught us to be bold and confident in our willingness to learn. As a reliable Spanish conversation partner and mentor, Janet has taught me to embrace mistakes and keep my eyes open to all experiences.
Janet is Candid
It’s no secret that college students want to have all the answers. Janet always managed to be patient, calm and supportive. She is the person who opens doors to us by supporting the opportunities that we never even knew existed.
She is honest and open about her life, both with love and work. Her gentle life lessons guided us to develop into the adults that we are becoming. Nothing is perfect, but it all manages to work out in the end. Janet has shown us how amazing life is by embracing opportunities and confronting challenges. She reminds us to be good people, good students and good professionals.
From spending months backpacking Latin America to raising two wonderful children to never stopping learning, connecting, teaching or inspiring, Janet is someone who I aspire to be. Without a doubt, many of the people who she’s touched share a similar sentiment.
Now, about five years after her first visit to La Calera, Ecuador, it’s time for our organization to say goodbye to Janet as she transitions out of her formal advisory role. She has empowered us to lead our group into greatness with balance and ethics considered every step of the way.
Throughout the rest of the semester, we will be honoring the women who inspire us. Janet is the first who comes to mind and deserves extra special recognition. This semester and into the future, we will continue to use the lessons Janet taught us.
Thank you for helping us be better than we ever thought possible.