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NuVista Credit Union Vice President of Marketing Chelsea Rosty came to THINK for the first time last year. It had such an impact on her – and she had such an impact on THINK – that she was invited to become a Credit Union Innovation Fellow earlier this year. After four months learning the basics of human-centered design and peer mentoring her cohort of fellows, Rosty shared her experiences as part of a THINK 16 innovation panel and returned to her credit union to find a great showing of support and enthusiasm. Now what will she do?

THINK: This photo says so much about what it’s like to return from an inspiring conference – if you’re lucky. Can you tell us when this photo was taken and what we’re looking at?

CHELSEA: When I went to THINK 16, I had the great honor of being on a panel to talk about some of the innovative things we did as part of the Credit Union Innovation Project fellowship with CO-OP, MasterCard and OpenIDEO. That panel was a live broadcast, so the people here at NuVista were able to watch the whole thing.

They were really supportive of me, and I think they were also excited to hear their ideas being verbalized on stage to other credit union professionals. So when I came back to work, there was this big banner on my office that said, “We’re so proud of you,” and they had taped up pictures and Post-Its with different terms describing our goals for the credit union like “compassionate empowerment.” It was very heartfelt and encouraging.

THINK: You were one of our seven Credit Union Innovation Fellows. After your stellar participation at THINK 15, we were so excited to extend that invitation to you. What was your reaction when you got the ask?

CHELSEA: It was like a “Hell yes!” the moment I read it. First of all, I know that formally CO-OP and the credit union have a business relationship, and that CO-OP is a vendor of ours. But I don’t really see it that way. I see CO-OP THINK and everything they do as a partnership for learning and career advancement. When I read about the fellowship, I thought, “I don’t even completely understand it, but I want to be a part of it.” I was in my boss’ office that day campaigning for it.

 THINK: Was it a tough sell?

CHELSEA: We’re very fortunate in that we have a CEO who believes in developing people. If you’re a part of our family, then we’re going to help you. He was really proud to tell the board that I’d been selected, and he called a special staff meeting to tell everyone what I was going to be doing. There was never a moment when we said, “Eh, should we do this?”

THINK: You were definitely among the gifted and talented at THINK 15. What was your experience like going to THINK for the first time?

CHELSEA: THINK 15 happened not very long after I started at NuVista. I’m a person who comes from a marketing background and not a credit union background, so I really came into the credit union like gangbusters, ready to change the world. And everybody was like, “Whoa. What’s with all these crazy ideas?”

When I got to THINK 15 and I met all these people who were interested in innovation and creating change, I realized there are more of me out there. For me, THINK 15 sparked the marriage between idea formulation and the possibility that we can have [creativity] at credit unions. When Laurel Myers from The Honest Company asked, “Why does it have to be boring? Why can’t there be little moments of surprise and delight?” I kept that and moved forward with it.

THINK: You also consulted with THINK presenters after the conference, right?

CHELSEA: THINK 15 had a planning canvas you could fill out and use to guide your planning for the next year. I think the idea was to keep people motivated, and not just let THINK be another conference where you go home and throw your notebook aside and go about your daily life. I took the planning canvas really seriously. I thought, “If these people are going to offer free consulting, I’m going to take advantage of it.”

A coworker and I set hours aside to work on that planning canvas. Ivan [Askwith] had reached out just after the conference, so I sent it to him and he gave me a lot of ideas on it. Then I sent it in through marketing at CO-OP and Jeanette [Thebeau] also gave me a lot of feedback. I’m the kind of person who — if you are going to offer me the opportunity to better what I’m doing, I’m going to do the work to make sure I learn something.”

THINK: Which brings us back to the Credit Union Innovation Project. Did the experience of being a fellow have an impact on you?

CHELSEA: It has completely changed the person that I am. Between the launch at GAC in February and now, the way I look at things is completely different. I’ve learned about different ways to approach problems. I’ve been given tools to better myself professionally – from things as simple as book suggestions to coaching from the people at OpenIDEO. Getting to work with other credit union fellows, we’ve been able to come together so we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. I can say, “Chad is doing this already. How can I make that work for NuVista?”

THINK: You’ve also become a practitioner of human-centered design. Was that a natural fit for your credit union?

CHELSEA: This is definitely something we need to be doing. But it is not easy to bring everybody on board. We’re in a rural community, and for me to bring human-centered design here – people were like, “What the heck is she even doing?” But the fellowship has given me the courage and the knowledge base to say, “No, this works, and we’re going to keep trying it until we get it right.”

THINK: Have you been inspired in unexpected ways?

CHELSEA: We’re in the midst of a CEO change—our CEO is retiring in July. We’re going through a big nationwide CEO search. When I got back from THINK, I decided to apply for CEO. If it were not for THINK, I never would have had the courage to step up and do something like that.

I don’t know if I even have a chance. I don’t have a financial background. But what I do have is spark. And the whole reason for trying to do this is to make the lives of our members and the people who work here better. For whatever reason, I was moved to do this. Whether it turns out or not, I hope other people can be inspired by it.

THINK: What would you like other people take away from your story?

CHELSEA: Don’t be constrained by what you think the limits are. I’ve been so humbled by the opportunity to learn and grow. It’s made me more confident in my position and my job. Even the little things I’ve accomplished have been important. We don’t have to move mountains to make great change.

Follow Chelsea’s story and stay up to date on CO-OP THINK’s innovation initiatives: Click here.