We had the good fortune of connecting with Josie Neumann and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Josie, what habits do you feel helped you succeed?
Following your curiosity and asking questions is an essential practice to living in this ever-changing world. In my professional life, asking questions is a way to show respect, demonstrate understanding, engage shy participants, work through a difficult conversation, or even object to something without outright dismissing someone else’s idea. Curiosity is a neutral headspace; when we don’t have a set outcome and can just observe, we open the possibilities for discovery. Working in the humanities in Higher Education, a common viewpoint I’ve encountered is people wanting to be experts, demanding to know everything (which isn’t possible), and if they don’t know it, they’re not interested. I’ve made asking questions part of my routine for approaching every situation, which helps check my ego and focus my attention. In my personal life, even at times when I might not feel social, asking questions has gifted me some of the most interesting encounters: a BBQ pro who collected vintage flour containers, a congenital quadriplegic amputee who coached basketball, and a retired special educator who teaches water aerobics and (allegedly) embezzled money from an elderly relative. All these conversations lead me to new curiosity rabbit holes and the cycle continues.

Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
My work background is all over the place: I’ve worked at places with 2 employees to 37,000: restaurants, a salon, retail, corporate Fortune 500 or non-profit companies, and now a public higher education institution. Each job has added to my toolbox and allowed me to build a wide range of cross-disciplinary skills so I can bring something new and useful each place I land. Customer service skills are necessary for everyone though, so I frequently say that my best and most influential job was at Funcrest, an ice cream and burger joint where I grew up. Proofing wedding invitations instilled attention to a level of detail that served me well when I began writing proposals for multi-million dollar contracts that could get thrown out for using the wrong font! Reading those RFPs and understanding how data privacy, procurement agencies, clinical assessments, and school systems work gave me a huge leg up to understanding the big picture. It was not always easy: part of working in a big machine means that you encounter difficult people (often my favorite ones) and teaches that having the “right” answer is not always indicative that things will go your way. It’s a volatile industry and I’ve gotten laid off which was a huge blow. I was lucky to have a great network looking out for me, finding me freelance gigs, which led to the next official thing each time. My passion for measurement and the work I did in that field made me an ideal candidate to start in leadership at the International Writing Program, a department in The University of Iowa. We bring people together for cultural exchange in service to global peace using creativity as the driving force. Some might be surprised that a state with more pigs than people also contains the first US (third worldwide) UNESCO City of Literature. It’s part of the identity I grew up with in this town, that writing is powerful force, words matter. Now I get to put that into practice, uplifting the voices of artists and activists speaking truth to power across the world. This devotion to the preservation and evolution of craft is a privilege.

If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
When you get in, we’ll go get you some coffee: do you prefer Kickapoo, Intelligensia, La Colombe, or something from our local roasters? Depending on your answer, we’ll either stop by High Ground Cafe, Deluxe Bakery, or Cortado. OR–we can kill two birds with one stone and visit the cafe at Prairie Lights to get an espresso and tonic and then pick up some reading material, making note of any visiting authors we might want to hear give a reading.

Along the literary sightseeing tour, we’ll have to stop at George’s Buffet for a steam-cooked cheeseburger and to mingle with all the writing scenemakers, then walk down to the Foxhead (yes, the one referenced in Girls, no it doesn’t look like what they showed on screen)–make sure to bring your quarters for the jukebox.

I hope we can go see a show at Hancher while you’re here. It’s a beautiful auditorium that brings world-class shows like a ballet commissioned to accompany works of Prince–talk about no brainer! If it’s politics season, we’ll definitely have to cruise by Hamburg Inn and vote in the coffee bean poll. It’s great for people-watching and breakfast too.

Weather-permitting, we’ll definitely seek out some outdoor activities: Terry Trueblood Park is close to town and we can rent paddle-boats, canoes, or do stand-up paddle boarding. The Coralville Marina rents pontoon boats if we want to pack a picnic and travel up the Reservoir!

Some sultry evening we have to take the beautiful drive down Highway 1 to Kalona, and eat at Tuscan Moon. The food is fantastic and they have the best patio I’ve ever been on in the US.

The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
Holly Garner mentored me through the process of my career-job application and subsequent adjustment to a corporate work environment. My dad was her professor and admired her innovative brain (yes, we can use the I-word: she has patents in her name!) along with her practicality and humor. To me, it seems like her brain never shuts off and is already past the hills on my horizon, blazing a trail for the rest of us. She taught me how to use questions to diffuse a tense personal situation, how to display confident body language to ward off workplace mansplainers, and how learning all the rules can set you up for success (read: to do what you want) later. Through her practice of future-gazing and her background in counseling, she has worked to prioritize inclusivity and discourage tearing down other women in the name of professional competition.

Website: iwp.uiowa.edu

Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/josie-neumann-9406b51a/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/BrandNeuJosie

Nominate Someone: ShoutoutLA is built on recommendations and shoutouts from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you or someone you know deserves recognition please let us know here.