Stella Whitney-West is the newly appointed interim CEO of NorthPoint Health & Wellness Center. Whitney-West is a Minnesota native who is the product of the St. Paul public schools. She finds it ironic that though she was encouraged to go to medical school by her college physiology professor, she never envisioned herself as a doctor. Now she works in a capacity where she supervises physicians.
She developed an attraction to math and science in high school, which continued throughout college, where she gravitated to math, biology and chemistry courses. “I got a certain amount of thrill and excitement about completing a math problem, or really understanding how the body works or understanding a chemical reaction.”
She obtained a Bachelor of Science in biology from the University of Minnesota, and accepted a position as a research scientist for the Pillsbury Company. But before long she began to feel that it wasn’t what she wanted to do.
“I preferred a career that dealt more with people and when you’re working in a research lab…your focus is on production and it’s less on people,” Whitney-West explained. “Even the interaction between employees is minimal.” The position required quite a bit of traveling, and once she became a mother the job became even less desirable.
Whitney-West continued her education and received a master’s degree in business administration from the University of St. Thomas as a part of a Bush Fellowship. Her first job after leaving Pillsbury Company was with the Minneapolis Urban League as director of their health education department.
“That’s where I really found my passion,” she said, “working in the community — working for a community-based organization — being involved not only with residents and making changes in their lives, but also being able to work…in a capacity of helping staff to fully develop at their potential.”
From there Whitney-West began to move up in the ranks, and once she began to interact with CEOs and boards of directors she realized that she had a skill for working within a governing body with the senior-level staff. She defines the primary role of a leader as one who “frames the vision” and then determines the role that each individual plays in that vision, which creates a sense of purpose for all involved.
“I can’t translate what my passion and what my purpose is to somebody else…If you can make sure that people get meaning out of their work and that they are passionate about what they do, then they will be superior performers,” she asserts. “I’ve always had departments or projects or programs that really preformed at a superior/outstanding level.”
NorthPoint has a 40-year history of providing services to the community, and in her current role as interim CEO Whitney-West says that her first priority is to honor the organization’s commitment of creating and retaining strong ties with the community. “We are eagerly reaching out and partnering with other organizations so that we can leverage all the resources that are here in North Minneapolis, so that we can work together on finding solutions to some of the problems that have been plaguing the community for years.”
Recently NorthPoint participated in a community listening project that revealed the pride that many of the North Minneapolis residents have for their community. “I think that is a fantastic aspect,” Whitney-West says. “Because as long as there’s pride and hope among the people, then there’s an ability to…use that [pride] to make sure that the residence are able to solve their own problems and be able to take control of their own destiny.”
Almost three years ago, Whitney-West was asked by Gary Cunningham to become the chief operation officer for the human services division of what was then Pilot City Regional Health Center. At the time the center was in the process of becoming NorthPoint, and several employees had been cut from the staff. The main objective was to keep the organization afloat, and Whitney-West was brought on board to revitalize both the organization and the staff while merging health and human services, creating a “one-stop-shop” approach to services. She feels that the outcome is a human services division that is currently thriving.
She sees herself and other women in leadership roles as broadening the possibilities for others. “I think it’s extremely important that women in leadership reach out to other women, and that we reach out to young girls…particularly in the African American community.”
Whitney-West says that there is a tendency in the African American community to focus on men in leadership roles. “I think African American — Black women — we have been the backbone for this community for years, and I think it’s important that we are visible and that we do take leadership roles,” she insists. “It really helps to pave the way for other young women and young girls so that they don’t see that the only future that they can have is what they see on TV.”
Vickie Evans-Nash welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.