Women Leaders in the Valley Spotlight: Q&A with Sam Pearson, Executive Director of Lewisburg Neighborhoods

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Women Leaders in the Valley Spotlight
Sam Pearson, Executive Director of Lewisburg Neighborhoods


• Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I’m not "from around here," but when I was 10 I started going to Woodward in the summer for camp.  I thought it was the most beautiful place I had ever been.  It was certainly different from my experience growing up in South Florida.  I have since lived in a couple other countries and other parts of the East Coast, both in cities and smaller locales.  Now I love exploring the central PA landscape with my family.  


My background is in architecture and planning.  On the one hand, I am working on those topics now, but my current work is much more broad-based than just design.  Back in graduate school I had a fascination with all the ways in which a given project site is already full, even though it is very often depicted by an almost blank page.  These days in addition and often to the exclusion of actual design projects, I deal with the fullness of the site, the community, culture, history, environment, and social context.  In the same way that I had a hard time focusing just on an individual structure and instead would be looking outside the building footprint at the site, the geology, and the urban structure, I now find myself working on projects that have dimensions far beyond their more prosaic descriptions.


• What is a typical day like for you?

No two days are alike, even during the past year of the pandemic.  I have a mix of virtual and in-person meetings, logistics to juggle, and computer time that could include writing, graphics, social media, mapping, or analysis.  I also have lots of things to learn about, whether it’s new research to review, policies to find out about, or plants to identify.  I’m the sole part-time employee at Lewisburg Neighborhoods, and while that means I don’t have any direct coworkers, it also means I have a lot of interactions with board members, volunteers, and interns.  Plus I collaborate with many other organizations.  


And that’s just for work.  Because I work part time, I also expend a good deal of time and energy on a variety of volunteer efforts.  I know how important it is to have volunteers willing to take care of so many different things, I’m glad to have the opportunity to use my skills to help out.


• How do you motivate yourself and stay motivated?

I am simultaneously internally driven and also lacking in motivation.  There are some tasks I don’t get that excited about doing and I can procrastinate pretty impressively on those things.  But most of the time the real challenge is choosing how to expend my energy.  There is way more that could be done than I could possibly do and in a way recognizing that is freeing.  I see my contributions as just a piece of a much larger edifice.  Knowing there is so much more to accomplish actually keeps me going.


• Who inspires you and why?

Most people would list some writers or thinkers or other well-known people, but I tend to be more inspired by the people who just get things done every day.  That includes people who are dealing with so many challenges that just getting through the day is an accomplishment.  It’s not about people who are going to have monuments made to them or cultural sites named after them, but much more about the people wrestling with everyday issues and confronting the difficulties of living in the world.  There is a real dignity to everyday people that I think a lot of people miss.  I'm also a big fan of living in reality and in the community instead of vicariously through distant media figures, whether real or imaginary.


• As a woman leader, what has been the most significant barrier in your career?

The persistent belief that saying "that’s the way it is/always has been" is in any way convincing as an argument in favor of whatever “that” is.  Sometimes the way things are makes sense; sometimes it doesn’t.  It would really be great if we could get more comfortable with the idea of trying new things out.  New does not always mean better, but often new things that are or would be better never even get a hearing.  Of course, this also applies to new ideas or roles or expectations related to being a woman.  Having women at the table -- or anyone who would not have been there in the past (the way things always were) -- gives everyone in the community access to new insights, creative solutions, and better options for the future.


• What advice would you give to the next generation of women leaders?

It can sometimes be easier to take a stand for other people rather than yourself.  That is a good idea, but make sure you don't only go to bat for others.  Go ahead and take a stand for what you know is right. If you can incorporate it into your suite of skills, it will serve you well into the future.  That said, also recognize that to be effective in this you can’t just state your truth and have that be the end of things.  Taking a stand also means making a commitment to constructive conversation.  You have to be ready to work on both listening to and communicating with those you are confronting.

This Women Leaders in the Valley Spotlight is brought to you by the Women's Leadership Committee of the Greater Susquehanna Valley.  If you, or someone you know, might be interested in serving on the committee please contact GSVCC Director of Communications, Vanessa Venios, at vvenios@gsvcc.org.  The Women’s Leadership Committee of the Greater Susquehanna Valley meets virtually on the fourth Tuesday of the month at 9:00 am. Please join so we can grow together and help our valley be more prosperous for us all. 

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