I met Dennett when she reached out to me on LinkedIn, asking me to join her new group, Corona Daze Professional Development Group (CDPD). Her message said, “You help people discover what makes them special. In our group we strive to help people see what they already have in their hearts, minds, hands, and souls to achieve greatness. CDPD provides free virtual professional development opportunities to people affected by this global crisis.”
What I didn’t know until our conversation was that Dennett dropped out of high school and completed her GED by the age of 16. A New Yorker at heart, she lacked access to many opportunities as a child, and her parents divorced when she was young. Thanks to a few people who believed in her potential, she now has nearly three master’s degrees. (I say nearly three because she is close to completion on one of them.)
After a full career spanning 20 years in finance, budget management, human resources, contract management, and strategic operational and organizational planning in education, global development, and community development, Dennett recently moved to Washington DC after working in Nairobi, Kenya for three years.
As Dennett said, “We don’t know poverty in the U.S. compared to the poverty in a developing nation, and education is not free. Parents pay for books and every single thing in elementary school,” she said.
Her heart still belongs in Kenya, and she supports a school and orphanage, the Cheery Children Education Centre in Kibera, one of the largest slums in the world, whenever she can. Read more about how COVID-19 has affected Kibera.
Dennett is driven by her passion to help people...affecting other people’s lives for the better. Just a few months after starting, CDPD has over 600 members. She facilitates weekly training and networking to help people increase their professional and job-hunting skills. Recently she’s been inspired by reading Tools for Career Success, written by Latonya Bynum, a member of CDPD.
“In a perfect world, you wouldn’t need CDPD. We support marginalized groups all over the world...people who don’t have the connections and don’t know what to do,” Dennett said. “I was fortunate enough to have people help me...They saw something in me...I don’t even care why they helped me...At CDPD, we are creating a place where marginalized groups can network.”
Dennett tells the story of an award-winning young engineer, Monica Morales, PE, ENV SP, whose parents are Mexican and deal cards in a casino in Reno, Nevada. Most of the people she knew were like her parents, and they encouraged her to do well in school so she could have a better life. When Monica was in high school, her mom asked a man at her blackjack table what he did for a living. He said he was an engineer, so she asked him what it takes to be an engineer. He told her you have to be good at math and science.
Initially Monica didn’t think she’d be interested, because robotics did not appeal to her. But when she found out that civil engineers design roads, bridges, and buildings, that sounded more interesting. She earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Oregon State University (as the first person in her family to graduate from college) and went on to work for CH2M HILL, which was acquired by Jacobs Engineering. (This coincidence did not surprise me; I worked for CH2M HILL for 28 years, and Monica and I overlapped there for a year!)
Dennett asked, “What would have happened to her if her mother had not asked that civil engineer what he did, or if he had gone to her dad’s card table instead?...That’s why CDPD exists. Who knows where she would be if her mom did not connect with that engineer?”
“I want to be part of the solution. Over the past few months, we’ve seen some of the worst of the world, and we’ve seen some of the best of the world. I just want to be part of that best. I want everyone to have an opportunity to realize their own greatness.”
I’m deeply inspired by Dennett’s drive to help other people and pay forward the advice she received in her career.
Listen to my interview with Dennett here or on your favorite podcast platform.
Next week I interview Dr. Daivati Bharadvaj, a naturopath and a first-generation immigrant from India. Daivati shares about her experience growing up brown in New Jersey, her work as a naturopath, and her experience of being pregnant with her first child during COVID-19.