Amber Anderson, learning and development specialist in Organizational Learning and Development, is among the Birmingham Business Journal’s Top 40 Under 40 recipients for 2021.
Each year, the BBJ recognizes talented professionals age 40 and younger who contribute to economic development, community advancement and the success of the institution for which they work.
All three categories apply in Anderson’s case. A former biology teacher in Jefferson County, Anderson has worked in a range of capacities at UAB over her 13 years at the university. She started as a program manager in the Division of Preventive Medicine, where she worked on decreasing breast and cervical cancer rates among women in low-income areas and created a curriculum focused on nutrition and physical activity for kids from kindergarten to eighth grade. In 2012, she had the chance to present the program to Michelle Obama during the First Lady’s visit to Birmingham. Those experiences “changed my life,” Anderson said.
Anderson and Eric Jack, Ph.D., dean of the Collat School of Business, along with faculty members in the Department of Management and Information Systems, led a student internship program for high school students in Birmingham and Wilcox County that combined business and medicine. Anderson then transitioned to the business school’s career center, where she was assistant director of Student Engagement. With the help of the Collat Career Center team, “I developed career programs and provided resources to help students be successful in building their futures,” Anderson said.
Anderson’s current position in Organizational Learning and Development “allows me to expand what I was doing with staff and faculty across the entire campus,” she said. She is a facilitator for the Leadership Edge program, which prepares recently promoted managers and those recently arrived at UAB for success in their new roles. Anderson also facilitates Career Wise, which helps individuals learn how to grow their careers at UAB. She and her colleagues are finalizing new educational offerings for 2022, with an emphasis on preparing employees for the “next normal,” she said. “What does networking look like post-COVID, for instance? How can managers retain great talent in the middle of the Great Resignation? We are focusing on coaching individuals on how they can be more intentional in their communication.”
“Intentional” certainly describes Anderson. “Effective communication is the foundation for improving employee productivity, leading change and strategic outcomes for growth,” she said. In addition to her work at UAB, Anderson is actively involved with a number of community organizations. She is a member of the Junior League of Birmingham, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority and the Women’s Network and is an alumna of Upward Momentum, which helps women develop leadership skills early in their careers. She also is a past member of the research board of UAB’s Minority Health and Health Disparities Research Center, among several board positions.
Whether she is talking with students ready to launch a career or staff seeking that next step, Anderson says, she shares similar advice.
1. UAB offers many opportunities — take advantage
“I have been able to see multiple areas of campus during my time here at UAB, and each gave me an opportunity to expand my skills and my horizons,” Anderson said. “I hear from my friends at other organizations, ‘I had to leave the company because there were no other opportunities for me.’ That is not the case at UAB — we have the educational opportunities and the breadth to grow and develop within the institution.” A great way to start is by checking out the tools, live classes and online learning available through Organizational Learning and Development.
2. Connect with peers
“One of the key takeaways from Upward Momentum was how to continue your professional development by connecting with peers,” Anderson said. “We had a small group of six of us, and we still try to meet every few months for lunch or dinner to talk about where we are but also to share what we are learning, from books we are reading to new skills.”
3. Find organizations that fulfill your passions
“When I talk with college students, I recommend joining a professional organization whose values and mission complement their career goals,” Anderson said. She is certified in several diagnostic tools that help individuals become leaders and navigate their careers. “Their passion may be health care or photography or marketing. Whatever that might be, joining a board will give you the opportunity to learn so much and find out where you can serve and grow.”
4. Set goals
“Most boards have a two- or three-year commitment — I try to make sure I have my personal goals worked out over that timeframe, to learn new skillsets, for example,” Anderson said. “If you have never served on a board, I recommend just observing and getting involved during the first year. Then in the second year you can take on a committee role, and in your third year have the goal of leading a committee.”
5. Learn from mentors
Anderson recently joined the Birmingham chapter of The Links Incorporated, an organization of professional women that has been around since the mid-1950s. New members are assigned mentors, and she has been paired with the president of a local marketing company, Elevate Communications. “As a mentee, it’s a privilege to have a mentor with experience to share,” Anderson said. “We meet bimonthly to explore my professional talents, skills, experiences and connections. We also discuss strategies in overcoming challenges and actionable learning topics to lead change in the workplace. I can be comfortable and vulnerable enough to share what I’m experiencing, and to draw on the advice of someone seasoned.”
Recently, Anderson and her mentor “have identified a few books to begin reading in 2022 that will help us demonstrate new ways of thinking and behaving,” she said. “Ways of leading that worked in the past may not help us be successful in the future.”