Ascending the leadership ladder

UND senior named Student Leader of the Year at nonprofit alliance’s national conference in Kansas City

Keller Karlstrom

Keller Karlstrom, a senior studying Human Resources Management and Nonprofit Administration, holds the Student Leader of the Year Award. This national award represents years of work in volunteering and developing nonprofits around the Grand Forks area with his student group. Photo by Connor Murphy/UND Today.

From the day Keller Karlstrom joined the Nonprofit Leadership Student Association at UND, the program’s director could tell he was a natural born leader.

The group’s project that semester was working with Prairie Harvest Mental Health of Grand Forks to renovate its thrift store. When they realized they needed more volunteers, Karlstrom made it happen.

“We needed some people power in order to paint and renovate the store,” said Heather Helgeson, UND’s nonprofit leadership program director since its inception in 2003. “He would come through with a horde of volunteers. (I would ask) Where did you get these people?”

Karlstrom, originally from Moorhead, Minn., also remembers that as a pivotal moment his leadership development on campus.

“We were working on the renovations and I just had a ton of fun with it,” he said.

Kalrstrom’s come a long way since that first step into volunteerism and leadership. Earlier this month, he was recognized as America’s Student Leader of the Year for his efforts to make a difference working with nonprofits at the Nonprofit Leadership Alliance’s national conference in Kansas City.

Student of all trades

Karlstrom painting at Prairie Harvest Mental Health. Image courtesy of Laura Arneson.

Karlstrom painting at Prairie Harvest Mental Health. Image courtesy of Laura Arneson.

Karlstrom recently reflected on the road to his national award and how it started with that first project at Praire Harvest.

He recalled that as a resident of the Delta Upsilon fraternity house, he had a ready-made volunteer army whom he could call on for help.

“I wanted to get all my friends involved with it,” he said. “They were really the reason we got it done on time, because so many people were eager to come help out.”

That year he won UND nonprofit leadership’s “Pied Piper Award” for securing so many volunteers.

Karlstrom studies human resources management and nonprofit administration, a major offered by the UND College of Business and Public Administration. He’s also pursuing a minor in nonprofit leadership.

Karlstrom currently is executive chair of UND’s Nonprofit Leadership Student Association.

“The first thing we do every semester is form a committee to review applications that we’ll get from nonprofits in the area,” said Karlstrom about the group’s Adoptive Nonprofit Project, one of their primary yearly initiatives to assist local nonprofit organizations.

Heather Helgeon

Heather Helgeson

From there, he said, more committees are formed to oversee functions such as development, community service and communications.

Students file under one of the committees — whatever they feel will give them the greatest experience for their major — and they get to work.

Karlstrom got started as chair of the community service committee, and as he steadily gained more leadership experience, he became executive chair.

Helgeson describes Karlstrom as a true student leader in action.

After serving as president of his fraternity, he fittingly became the organization’s chair of involvement. He’s currently the recruitment chair for UND’s Student Young Professionals and also sits on the board of directors for Valley Health – a Grand Forks nonprofit dedicated to providing reproductive health services, regardless of income or age.

“He’s just so motivated to share his passion of giving back to the community, making a difference and getting everyone behind that,” Helgeson said.

Everyday leader

Karlstrom said that, even more than winning the national award, just being nominated for it by Helgeson was a bigger deal for him.

“Just knowing that she felt that I was contributing that much was amazing,” he said. “My whole college career has been trying to model myself after what I’ve seen her do — how she’s always contributing to the sector and going above and beyond her duties as program director for her students.”

But, according to Helgeson, putting him up for the award was a no-brainer.

“He doesn’t just talk the talk, and that’s such an important aspect of a leader,” she said. “People look up to him and he definitely follows through.”

Recognitions aside, Karlstrom says, he just want people to have fun volunteering, and learn more about the issues they’re trying to alleviate.

“There’s people up and down the street trying to help out, help each other and help their community,” Karlstrom said. “There’s no shortage of heroes in Grand Forks, Fargo or anywhere.”