Rural Electric Leaders In Training Exchange (RELITE) is an exclusive, two-year professional program for employees of Indiana’s electric cooperatives. Since 1994, over 300 individuals have graduated from the program and have transformed into better leaders and communicators in the process.
Participants grow and transform due to RELITE’s distinctive curriculum, as well as by visiting other co-ops, participating in interactive activities and diving deep into learning about their leadership styles.
RELITE is open to all co-op employees, from entry-level to upper management. Each RELITE class consists of 20 participants who come from a diverse range of responsibilities, perspectives and experiences.
Get to know three 2022 RELITE graduates as they share their biggest takeaways from their time in the program and how they have grown personally and professionally.
Bartholomew County REMC
- Grew her confidence and found her leadership voice.
IMPACT AT THE CO-OP
- Now a project manager on her co-op’s AMI committee where she assesses the reliability and operating costs of their AMI system.
- Invited to participate in the Leveraging Education and Development (LEAD) program where she led a presentation about RELITE to a group of about 50 new co-op employees from around Indiana.
“We can, and we will.”
During her time in RELITE, Kristi Wicker developed this personal motto as she learned how all individuals can be leaders, no matter if they are an entry-level employee or a member of senior management.
While public speaking has never been one of Wicker’s strong suits, she said RELITE gave her, “a very quiet and reserved person,” the opportunity to step outside her comfort zone as an accountant and take on a leadership role.
Now, Wicker is the project manager of Bartholomew County REMC’s Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) committee, which is tasked with assessing the co-op’s current AMI system’s reliability to decide whether it needs to be upgraded or replaced. As the project manager, Wicker also helps determine the annual and future operating costs of the AMI system.
Because her communication skills and self-esteem grew during her time in RELITE, Wicker said she gained the confidence to take on this additional responsibility. RELITE also gave Wicker the courage to further her education, and she is now pursuing her bachelor’s degree in accounting at Purdue Global.
After graduating from RELITE, Wicker participated in Leveraging Education and Development (LEAD), where she presented at a new employee orientation in February 2023 about her experience in RELITE and her day-to-day life as a co-op employee. LEAD is designed to give graduates of RELITE and Cooperative Leadership Edge, another professional development program, an opportunity to further grow and display the leadership skills they acquired and help broaden knowledge in others.
“I hope they took away that someone who sits at a desk and deals with numbers all day can develop the confidence to lead a committee and publicly speak in front of a group that you’re not used to doing,” Wicker said.
“Even as a high performer, RELITE was a life-changing program for Kristi. After RELITE, I see Kristi proactively offering up her skill set not only in the accounting area, but also now in leadership and project management. In fact, she is currently leading one of our technology teams. Before the program, I do not think she would be comfortable leading a team outside of an accounting focus. She’s always excelled in her role here; I think the program just showed her that, with training, focus and hard work, you can do anything.”– Courtney Metzger, CEO at Bartholomew County REMC
- Increased her self-awareness of her initial reactions so she can better tailor them to resolve issues and challenges.
- Has become a natural leader who steps up when issues arise.
IMPACT AT THE CO-OP
- Implemented a new system for tracking the amount of wire her co-op’s linemen use in the field to avoid inventory discrepancies.
- Selected to return to RELITE as a third-year leader.
Jamie Shumaker has a special place in her heart for helping the homeless. As a high school and college student, she volunteered at Matthew 25 Health and Care, a nonprofit health center serving uninsured, low-income residents in northeast Indiana and northwest Ohio. When Shumaker took part in a community service project as a first-year RELITE participant, the project became one of her standout memories from her time in the program, she said.
After learning about the organization from her church’s bulletin, Shumaker decided to help support A Mother’s Hope, a women’s shelter in Fort Wayne for pregnant mothers who are homeless. Shumaker started a collection drive to donate diapers, towels, dishwashing soap, laundry detergent and other supplies to the shelter.
After graduating from RELITE, Shumaker was invited to return to RELITE as a third-year facilitator. In January and March 2023, she helped second-year students plan the retreats where they’ll present and put into action the teamwork, problem-solving and interpersonal skills that they learned in year one.
For example, Shumaker helped second-year students decide which retreat to include a DISC assessment, a tool that examines and ranks an individual’s four personality types: dominance, influence, steadiness and conscientiousness.
Shumaker continues to use her own DISC assessment — big “C,” big “S,” and little “D” — that she took as a RELITE participant when communicating across Northeastern REMC’s departments as the plant accountant. Now that she better understands how she and others respond differently to challenges, she said she communicates more effectively with her co-op’s warehouse manager, linemen and engineers as she handles inventory.
When Shumaker implemented a new system at her co-op to track the amount of wire her linemen used in the field to avoid inventory discrepancies, she said that after going through RELITE, she felt confident in explaining why the current way of tracking needed to change, and she had the communication skills and self-awareness to help her co-workers get behind her new idea.
“That’s one of the most important things when you’re trying to get a project off the ground — explaining why,” Shumaker said. “I can say, ‘Hey, I need this,’ but the ‘why’ is what’s really going to get everyone to buy in.”
“In 22 years of leading people, I’ve never witnessed a greater self-awareness transformation than I have seen in Jamie over the last two years. Her cross departmental effectiveness has increased immeasurably. Across the organization, employees now look to Jamie for guidance on projects and she takes the lead willingly. Her journey has been on her own volition without prompting or direction from management. We could not be prouder of her.”– Eric Jung, CEO of Northeastern REMC
MARKETING AND ENERGY SOLUTIONS SPECIALIST,
WIN Energy REMC
- Grew more confident in his decision-making.
- Learned how to communicate effectively and concisely to his peers.
IMPACT AT THE CO-OP
- Helped plan his co-op’s annual meeting.
- Invited to participate in LEAD where he will present at a new employee orientation.
As a first-year RELITE participant, Colin Mahoney learned about what makes someone a good speaker. Someone who has control of the room, can tailor a presentation to his audience, is well-versed in his presentation’s topic — these are all aspects that Mahoney believes make for a great communicator in a workplace setting, he said.
During year two of his RELITE experience, Mahoney put these qualities into practice as he led a presentation titled, “Leading Yourself Exceptionally Well.” His presentation emphasized how important it is to ensure the decisions in your personal and professional life all follow the path that helps you accomplish your goals, he said, rather than letting distractions, like poor time management and unmanaged emotions, get in the way of your aspirations.
Since graduating from RELITE, Mahoney has returned to his role at WIN Energy REMC as the marketing and energy solutions specialist with more confidence in his decision-making as he manages donation requests, community outreach, career fairs and the co-op’s social media pages.
Recently, Mahoney rose to the challenge to help plan his co-op’s annual meeting, which more than 800 community members attend to receive the latest news about the co-op, review its annual report and vote on its board of directors.
Mahoney no longer second-guesses himself when he’s making decisions to resolve issues when they arise — such as when a tornado hit Sullivan, Indiana, and his co-op had to quickly let the community know the annual meeting was postponed because of the storm’s damage and the resulting electrical outages.
This fall at an upcoming new employee orientation, Mahoney is eager to share how he became involved in WIN Energy REMC and what it is like to be a co-op employee.
“Most of us in the electric cooperative field are very proud to be a part of the field,” Mahoney said. “We’re so tight-knit as cooperatives all over the state. It’s cool that we can assist each other in helping educate new employees and get our word out there to them that, ‘You’re a part of something special.’”
“I have witnessed tremendous personal and professional growth in Colin during his six years at the cooperative, especially the two years he was in the RELITE program. While in the program, I watched him gain confidence in his abilities, expand his knowledge of the cooperative business, and develop relationships throughout the cooperative network. Since graduating from the program, Colin’s growth has been evident in his leadership on several projects and initiatives throughout the cooperative and in our local communities. We are proud of his hard work and enthusiasm that he exhibits in everything he does.”– Leslie M. Beard, Chief Operating Officer of WIN Energy REMC