Tracy Sherbert: The Life and Career That Keeps on Giving

Tracy Sherbert is the Telemarketing Trainer for the University of Minnesota Foundation, the nonprofit arm of the U. She’s the first point of contact when students apply to be a Student Development Representative in McNamara, and she also trains and orients the students for the position, which involves reaching out to alumni to raise scholarship funds for students in need. Her bubbly character and dedication to the University’s student body add to the culture of collaboration and giving within the Foundation.

Q: Can you tell me a bit about your academic background?

A: I went to Mankato State University and studied so many things. Criminal law is what I wanted to study, and I also studied psychology. Later my freshman year I met a criminal lawyer, and he said the burnout rate was about 10 years for women. That just made me nervous, so then I switched to sports psychology, because I always liked sports, and I worked for the baseball team at Mankato. Then I actually left school. I met my boyfriend at the time who’s now my husband, and we ended up getting pregnant, which was totally fine because it was my Junior year and I was completely freaked out about what I was really supposed to do. Four years sometimes isn’t enough time to make that decision. I was avoiding my advisor. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. Getting pregnant actually gave me purpose, something that I need to focus on, so I moved back home. After I had Theodore, I finished at a program through the St. Paul Campus at the U, an Alcohol and Direct Dependency Program. I have never used it, but I’ve always been a trainer in any job I’ve ever had, which then brought me into the world of retail, which then brought me to the U, and now I’m actually back in school finishing my degree in sociology and psychology, so I graduate in May. I will then go back and get my masters. I’m a lifelong learner. I just love the idea of continuing to learn. I think that was my fear, that this was supposed to end and I don’t know what I want to do afterwards, and so it’s been fun to come back to it again.

Q: How did you first get involved in nonprofit fundraising?

A: I fell into this really accidentally. I worked 9 years as a corporate trainer in retail. Retail is very difficult. It is very much profit goes into product, not into people. Honestly, if your heels aren’t in someone’s back trying to get above them, you’re not playing the game right. I was insulated a little bit from that being on the training side of the store, but another part of my job was also being the store manager on duty, and so I had to do that sort of retail side and handle employee concerns. Essentially it burned me out. I was talking with a girlfriend who works in human resources and she sent me the link to this job, and I was like, “Oh okay, well let’s check this out,” and interviewed for it, and got it. The job was created for me, I’m the first person who’s ever had it. Then that brought me into the world of not only nonprofit but also higher education, and realizing that I really do have a passion for it and students. So I’ve really experienced the swing of profit at any cost, pushing for credit cards, pushing people to just charge it, money, money, money, and just sales goals, personal goals, and storewide goals to coming here, where it’s creating really strong relationships, it’s building connections, it’s all for the good of students. It was crazy to come here to such a collaborative environment.

Q: What is your favorite part about your job?

A: Student engagement. My student contact is every day. There’s an energy and excitement, there’s a care and concern and compassion that you’re always engaged in because students are learning, they’re adapting. For many students, I am their first employer, because there’s a very big culture of parents telling students your job in high school is just to get into college. Another benefit of my job: I bleed maroon and gold. I love the U. So the fact that I get to work at a place that I believe in, I don’t ever take that for granted. And the last thing, we’re in one of the coolest buildings on campus.

Q: You train and work with a lot of college-aged employees. What about this aspect do you feel makes your job different and special?

A: It’s my job to recruit, hire, and train students who are going to do a job that’s inherently and intrinsically difficult. You’re reaching out to people over the phone. You have to have a seven minute personal conversation with a complete stranger, and that is done all with the tone of your voice. I have to find people who are engaging, but not extroverted to the point of car salesman. I have to find people that are shy. I have to find to find people that have a passion for the university. They’re just so many pieces of a puzzle that come together, and what we do raises so many dollars to help their fellow students, but it doesn’t help themselves, necessarily, so it’s a very unselfish job that I’m hiring people to do. You’re going to help the overall good of the school. Just that line that I walk between loving the students that do this job and being so grateful for them and hoping that they understand the big picture of how exceptional they are as far as a student job on campus. I feel that I’m lucky to be a steward of that team and to help drive that team.

Q: What does philanthropy mean to you?

A: Philanthropy to me is giving back to something that means something to you, and building on that gift, where I feel like I’m making a difference, and where somebody is going to reach back and let me know that I’ve made a difference, just saying “Thank you.” It’s making an organization that I have an affinity for better.

Q: What is your favorite memory from being a part of the University of Minnesota community?

A: Can I say two? So I think for me, it’s going to be graduation. I graduate on May 6th. I already cry at the rouser, I just can’t imagine what that’s going to be like, because when I did graduate from that other program, it was more of a certification, it wasn’t like a 4 year degree, so this is going to be cool. And it will be May 15th, my son walks for Carlson. Theodore finished in December, but he did agree to walk in May. Never in a million years did I think he was going to come to the U and get into Carlson. I couldn’t have ever said this is what might happen with one of my children. So I think that’s going to be cool. I just know I’m probably going to bawl through the whole thing. Just because he’s our first born, he’s the one that I left school for, and I put a lot of effort into my kids. He gave me purpose. It’s going to be a full-circle moment. I think I’m going to have to say those two. Commencement 2017 is going to be huge for us.

Just For Fun:

Coffee/Tea Order: Constant Comment Tea with cream and sugar.

Favorite food: I’m slightly obsessed with the Mimi pizza from Punch. I could probably eat that four times a week.

One thing you can’t live without: I would be devastated if I lost my wedding band.

One thing you’re grateful for: Overall, my life. I kind of pinch myself sometimes. I’m grateful for being on this journey, and being able to watch it all unfold.