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July 29, 2019
Shantel Krebs is focused on the future.
Not just her own future, which includes leading the newly formed Avera Academy and becoming chair of the Miss America Organization, but the futures of young people whose lives she is positioned to affect through two roles that fittingly intersect.
The former Secretary of State comes to her new roles following 14 years of public service, which included serving 10 years in the state Legislature and ended in a primary loss for the U.S. House seat in 2018.
“It’s not a career. Politics isn’t a career in South Dakota,” she said. “I had an opportunity to serve and feel like I accomplished a lot, and I was really looking for something mission-based. That’s my next chapter. It’s a desire to give back.”
She found a fit first at Avera, which is funding the Avera Academy, a partnership with Southeast Technical Institute that starts this fall. Two dozen Sioux Falls high school seniors will spend four mornings a week doing course work at Southeast Tech and the fifth morning at Avera becoming familiar with the health system and the career opportunities it offers.
“As secretary of state, I got to roll out a lot of new projects, and it’s the same thing here. It’s really fun,” she said. “I love rolling out a project from the ground up to make sure it’s successful and can grow and benefit the community and impact the lives of students and impact Avera in how we see the future of health care.”
The first two dozen students have been selected for this fall’s Avera Academy – and Krebs already knows them by name.
“I am actually communicating with these students during the summer,” she said. “We’re texting back and forth, and they’re asking questions and talking about their (summer) jobs. Some have already been employed part time at Avera in food services, so that’s the exciting part. We’re developing that relationship.”
Krebs emerged as the choice for the role because she recognizes the broad need for new approaches to workforce development and has the planning and people skills to lead a new venture, said Dave Flicek, CEO of Avera McKennan Hospital & University Health Center.
“I needed a self-starter because I had nothing on paper,” he said. “I had an idea, and I needed someone to do everything from interview questions to acceptance letters, orientations, logistics. I needed a planner and someone who was very much a self-starter without a lot of direction, and Shantel seemed to be the right person.”
Krebs already has job-shadowed 30 departments at the hospital as she builds out the program’s curriculum, Flicek said.
“Shantel is doing a bang-up job. She is really rolling up her sleeves,” he said. “She recognizes this is a major need not only at Avera but for the community of Sioux Falls and for South Dakota. So she has all the bigger-picture connections coming together. She’s passionate and ready to go.”
The hope is to cut down on the high degree of turnover in entry-level positions by showing prospective employees more about the work on the front end, Flicek said.
“A number of people apply and really don’t understand what the job entails. Then, they decide they don’t like it. So by giving them an opportunity in high school to job shadow and get credit at STI, I think it will allow them to select the right job the first time.”
Avera is funding the cost of the partnership and will help with tuition assistance for students who want to continue their education in college.
“Our target was low-income students, new Americans who need an understanding of what a first job in health care could look like,” Flicek said. “By giving them a good first experience in the health system, I’m hoping to retain them as future employees and – by the way – their families behind them.”
For Krebs, it’s a mission that resonates.
“I love it,” she said. “I get to experience a lot of sides of health care most people wouldn’t, behind the scenes. And we’re making that positive impact in the lives of our community.”
Avera encourages its employees to be involved in board roles, Krebs said. In her case, one recent appointment puts her at the forefront of a change that literally will play out on a national stage.
In June, the Miss America Organization announced that Krebs unanimously had been named chairwoman of its board of directors, replacing Gretchen Carlson.
Krebs was Miss South Dakota 1997 and competed in Miss America. She has served on the board since October 2018 and had been a volunteer for the organization for more than 20 years.
“Shantel understands the importance of the role of board chair and what it means to lead the board in the continuation and growth of the vision that is Miss America 2.0,” said Regina Hopper, president and CEO of the Miss America Organization.
“As a former candidate, she understands the need for the organization to adapt as society evolves, allowing the organization to maintain relevance.”
Krebs comes to the role as the competition is taking a new approach initiated during Carlson’s term.
Gone is the longstanding swimsuit competition. And don’t call it a beauty pageant, either.
“We’re not competing on physical beauty,” Krebs said. “Not only did we take away the swimsuit, we took away any component of physical beauty. It’s a new era. Miss America is evolving, and that’s what makes it so exciting to me.”
In fact, when the competition airs the evening of Dec. 19 on NBC, Krebs said the goal is to make it feel like a female empowerment reality show: Miss America 2.0.
“This is a new competition that reflects greater inclusiveness and gives women the opportunity to earn more scholarships and compete for a job,” she said. “That’s what this is. It’s a job. It has new vision to look to 100 years and beyond.”
Contestants will be evaluated on scholarship, talent and social impact.
“We have an interactive interview on stage, and we’re looking for candidates (for Miss America),” Krebs said. “The physical component is not reflected at all. It’s their advocacy, their social initiatives; many have done hours of volunteerism.”
The competition is drawing more women from STEM fields, and “companies are noticing that,” Krebs added. “They’re saying they want these people.”
The organization’s mission is to “prepare great women for the world and to prepare the world for great women,” she added. “It’s a new phase of a women’s empowerment.”
In that way, it’s similar to her mission at Avera, connecting students with experiences and resources to support their futures, she said.
“What the program did for me was the scholarship,” she said. “Miss America pretty much paid for my education. I’m a fourth-generation farm kid, and that meant a lot to me and my family.”
“I love rolling out a project from the ground up.” Now, Shantel Krebs has two. We talked Avera Academy, Miss America and life after politics.