5 reasons early-stage career women in Birmingham need to know about Momentum’s Upward program


Momentum Upward
Sarena Martinez, City of Birmingham with Andrea McCaskey of Momentum and Nikia Hackworth, BBVA. Photo courtesy of Momentum

Are you an early-stage career woman in the Birmingham area? If you’re wanting to grow yourself, your leadership skills, and your network, you need to know about Momentum’s Upward Program. We reached out to seven women involved with the program to find out more. Already know you want to participate? Applications open up June 15.

Momentum’s Upward program: the nuts and bolts

Momentum Upward
Upward facilitator and Momentum Alum, 2019, Gerriann Fagan, UAB. Photo courtesy of Momentum

What it is: Upward is an early-stage leadership, network + career-development program founded by Momentum alumnae. 

When it happens: from February to October. 

  • Half-day sessions. These are: 
    • Interactive + classroom-style
    • Run by training professionals + Momentum alumnae
    • Normally in person + currently online 
  • Between-session work includes: 
    • Completing assignments including a group service project
    • Meeting with a co-mentoring group
    • Networking with senior leaders
  • Sample topics include: 
    • Emotional intelligence
    • Communication
    • Goal-setting + prioritization
    • Change management
    • Career ownership
    • Teamwork + collaboration
    • Leadership fundamentals
    • Peer-to-leader transition
Momentum Upward
Upward participant Tacita Thompson, Fast Slow Motion, and Momentum Alum, 2019, Anne Yuengert, Bradley. Photo courtesy of Momentum

Kristie Barton, Power Delivery General Manager at Alabama Power, explained why she got involved with the Upward program: 

“I realized the amounts and types of developmental programs available to me once I became a manager would have been much more beneficial earlier in my career.

Therefore, I have tried to ‘pay it forward’ and share what I have learned with younger females so they don’t have to navigate their early careers alone.

When Momentum began discussing the Upward Program, I knew it was an effort I wanted to engage in.”

1. A little history about Momentum + why they created their Upward Program

Momentum Upward
Some of the Momentum women, including founder Barbara Royal (center). Photo courtesy of Momentum

According to CEO April Benetollo, Momentum founder Barbara Royal and a group of volunteer board members from the YWCA got the idea for Momentum back in 2000 when—believe it or not—there was no C-suite or senior leadership club for women in Birmingham.

Elizabeth Hamlin, VP of Human Resources at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama described Momentum as “an organization committed to investing in the sustained success of businesses through the development of professional women in Alabama.”

After 16 years of providing the executive leadership program, Momentum, they realized that alums kept saying the same thing: “I only wish I had had had this experience in my twenties or early thirties!”

And thus was born Upward, as a way to provide early-stage career women with the tools and the network that could change the trajectory of their careers and lives. 

Now they’re getting ready to welcome the third class and they couldn’t be more excited. 

2. Why participants love Momentum’s Upward Program

Momentum Upward
Susan Swider, BLOX with Kirby Crutchfield, EBSCO. Photo courtesy of Momentum

To get more of a sense of the flavor of the program, I reached out to four participants—three previous and one current. Here are the highlights from their stories.

Past participants: what drew them to the program

Momentum Upward
April Benetollo, Kellie Clark and Andrea McCaskey. Photo courtesy of Momentum

Nan Wagner is currently a marketing manager at Shipt. Kellie Clark works as director of operations at Innovate Birmingham. Stefanie McKerly just landed a new gig as director of risk management and patient safety at Mt. Sinai Morningside in New York City. 

All three of them were encouraged by mentors and/or colleagues to apply to the program. I have no doubt Kellie’s experience will resonate with many past, present and future participants: 

“I was transitioning into a role with more responsibility and visibility. I was in the process of getting my bearings and I had so many questions. Upward seemed like an ideal space where a professional could be transparent about their blind spots, receive feedback and grow. I was right.”

Stefanie was “drawn to Upward and Momentum, due to their focus on Diversity and Inclusion and their goal to promote women in leadership.”

Current participant: Cristal Brister

Momentum Upward
Cristal Brister. Photo courtesy of Momentum

Cristal currently works as community engagement manager at the Birmingham Education Foundation. Here’s what drew her to Upward: 

“I was ready to take my career to the next level. I liked what Momentum stood for and thought it would be a unique opportunity to learn and grow in an exclusively female environment. Additionally, a good friend participated in the executive program and mentioned she thought it would be a good fit for me.”

3. Is this you? Who Momentum’s Upward Program is for

Momentum Upward
Tamara Wilson, Pack Health. Photo courtesy of Momentum
  • Max 60 participants, divided into two separate classes
  • From a mix of roles + industries
  • Individuals with the following characteristics:
    • Demonstrated high degree of career ownership
    • Self-motivated + capable of motivating others
    • Appreciates diversity
    • Shows initiative in team projects
    • Possesses strong people skills

Early-career could mean you’re just getting started or you’re returning to the workforce after taking time out for parenting, the military or another reason.

4.  Apply now for the 2020-21 Momentum Upward class

Momentum Upward
Current Upward Class, Anna Craft, Bradley and Amber Anderson, UAB. Photo courtesy of Momentum

“The opportunity to really focus on understanding and improving yourself is not one you’re going to get anywhere else. No one’s going to cultivate in you the time, the energy, the opportunity to spend the time to improve yourself like Momentum. The Upward program gives you that opportunity. It’s valuable to you, your family and your employer.”

Jennifer Buettner, Executive Director, Birmingham Bar Association + graduate of Momentum’s Executive Leadership program

Here’s the timeline for applications + for the program: 

  • June-August: apply
  • September: finalists are invited to join the class
  • February 2021: first session
  • October 2021: graduation

Tuition for the program is $2,000, inclusive of meals and materials, and is generally paid in full or in part by the participant’s company. Limited scholarship funds are available.

“The Upward program helps early career women realize their full potential, both from a personal and professional perspective. It is widely known historically the career trajectory is different for men compared to women. Momentum provides an environment where women can focus on their specific development opportunities.

For those considering the program, having a conversation with your employer would prove to have a positive return on investment through growing talent that will be prepared to sustain future needs.”

Elizabeth Hamlin, VP Human Resources at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama

5. “It changed the trajectory of my life” —what participants have to say

Momentum Upward
Nan Wagner, Shipt. Photo courtesy of Momentum

Cristal Brister, Birmingham Education Foundation, current participant

Momentum is run by a great group of women who truly love what they do; it is evident in their interactions with the participants and the care they put into their communication and events. If you are looking for an opportunity to get outside of your comfort zone and network with other professional women in Birmingham this would be a great experience for you.

Kellie Clark, Innovate Birmingham, past participant

Upward taught me the value of peer-to-peer mentoring. Often when we think “mentor,” we think vertically. The typecast of a mentor is someone who is further along in their career journey. Having these folks in your professional ecosystem has value but what I learned in Upward is the immense value in those lateral connections. 

These are the women who help you polish your presentations, challenge you to negotiate that salary, share your resume, the women who shoot you a text and ask “how does this email response come across?” The women to the left and right of you who are at similar points in their careers and experiencing similar challenges and “wins.” The people who “get it.”

Momentum Upward
Facilitator Dawn Burke, Recruiting Toolbox with Andrea McCaskey, Director of Programs at Momentum. Photo courtesy of Momentum

Nan Wagner, Shipt, past participant

Each session of the program was so engaging and educational from public speaking skills to career action planning. I think the best thing I got out of the program was the amazing group of women that I gained as co-mentors, mentors, friends and role models. This group of women has become my sounding board for making career and leadership decisions, and they drive me to be my best self all of the time.

Stefanie McKerly, Mt. Sinai Morningside, past participant

Momentum Upward
(l-r) April Benetollo, Stefanie McKerly and Andrea McCaskey. Photo courtesy of Momentum

[The best thing I got out of the program was] confidence. The courses and resources provided by Upward helped me combat impostor syndrome and realize that I deserve to be in the role I earned. I also gained the confidence to pursue a new role for which I was under-qualified.

If you’d like to participate in Momentum’s Upward program, apply now.

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Sharron Swain
Sharron Swain

Writer, Interviewer + Adventurer | Telling stories to make a difference

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