ATHENA Young Professional winner at Herman Miller believes in ‘bringing others with you’


Mindy Ysasi Castanon, right, a human resources consultant at Herman Miller and winner of an ATHENA Young Professional Award, and Shaquanda Gordon, an HR manager at Perrigo, at the 2012 ATHENA awards. Photo by Adam Bird Photography

Networking with professionals and getting along with co-workers serve a larger purpose than advancing a career and getting a bump in salary, said the recipient of this year’s ATHENA Young Professional Award.

It’s about fostering a stronger, more inclusive community that encourages people from a variety of backgrounds to make something of their lives and the city in which they live, said Mindy Ysasi Castanon, human resources consultant for Zeeland-based Herman Miller Inc.

“I grew up in Grand Rapids and enjoy the community professionally, which allowed me to control my professional growth, but I learned not to forget to bring others with you,” said Ysasi Castanon, who spoke at a luncheon this month at the Inner City Christian Federation in East Hills.

“At the end of the day, we’re involving people who want success and are committed to the success of Grand Rapids. If we don’t know how to work collaboratively, we’re going to miss out on future opportunities.”

Ysasi Castanon said her life is an example of how relationships play an important role in shaping one’s future. She included what she learned at her former employer, Cascade Engineering, whose corporate culture is known for its efforts to eliminate barriers to employment through its programs, training and mentoring. The manufacturer’s business model is based on diversification, innovation and sustainable development, including, but not limited to, giving ex-offenders a second chance and combating the ignorance of racism.

She initially hoped to work as an operations manager, but Cascade Engineering’s innovative programs drew her to work as a senior human resources generalist from 1999-2011.

“It’s about employment opportunities and breaking down barriers,” said Ysasi Castanon. “I want to be an employment equalizer for our community.”

For Ysasi Castanon, that ambition takes shape in several forms in an effort to widen opportunities for people. She is board chair for the Hispanic Center of Western Michigan, a board member for the YWCA of West Central Michigan, which includes helping victims of sexual abuse regain their confidence, and she is the professional development chair for BL2END (Business Leaders Linked To Encourage New Directions), an association for young professionals of color dedicated to helping one another learn, network and become engaged in the Grand Rapids community.

Such work — whether paid or volunteer — isn’t always easy when the plate of responsibility is full or spilling over, said Ysasi Castanon, which for her includes juggling job responsibilities, attending board meetings and keeping happy a husband requesting more face time with her.

Ysasi Castanon said during those hectic moments in life, she’s learned to accept personal responsibility, an attribute she learned from her father.

“He taught me to be decisive, to have a better relationship with myself,” said Ysasi Castanon. “Understand who you are and your values and your uniqueness.”

It’s also important to grasp one’s circle of influence, which includes what a person’s concerns are and what she can and cannot control, because that determines what they can have an impact on, she said. This includes realizing not every co-worker will like you and being at peace that you can only do so much.

All of this serves as the clay that shapes a person’s legacy, said Ysasi Castanon. How is that accomplished? Ysasi Castanon referred to an adage penned by Mark Twain: “Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great ones make you feel that you, too, can become great.”

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