Diana Zeng, BSBA ’14, thought she would explore St. Louis during her four year degree and then head back to Boston. The first didn’t happen. And luckily, neither did the second.
After moving to the United States and growing up near Chicago, New York, and Boston, Diana was looking forward to getting to know St. Louis while studying business and art at Washinton University. Quickly though, she became immersed in campus life and rarely explored the city.
“The campus bubble is simultaneously lovely and enclosed. There are endless organizations to get involved in, so without a channel to explore St. Louis, it can be easy to forget that an entire bustling city exists outside of WashU’s campus. When I did manage a rare glimpse, I was charmed by the character of the city. After a summer internship in St. Louis through the Skandalaris Center, I was introduced to the entrepreneurial energy and incredible people making an impact here. I didn’t just want to get to know the city anymore, I now wanted to be a part of it!”
Post-graduation, Diana transitioned from working at a tech startup to leading a nonprofit start-up called Full Circle. The organization’s mission is to connect young talent to St. Louis and build a more economically vibrant and inclusive city in the process. She is the founding Executive Director but gives credit to her team and numerous community leaders for believing in this larger economic development effort to make St. Louis a hub for young talent.
“Our founding team consists of WashU, Saint Louis University and Illinois College alums from four countries – the United States, United Kingdom, Indonesia, and China. In a lot of ways, we represent the potential that can be captured here. There are many missed opportunities when we don’t connect young talent coming from all over the world to this city and its people. Through Full Circle, we can offer young people a channel to explore St. Louis and a community of peers to be energized by. Additionally for students, getting to know people in their mid-twenties shows them what making a life in St. Louis could be like.”
Modeled after successful efforts in Philadelphia and Baltimore (which has increased student retention from 29% to 51% in the past decade), Full Circle aims to uniquely highlight St. Louis. Their programs and events introduce young talent to professional, social, and civic opportunities in the city while putting a fun and funky twist on networking to help form genuine relationships.
For example, CITYTREK focuses on exploring local events and hidden gems in the city while Beef And A Toast, held in partnership with Venture Cafe, focuses on discussing “beef” (issues) within St. Louis and toasting to being part of the solution.
Student interest from Washington University, Saint Louis University, Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville, and University of Missouri – St. Louis has also encouraged Full Circle to roll out a campus ambassador program for all of the regional colleges and universities.
“Recently, a WashU sophomore emailed me stating, ‘Full Circle is an organization that I have been trying to find to get involved in.’ That meant the world to us! The economic benefits are substantial but hearing from an individual about how much we matter to them, that moves us to keep going. I love St. Louis and am proud to call it home, so being able to connect people through Full Circle is extremely fulfilling. Investing in people becomes a direct investment in St. Louis as well.”
If you want to get in touch with Diana to learn more, or support Full Circle, you can reach her at email@example.com.
Written by guest blogger, KC Friedrich, Senior Associate Director for Development, Olin Business School.