August 14, 2020 Ripple Effect

Ripple Roundtable: Furlough to Fellow Program Participants

In April of 2020, Ripple Effect launched the “Furlough to Fellow” program, a short-term initiative that we designed for mid-career professionals who were furloughed or laid off from their primary jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic. Since then, the program has ushered two small cohorts of professional Fellows into Ripple Effect. Their expertise and skills have helped support meaningful company initiatives, grow our business, and help us work smarter and perform better.

We recently sat down virtually with a few of our Fellows to learn about their backgrounds, their experiences with the Furlough to Fellow program, and what they’ve liked most about working with Ripple Effect.

Meet our Roundtable

Our interview featured five Fellows, from both our first and second cohorts. Inspired by something you read? Connect with them on LinkedIn—their bios are linked below.

Kathy Bisko

Sara Bustard

Stephen Hatch

Monika Hirschbichler

Gracie Mumbauer-Pisano

Welcome, Fellows! Let’s start simple: Where you from, and what’s your background?

Steve Hatch: I’m from Fairfax, VA. I’m a human resources executive with more than 20 years of progressive HR and strategy experience, in various functional and business partner roles. I’ve worked for large government contractors in Lockheed Martin and Booz Allen and, most recently, was doing HR strategy consulting work for a start-up company.

Sara Bustard: My background is in the association world. I’ve been working with associations in membership for over 10 years.

Gracie Mumbauer-Pisano: I’m in Montana. Before Ripple Effect, I came from a global mattress manufacturing company where I was a category manager in our raw materials sourcing group. I have an MS in chemistry, but I haven’t been in a wet lab in half a decade.

Kathy Bisko: I’m from Pennsylvania. My background is diverse: engineering, community building, and professional development. My work has included everything from building straw-bale housing on the Northern Cheyenne reservation in Montana to working as project management analyst at the international headquarters of The Nature Conservancy in Arlington, VA (and a lot in between).

Tell us about your situation during COVID-19 and what motivated you to apply to the Furlough to Fellow program (to the degree you’re comfortable).

Monika: Pretty straightforward, actually: my job fell victim to COVID-19 related WeWork Labs closures.

Steve: I had been working with start-up company owners in securing investment funding from various entities when the impacts from COVID really started to be felt. Investors paused in finalizing any funds to be released, I was seeing the weeks turn into months to get sufficient funds released to engage on planned projects. I started to focus a job search more aggressively for that next great opportunity, as I couldn’t solely rely on the timing of the start-up.

Kathy: Shortly before the pandemic, I relocated to pursue opportunities near a major University to rebuild my family and my career, and I was right in the middle of interviews when COVID hit. As everything started to shut down, positions were no longer available or indefinitely on hold. Then the furloughs began. Even my backup plan to expand my previous work as a small business management consultant seemed impossible, as business after business closed or faced extreme financial challenges. It seemed hopeless.

Gracie: I was furloughed from my previous position as of May 11th, and was notified of my furlough about a week before it happened. I immediately started applying to any position I could find where I could fit, and by the grace of some sort of higher power I came across the Ripple Effect F2F position on LinkedIn and immediately applied. So grateful I did. I started with Ripple on May 18th, only a week after I was furloughed.

Kathy: When I saw the announcement for the Furlough to Fellow opportunity, it was hard to believe it was even real. It just seemed to be too good to be true!

Sara: I applied for this program because I was interested in learning new skills and taking on a new project during this time. I thought it would be a great way to share my skills with Ripple Effect.

Steve: One of my networking groups forwarded Ripple Effect’s posting for the Furlough to Fellow program. It looked like a great interim solution to keep my skills up and support Ripple Effect in its HR strategy development while looking for my next permanent opportunity.

What are your strengths and talents?

Gracie: I’m analytically minded, personable, and I’m always up for a challenge.

Sara: Relationship building! I do a great job at forming and nurturing relationships.

Steve: I have a proven track record as a leader in managing human resources, designing and executing human capital strategies, and creating holistic solutions that enhance the employee experience. I have a talent for developing and executing strategies that drive business results and create a competitive workforce advantage.

Monika: I’m an expert project and program director, and those have served me well in all my roles.

What have you worked on as part of the Furlough to Fellow program?

Steve: I’ve supported a number of projects to date: evaluated Ripple Effect’s Assessments program as part of the Talent Acquisition process and developed the future-state strategy; assessed and recommended a future state HR organizational design structure; designed the NextGen Partnership strategy and program; evaluated and recommended recruitment marketing strategies; and assisted with the design of the company’s compensation structure.

Monika: I helped develop Ripple Effect’s COVID-19 Return to Work Strategy, drafted COVID-19-related SOPs, and initiated a suite of behavioral signage for the HQ Workspace.

Sara: I’ve worked on the Science and Health Policy Consulting Consortium, or SHPCC. I helped plan and hold the program’s first meeting, and that was really cool to support.

Kathy: I developed a virtual Brown Bag and online coaching session called “Elevating Your Elevator Pitch” to help expand Ripple Effect’s business development capacity. I’ve also learned about the operational side of the organization, as I developed a scope of work, process diagram, strategy and schedule to organize and streamline the annual policy review and updates.

Gracie: I’ve been working primarily with the Strategic Growth team doing small tasks on existing projects and data sheets. Even with extremely limited time so far with Ripple, I’ve gotten to see some of the critical services this team provides to its clients—it’s really amazing!

How do you describe Ripple Effect’s culture?

Monika: Expert, highly professional, friendly, and employee centered.

Kathy: Encouraging and inclusive. During my fellowship, and through my “Elevating Your Elevator Pitch” business development work sessions, I had the chance to talk to over 20 Ripplers. What a pleasure it was to work with such an interesting, accomplished, and diverse group of leaders, managers, and staff.

Gracie: Welcoming, nerdy as heck, and full-to-the-brim with insights.

Steve: Ripple Effect is a great environment to work in. I’ve had easy access to senior leadership in support of my projects and have felt a genuine interest cultural interest in challenging the status quo and thinking outside the box. The cultural is supportive of questioning operations and identifying better ways of doing business, and that really resonates with me.

What’s been the best part of your experience?

Sara: Being a part of getting SHPCC up and running, and organizing and sitting in on the first meeting was really cool.

Kathy: The opportunity to make a meaningful contribution.  At a time when our world is filled with uncertainty and distress, being part of the Furlough to Fellow program has been an invaluable source of hope and light. I’m so grateful to Amy Bielski and Jennifer Pohlhaus for making this possible.

Monika: The opportunity to work with such a great team of experts and having my project contributions valued.

Gracie: The people—Ripple Effect is full of some of the best I’ve ever worked with.

Steve: Definitely the people. I’ve gotten to know many Ripplers, as well as other Fellows in the program. I have not only been able to expand my network and make new friends, but I truly feel the projects have been rewarding and will drive change at Ripple Effect.

Are there any specific Ripplers who made your experience better?

Monika: Every contact at Ripple has made a positive contribution to the experience, but Tierra Terrell-Johnson and Margie Beaudry stand out for their commitment to the program and their tireless willingness to answer questions and provide support whenever needed.

Kathy: Joining a new organization can be a bit challenging, even in the best of times. Trying to form a fellowship in a time of crisis, while adapting to our new virtual world is even harder. Thankfully, we had the good luck to have Margie Beaudry as our supervisor for the program. She really worked to shape our different project assignments into an informal, but valuable “community of practice.”  I am so grateful for this. Her authenticity, wisdom, diverse experience, and insights really made a difference.

Gracie: I feel like the obvious answer here is Margie—what a stellar person to act as a bridge to this brilliant company.

RIPPLE EFFECT: Three cheers for Margie!

Sara: Jessica Escobedo was wonderful to work with, and Melissa Blum helped me out a great deal. Margie Beaudry was great at providing information. Everyone that I came in contact with from day 1 was very nice and helpful.

Steve: I’ve engaged with a number of wonderful folks while working on my projects, but I definitely need to call out Jackie Helfer, Tierra Terrell-Johnson, Margie Beaudry, Jennifer Pohlhaus and the Talent Acquisition team for making this experience so great.

Great to hear! Last one: What additional components or changes can help Ripple Effect improve the Furlough to Fellow program?

Sara: I think it would be nice to have a fellow-only event to chat and get to know each other at the beginning of the program.

Kathy: It’s been a great experience. I’m truly humbled by all that I’ve learned in my time as a Fellow. Organizationally, the willingness to learn and grow as individuals, as part of a larger team, is inspiring.

Steve: In understanding some of the projects the other Fellows are working on, there is an opportunity to integrate some of the larger initiatives that involve more of the business’s functional areas to generate greater synergy and solutions.

Gracie: Make these positions full time with benefits, hire me, and let me retire in 40 years??


Gracie: Jokes aside, nothing—my experience has been wholly enjoyable.

Monika: The program is ideal as is both in its conception and implementation. It’s a true win-win for all parties involved, and I am grateful for having had the opportunity to participate.


We hope you found this Roundtable fun, engaging, and helpful. Please comment with any questions you have, and if you see yourself as a future Rippler, please visit our Careers page and apply for an open position. We’ll see you next time!



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