Growing up in Detroit, KimArie Yowell couldn’t wait to leave town. Her grandmother instilled in her the importance of education, which she said would be the key to opening up the world. Now with numerous degrees earned and as Chief Learning Officer at Rocket Central, education and a commitment to lifelong learning have paved the way for Yowell’s success so far, as well as the road ahead.
Ella Mae Smith and Roosevelt Smith, Yowell’s grandparents, took her in and fostered that learning mindset from an early age. “My grandmother was a door opener,” says Yowell, who also often feeds her friends after church on Sundays.
Yowell worked hard at her studies, graduating from Cass Technical High School, then Wayne State University, earning a bachelor’s degree in business administration and becoming the first in her family to graduate from college.
He faced tough times during his senior year at Wayne State when his grandfather died. Ella Yowell later became pregnant with her child and her grandmother did not think that Ella Yowell would graduate. She remembers, “the look in her eyes when she found out and the thought that she wasn’t going to graduate me, and everything that she invested in me and taught me was for nothing.”
But Yowell persisted and got her diploma. Six months later, his grandmother passed away. Yowell is proud that she was able to show her grandmother the impact she had on Yowell’s life.
For her grandmother’s funeral, Yowell says the church was standing room only, with people even lining up outside: “What that tells me is that it’s about what you do with the time you have on this earth. How are you doing well with what you have been given?” This guides Yowell through his work and his life.
Shortly after graduation, Yowell moved to Dallas to work at the University of Phoenix for more than eight years, where she was responsible for enrolling and advising students, leading the corporate education team, identifying skills gaps in organizations, and providing learning solutions. “I didn’t know at the time that it would change the trajectory of my life,” she says.
While at the University of Phoenix, Yowell met many adult students who were also working parents, with the goal of furthering their education for future job prospects. “I gained a new respect for the working adult student,” she says.
These students also pushed her to continue her own education. Yowell earned a Master’s in Adult Education and Training and a Master’s in Business Administration from the University of Phoenix, as well as an MBA from the University of Texas at Dallas. She credits her support system and the people who held her accountable for her goals as helping her immensely in obtaining these titles.
While in Dallas, Yowell volunteered at the Dallas Resource Center for United Black Ellument, providing HIV and AIDS outreach services for the LGBTQIA community. Yowell thought if he could do this job in a city he didn’t raise, he might be able to go back to Detroit and give back to his hometown. “You should go back and help and be part of the solution and not part of the problem,” she says.
By this time, Yowell had decided that she wanted to help people on a broader scale, and figured the best way to do that was to become a leadership coach when she retired. So when her friend and Rocket supplier partner told her about a leadership coaching position at Quicken Loans (an organization of Rocket Companies), promoting the organization’s values and how they align with Yowell’s, she did. .
Yowell was interviewed for the leadership coach position and the rest is history.
Rocket Companies and Yowell’s Rocket to the Top
Yowell quickly rose through the ranks at Quicken Loans and Rocket Companies, from leadership coach to director of training, senior director of training and development, senior director of talent development, and then vice president of talent and organizational development.
For nearly nine years, Julie Edwards and Yowell have worked together in the organization, originally meeting as peers in learning and development. Edwards is VP of L&D at Rocket Central and has seen Yowell throughout her Rocket career.
Edwards says that Yowell is an extremely thoughtful leader who is committed to higher education and her dedication to lifelong learning reaches out to those around her. That, along with her ability to listen and collaborate with her peers, has brought the learning function through a successful transformation.
For nearly 40 years, the L&D function at Rocket Companies has been decentralized and mostly in-person. But when COVID-19 pushed US office workers into remote environments, Rocket also had to adapt on short notice.
The transformation was “unlike any other moment I’ve ever seen,” says Yowell. “It was a great thing to be a part of this.”
And it was successful. In fact, a week after the stay-at-home orders, the L&D team onboarded thousands of team members. Additionally, as of the end of 2021, 41 percent of the Rocket Central team was hired during the pandemic, with successful remote onboarding and training assistance.
Yowell says he will forever be indebted to the University of Phoenix for laying the groundwork for this transition away from in-person education and showing him the power of online learning. “When you think about online learning today, they are the playbook that all other universities have used,” she says.
Edwards says the connection between senior L&D leaders and the collaboration they demonstrated during the move to virtual training is why they are centralized today. In December 2020, the L&D team became DevCore, a centralized learning function headed by Yowell, who became chief learning officer in September 2020.
Edwards says Yowell is adept at patience and listening, even in the midst of difficult decisions and tight deadlines. Yowell can get to the root of a problem to find the right solution for your team. “His intentionality and patience of his, even in the midst of what some might consider chaos, is very admirable,” says Edwards.
Rocket Programming Collaboration
Yowell connects with Rocket Central in a variety of ways, from coordinating various programs to leading resource networks for team members. Rocket Central has more than 7,000 active team members in its TMRNs dedicated to Black workers, women, veterans, and LGBTQIA staff.
As a leader of the TMRN, Yowell is fascinated by the intersectionality of the groups, and even spoke at a partner event between Black and Women’s networks. She spoke about bringing yourself to work, contemplating what it means to be authentic and navigate a career as a woman and a person of color. “And I am both!” she adds.
Before the stay-at-home orders and high stress of 2020 made mental health an imperative, Rocket Companies was already focused on the topic. Nicole Brown, program manager for the talent development team, came to Yowell’s office with a proposal for mental health training. Yowell agreed that the topic was important and that leaders should be trained to have important conversations, so they got to work.
Partnering with the benefits team and researching mental health training, they created the Inside out curriculum, to educate leaders on mental health, mental illness, substance abuse and more, knowing when to point employees to EAP resources and also when to engage and support team members in real time.
“Nobody saw the pandemic coming. I am so grateful for Nicole Brown and her vision and desire for her,” Yowell said.
Develop the whole person
Another rave-reviewed show is Leader-to-Leader, which doesn’t just dive into the tools of leadership, “but is more about delving into the individual and doing the deep work for themselves,” Yowell said. Since its inception in 2016, program leaders dive into their origin stories and stop and do inner work, so leaders can create sustainable behavior change.
With 2,500 leaders and 27,000 team members benefiting from these programs, directly or indirectly, it creates a ripple effect, Yowell says.
“The work that we do in developing people doesn’t just impact those people,” she says. “It impacts their families. It affects their communities. Impact our customers. So I don’t take that responsibility lightly to make sure we’re setting people up for success.”
The Voyager program also helps with the business side of the job, helping employees understand business strategy, finances, and leading large-scale change. Integrating those hard skills with the aforementioned soft skills helps complete the training. “We try to make sure we play all of those pieces intentionally and meaningfully,” says Yowell.
And the development does not end there. “In our organization, we believe in the potential of people,” says Yowell.
One of his favorite programs on Rocket Central is Rock Academy, which partners with Guild Education and provides 100 percent tuition assistance to team members, even recently expanding to HBCUs including Spelman College and Morehouse College.
Yowell learned that some workers had previously been taking out payday loans to pay for education, but now they don’t have to worry about facing these monetary barriers to education.
“Depending on where you grow up could determine where you end up,” says Yowell. “For us to be able to say, ‘That doesn’t matter and we’re going to support you and invest in you in this way’ is tremendous.”
When the organization announced Rock Academy, he received an email from a team member thanking him and saying he would help both the employee and his son. She is proud of the organization for helping her workers and subsequent generations.
lighting the way
While spending her career developing apprentices, Yowell also continues to invest in herself, furthering her education. She earned a master’s degree in education in 2021 and is currently working on a doctorate in education and leadership learning, both with the University of Pennsylvania.
Her thesis research revolves around the authenticity of Black women in Fortune 500 companies. With certain levels of authenticity, organizations see increased retention, engagement, and innovation, but Yowell questions whether workers can really be authentic in the workplace. worked.
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