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  • Writer's picturePaul LaLonde

Street Level Influencer – Meet Dr. Rhonda Owens

Dr. Rhonda Owens, a State Line Crew member and amazing human being!

“Each contact with a human being is so rare, so precious, one should preserve it.” — Anais Nin

Welcome to the new year. It seems a lot like the last year. Wasn’t there a song about that? Well, never mind.

Happy new year! The Street Level Influencer is back for 2021, and I can’t wait to continue sharing a closer look at my network with you all! Now more than ever, we need reminders from those individuals at the ground level making an impact in our daily lives – many times without us knowing it – that life is overwhelmingly good, even when it’s “bad.”

Street level influencers provide that for us.

COVID, social unrest, systemic racism, insurrections, hatred from all sides. All these things have caused cracks in even the most tempered of personality foundations. Concrete, eventually, will crack under the weight of the burden.

When I began my idea of the Street Level Influencer, I had no idea how positive people would respond to it! I’m excited that it struck a chord with people. Remember, the Street Level Influencer is a reminder that everyone has the ability to radiate positive light in the world around them, and light is brighter when surrounded by shadows.

So far in the series, I have introduced you to:

This next individual is incredibly special. Rhonda Owens is a proud #StateLineCrew member, who helped start it all! The State Line Crew is a group of IL and WI HR pros (and more importantly, friends) who meet once every other month or so on the IL-WI state border. We meet, talk, laugh, and grow. Well, we used to until COVID put us all on hiatus… but we’ve soldiered on by meeting occasionally via Zoom. I believe another one should be on the horizon!

I’ll never forget first meeting Rhonda. It was at our first State Line Crew meeting all the way back in September of 2018. As the entrenched introvert I am, I was nervous. I hadn’t officially met ANY of those who RSVP’ed in person, other than Jeff Palkowski. So, this was outside my confront zone for sure!

But as Rhonda introduced herself to me at Lakefront Brewing in Milwaukee, I was instantly put at ease! She was so kind, approachable, and funny! As it turned out, both of us have South Side Chicago roots, and we hit it off! She told me all about her husband’s home renovation projects, her degrees in education, and her love of craft beer and history – something that we both bonded over.

The very first State Line Crew Picture from September 2018, Milwaukee, WI. From left to right Alyssa Hernandez, Mary Williams, Rhonda Owens, Jeff Palkowski, yours truly.

In fact, one of the most impressive things about Rhonda is her humility. She’s technically Dr. Owens since she’s earned a Doctorate of Education, Organizational Leadership; but unless you checked her LinkedIn account, you may never have known! She remains humble. She remains hungry, and she’s always open to learning from others before she speaks. I feel those are true measure of an amazing person and leader.

Rhonda has a unique perspective as an HR/administration professional, as a Black woman with so many professional and personal accomplishments, and as an amazing human being. Without further ado, it is my pleasure to bring you Rhonda’s story!

Where do you currently work and what is your role?

I currently work as a Director of Administrative Operations for Rush University Medical Center in the College of Nursing.

How would you define being a “good HR leader?”

I would define a good HR leader as someone with compassion, empathy; someone who aligns with the goals of the business but doesn’t forget the “human” in human resources

What was your biggest HR success? Why was it important to you?

Earning my PHR and SHRM-CP!! Earning my credentials was a personal goal and gave me a sense of professional knowledge that was worth the number of times I sat for the exams.

What was your biggest HR setback? What did it teach you?

My biggest HR set back is that with all of my experience in HR, it has proven to be a difficult profession to navigate mid-career. The set-back teaches me that I should be patient with myself.

Who’s one person in your network that readers should know about?

I would say Erich Kurschat! Erich has been the guru for connecting me to others in the HR community and his HRHotSeat event is good information with GREAT people.

As a Black woman in the HR profession, what do you feel HR professionals can do better to promote BIPOC professionals in the workplace?

I believe HR professionals should be promoting BIPOC professionals in the workplace through opportunities. So many times, we have slow access to the HR industry because of educational or professional paths that are not directly associated with HR. In my own case, my path has been indirect, and now that I am in an HR associated role, I do my best to mentor any interested employee. 

Have you seen progress towards this end over career, last several years, last several months? How much further is left to go in your mind for HR professionals to be true advocates for workplace equality?

Progress is slow, but it is still progress. I believe in order to go further, senior HR professionals should reach back and mentor – and mentor those who would not have access to senior leadership.

How would you encourage HR professionals who are wanting to speak out more when they see injustices and wrongs in the workspace, but are struggling to find their voice?

Good question!  I would advise my fellow BIPOC professionals to use your experience to give an understanding on systemic and historical injustices; sometimes people don’t know what you feel because they’ve never heard it before. And I would advise my non-BIPOC professionals to use your influence to bring attention to injustices in the workspace. The Civil Rights Movement was not led by Blacks alone. Partner for CHANGE!

Who is one person — historic, famous, or personal — who inspires you to be better?

I would say my daughter. However, I have two, and so it could be either one at any time.  One inspires me to be kind and the other inspires me to be great.

What do you feel is HR’s biggest challenge going to be over the next six months?

Creating space for belonging. The hot topic now is Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. I challenge my HR colleagues to broaden this concept to Belonging – having someone feel as if their contribution matters and is welcomed. This is BELONGING.

As one of the original members of the State Line Crew, I want to say I miss you and the other members of our Crew dearly! What is your favorite thing about being a part of the State Line Crew?

BEER!! And having the opportunity to move outside of my circle and meet new people. I have developed an affinity toward this Crew and miss you all tremendously. You all helped me to like great beer, good beer, and bad beer.

How can people connect with you?

The way to reach me is through my LinkedIn account at I also have twitter. My handle is @dreamweaver3167.

Lastly, what’s one thing you think the world should know about you – personal or professional? Have fun with this one!

That I love British history! I have watched the Crown at least 50 times (every episode) and binge-watched Downton Abbey in two weekends. There is also a series on CNN about First Ladies that has captured my attention – I can’t wait to get all the episodes at once. Anytime something is on that is historic I go down a rabbit hole.

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