There are many factors that contribute to a young professional’s decision to stay or not stay in St. Louis after graduating college. For guests on today’s St. Louis on the Air, the potential to find and build community is an overwhelmingly important concern.
Diana Zeng is the Executive Director of Full Circle, a non-profit created last year whose mission is to attract, engage and retain young professionals in St. Louis. She was joined in studio by Chris LeBeau, Vice President of Entrepreneur Services at Eagle Bank, and Washington University undergraduate student Andrew Lee.
LeBeau is also a board member for Full Circle and Andrew Lee has been attending Full Circle’s events for the past year.
The three described a lack of connection as one of the greatest challenges facing young professionals in St. Louis. Although the availability of jobs is a central concern, the need for authentic connection is just as relevant of an issue for many recent college graduates.
“You stay in a place that feels like your home,” said LeBeau.
Full Circle’s mission is to address this problem by drawing young people into the community on both a professional and a personal level.
“It’s closing the gap between students and the outside community that really can empower them to do wonderful things in this community,” said Lee, who will be a junior at Washington University next year.
A new event series hosted by Full Circle is called “Beef and a Toast,” and these gatherings (free, but limited to 15 seats) provide an opportunity for guests to discuss their ‘beefs’ with the city and then share a toast to being part of the solution. The first event was held last month on the topic of urban transportation, which continues to come up as an area where many college students and young professionals feel St. Louis could use some improvement.
Through events like these, that give students a chance to make their voices heard, Full Circle hopes to increase young people’s investment in their city.
“I think a very important part of what this organization provides students and recent grads is a sense of shared ownership of the city,” says LeBeau.
Full Circle’s other main event series – “CityTrek” – encourages students to get involved by breaking out of the social “bubbles” that often exist around university campuses.
This process, however, cannot be forced, Zeng said. The goal of Full Circle is not to tell young people what they “should” do, but to provide a series of opportunities so appealing that they will want to find out how they can get involved.
“It’s having people feel like it’s their community, it’s their event and they’re invested,"
Even as they work to help young professionals feel like they are a part of a broader community, Zeng and LeBeau acknowledge that St. Louis may have a bit of an inferiority complex to overcome if their attempts to attract and retain recent graduates are to end in success.
“We have to be proud of the things we are and stop trying to be New York and San Francisco, because we’re not going to be,” LeBeau said. “We just have to be unequivocally us.”
Zeng, who grew up in Massachusetts but was born in China, said she is proud to call St. Louis home, and she hopes that through its efforts to build connections between the city and its young people, Full Circle will help other recent college graduates to feel the same.
“This is my new home. I’m very proud of it. I love it, and I want other people to love it,” she said.
St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work, and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary Edwards, Alex Heuer, and Kelly Moffitt give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.