Monday, February 20, 2023

Curiosity might have killed the cat, but it did wonders for University of Iowa alumnus Duane Wilson.

When Wilson received an Alumni Entrepreneurial Leadership Award from the University of Iowa John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center (Iowa JPEC) in September, it was his first trip to Iowa City in five years.

Five months later, Wilson returns as part of Iowa JPEC’s Innovation and Inspiration Speaker Series. Wilson resides in San Francisco where he is executive director of strategic partnerships for Junior Achievement of Northern California. His speaking event will be Feb. 24 from 11:30 a.m. to 12:20 p.m. in Phillips Hall, Room 100.

Wilson intends to emphasize that being intentional with curiosity can open career doors.

“There are multiple ways to be an entrepreneur,” Wilson said. “Being curious about what is everybody’s why can lead you to different jobs, starting different companies, discovering something new about yourself. Over the years, how do you hone that? How do you maintain that motivation to try something new? How do you still have a curiosity to dream bigger and look at ways to give back?”

Wilson frequently imagines doing new things, but there is always a prerequisite: it has to tie into giving back to different communities.

“My heart is on the youth empowerment side,” said Wilson, who works with 430 school districts in 24 counties from just north of Los Angeles to the Oregon border. “I get to be the mad scientist for the company on testing new things to help move forward financial literacy, entrepreneurship, and workforce readiness for kids.”

A native of Villa Park, Illinois, Wilson is the first person to graduate from the University of Iowa with a degree in interdepartmental studies, social entrepreneurship in 2008. His passion for teaching youth about entrepreneurism began after he served as a counselor for an Iowa JPEC summer camp. In 2011, he published a book, Jackie and the Dreamstalk, a short story that aims to grow ideas, goals, and dreams for children ages 9-14.

Another specialty for Wilson is providing voice-over services, something he has done for worldwide brands Disney and McDonalds.

“You can be an entrepreneur and you can also be part of something else that leverages your gifts, skills, and interests,” Wilson said. “I have been fortunate to have my hand in different projects that have scaled, from working with technology, to going into media, and utilizing that same mentality when I was at the University of Iowa.”

It was at the University of Iowa where Wilson, technically a liberal arts student, enrolled in a heavy dose of business classes. He yearned to find out more when a professor delved into their career path.

“That’s what always got me curious,” Wilson said. “I believe if you keep the element of curiosity of different professions or different ways of life, you will always have opportunities to build and grow.”

There are times when the same curiosity Wilson applauds led to moments of discomfort. That can also be a conduit for greater success.

“Is there fear? Absolutely there is fear. Is there concern? Absolutely there is concern,” Wilson said. “But it is having courage, acknowledging the fear, and still pursuing in an intentional way.”

Wilson is living proof. His background at the University of Iowa, combined with his career trajectory, verify that the future belongs to the curious.