Women Making an Impact: Lindsey Whissel Fenton

Lindsey Whissel Fenton sitting at a table with her laptop and a cup of coffeeThis year’s Women’s History Month theme is Celebrating Women Who Tell Our Stories. The focus of this timely theme is to honor women in every community who have devoted their lives and talents to producing art and news, pursuing the truth, and reflecting society decade after decade. Lindsey Whissel Fenton, senior producer and director at WPSU, is one of those storytellers. We recently chatted with her about the impact she’s making at work and beyond. Here’s our talk:

Tell me about your role with Penn State Outreach.

I create award-winning content for the station’s broadcast and digital presence as well as for WPSU Creative Services — a unit that delivers nationally recognized video, web, online education, streaming, and podcasting solutions for Penn State clients. I earned my M.Ed. in Learning, Design, and Technology through World Campus, so I have a background in instructional design that I draw from to shape my projects. I love working on multiplatform projects that leverage the intersection of storytelling and education. In the past few years, I’ve developed an interest in audience strategy and love building engaged communities on social media. I also do a fair amount of grant writing and fundraising in collaboration with our project development manager.

How does your work impact the communities within Penn State Outreach?

I’ve been fortunate to work on a wide variety of media projects that I feel directly impact our communities. I am particularly passionate about exploring subjects related to mental health and am continuously working to develop more content in that space. Most recently, I produced, directed, and wrote Speaking Grief, a multiplatform initiative to create a more grief-aware society, and I continue to lead the initiative’s successful outreach strategy and produce content for its presence on Facebook and Instagram. In addition to the broader impact this project has had, I’ve also heard from colleagues and friends that they’ve turned to Speaking Grief as a resource when they or someone they know experienced a loss and that it’s helped them — that means so much to me.

In addition to Speaking Grief, I continue to look for ways to address other needs in our community. For example, our was team was inspired to extend the impact of Speaking Grief. So, we developed an idea for a mobile application that helps people provide meaningful, ongoing support to the grieving people in their lives. The resulting app, Follow the Nudge, was funded through an internal competition known as the WPSU Innovation Challenge and launched last year. The same team of colleagues and I also created The First Step, an online learning resource that helps individuals take an action that can have a positive impact on their well-being.

How do you hope to see your position grow during your time with Penn State?

I’m a mission-driven person, so it’s important for me to feel connected to organizational and project-specific goals. So far, I’ve been extremely fortunate in that regard. I hope to be able to continue to work on projects that fulfill me personally and professionally and that have a meaningful impact on the communities we serve. In a creative field, there’s always room to improve your craft, so I look forward to continuing to grow as a writer and director. I’m also eager to further develop my skills with regards to audience strategy and fundraising, and I see those responsibilities becoming an increasingly important part of my position.

What about your work makes you most proud?

I’m proud when I receive feedback that something I’ve created has helped someone — this could be that they felt seen and validated in their own experience and/or that they learned something new that is directly applicable to their lives. With Speaking Grief, I loved hearing that the content our team created helped people feel more confident reaching out to people they knew who had experienced a loss. We even heard of at least one instance in which Speaking Grief contributed to someone repairing a previously damaged relationship; you can’t hope for a better outcome than that.

Something else that gives me a boost is when I get real-time feedback on set from someone I’m interviewing that I’ve created a comfortable space for them. I tend to gravitate toward “heavier” topics, and hearing that people feel safe sharing their stories makes me feel really, really good. Earlier today, someone I interviewed told me they could tell I was really present with them in the conversation. Those are the types of comments that make me glow.

I’m also proud of the relationships I’ve built with my colleagues. My projects require me to lead diverse teams across multiple departments, including production, development, marketing, education programs, instructional design, and multimedia. I’m intentional about creating a dynamic in which individual contributors feel a sense of investment and ownership of the end product. I’d say we have a supportive, collaborative culture at WPSU, in general, and I try to nurture and strengthen those bonds as much as possible. These past couple of years, especially, I’ve noticed an increase in vulnerability and authentic communication that I love seeing because it means we all feel safe enough to be real with each other.

What advice would you offer to individuals who are interested in making a greater impact in their respective fields?

I love the quote, “You can do anything you want but you can’t do everything you want.” I think, ironically, you often need to do less to have a greater impact. I’m sure I’m not the first person who has had to learn the hard way that when I try to take on too many things, the outcome suffers — even if I really care about those things. I’m a curious person and can easily find myself drawn in multiple directions because of that, so I’ve found it helpful to come up with a personal mission statement and use that as a sort of litmus test for where I invest my energy.

I’ve also learned to stop expecting people to mindread. Earlier in my career, if there was a particular project or subject area I was passionate about, I would assume other people in my organization knew it. Then, I’d be disappointed if I wasn’t given the opportunity to work on it and assume there was some other reason I wasn’t included. Over the years, I’ve learned that many times, people simply had no idea I was even interested in whatever the project was and if they had known, they would have been happy to let me work on it. So, I’ve become much more proactive about speaking up when I’m passionate about something, and the results have been wonderful. Not only do I feel more fulfilled, but I believe the organization benefits as well. When people get to work on things they care about, the results almost always seem to be better and the impact greater.