Leadership Omaha is one of the longest running professional development programs at the Greater Omaha Chamber. Since 1978, participants have immersed themselves in a 10-month learning experience focused on molding them into more effective community leaders.

This year, we’re getting a look inside. We’ll follow Jara Sturdivant-Wilson, Global Corporate Communications Director, Associate Vice President at HDR, as she takes this 10-month journey.


Opening Retreat

Leadership Omaha is a boot camp intensive about all things Omaha–past, present and future. It’s a group of strangers, acquaintances or those you know via six degrees of separation. At least, that’s how I initially described it. But, after our first retreat, I know that Leadership Omaha, is much more than that.

I’m a member of LO Class 44, the first class back after virtual LO Class 43. The class is filled with people from around the Omaha area who, like me, are wrestling with what Omaha looks like or should look like following the impacts of 2020.

We entered our first retreat not sure what our class would look like, what we would solve or question, and we left with our small groups, laughter and resolve to bear witness to what we will experience next.


City Environment

raindrops on a car window

“Oh, this is what Leadership Omaha is about.” That was my first thought during the beginning of October’s Leadership Omaha seminar focused on the City Environment.

“I am exhausted.” That’s what I said nine hours later during the debriefing portion of the day.

One week later, when I was stuck in stand-still traffic on 16th Street on Wednesday, October 27—caught in a perfect storm of downtown construction, pouring rain and Hamilton at the Orpheum — I thought to myself, “Oh, this is what Leadership Omaha is all about.” I was heading to my small group’s meeting at Cumbia, and I was already late.

As I circled for 30 minutes, I remembered a week earlier at the Leadership Omaha seminar where we discussed Omaha’s development and philanthropic history while at The Venue at the Highlander near Seventy Five North’s campus. We discussed the abundance of parking in the downtown area and the new ORBT bus system. The parking commentary really stuck out to me at this point.

I thought to myself, “I need to ride the bus again.” I also thought, “we really do have a lot of parking downtown.” Then, also, “what can I do to support continued growth in the urban core.”

I was then struck by the memory of how we ended our day at Do Space, discussing the other part of Omaha’s history – redlining and the impacts to our community today. Although the topic and impacts of redlining are not new to me and my community, these topics were heavy and impacted my classmates in different ways. We left with different action items and I believe one common commitment – we know we must, and Omaha must, acknowledge we have significant work to do to undo some of the history we inherited and/or have had a part in perpetuating when it comes to community development and supporting our growth.

As I drove around downtown in the rain all of those memories from that first seminar came right back. I went into a dark parking garage, only to leave and circle some more while seeing buses drive by. Ultimately, ironically, I never did make it into Cumbia because of parking. I thought, “the lessons from that first seminar, those are what I need to ponder just a bit more.”

I drove past my small group a few times, only to find myself wondering, “what can our small group and others do to continue developing this place we call home.”

Jara Sturdivant-Wilson

Jara Sturdivant-Wilson

Jara Sturdivant-Wilson serves as HDR’s global corporate communications director and provides strategic leadership, direction and oversight to HDR’s global communications, both internally and externally. Married to Kenley Sturdivant-Wilson and mother to a four-year old Rainbow, Jara loves working out, riding her Peloton (#jaralikeSARAH), taking naps and reading 10 (at least) pages a day (#75hard). She sits on the boards of The Big Garden and Opera Omaha and is happy to support the growing Omaha community.

Be the leader you know you can be.

Leadership Omaha gives community leaders a chance to shine. If you have a vision for the future of Greater Omaha, then this is the program for you.