Executive Profile: Rebecca Lopez Kriss, co-founder, YP Underground, Ann Arbor
In 2005, she was living in the Detroit area and liked it there, but moved to Ann Arbor that year to take a job with Dynamic Edge. She parted ways, amicably, with Dynamic Edge when she decided she needed to do something different with her life and chose to pursue a master’s degree in public policy.
“My focus, my sense of direction was that I wanted to make cities better places to live in,” she said.
While pursuing that degree, she also spent a year as a “professional volunteer.” In addition to volunteer work with a variety of community organizations from the Ann Arbor Arts Center to the Women’s Exchange of Washtenaw, she also was recently elected to the Ann Arbor Chamber of Commerce board of directors.
However, she may be best known in the area as co-founder, along with Angela Kujava, of YP Underground, a networking group for young professionals.
"Angela and I heard the statistic that there were 8,000 young professionals in Ann Arbor," she said. "We thought, that can't be right — how can we not know them?"
The two decided to start an informal networking group where young people could meet other professional folks living and working in Ann Arbor.”
The ‘young’ in the title, she says, is interpreted pretty loosely. “Young-ish,” she said. “However young you feel — it’s not like you get kicked out if you’re over 40.”
Lopez Kriss, 30, describes the YP Underground meetings as “very, very relaxed.” There’s no agenda, and no cause, and it’s “just a way to create space for conversation.”
She and co-founder Kujava have discovered a few secrets to getting young professionals to turn out. One is not having a regular calendar. The meetings are announced about every 6 to 8 weeks, and most of the organization is done via the group's Facebook page. More than 300 people are Facebook fans of the group, and attendance at the meet-ups runs from 50 to 75 people, she said.
“With the lifestyle we lead, a spontaneous event is what works for this demographic,” she said.
She said people also have to be able to stand. “If they’re sitting, they don’t mingle,” Lopez Kriss said. She said having a drink or two also seems to help get participants mingling.
Lopez Kriss said she’s sometimes surprised at the success of the group.
“To me, it’s exciting when I go and don’t know everyone in the room,” she said. “To me, that means the layers of communication have gone out so far, the network has reached out so far, I’m not directly connected to everyone in the room.”
Now that she’s pursuing a master’s degree, Lopez Kriss said she doesn’t have quite as much time to be a professional volunteer, but she still thinks community involvement is important.
“If you don’t like how things are going in your city, then you need to be involved,” she said.
She’s not sure where her drive to get involved comes from, she said, but she thinks there’s something within all of us that makes us want to do good.
“My internal mantra is to leave this space better than I found it, to do good in the world,” she said.
Lopez Kriss, whose business card gives her title as "Independent Thinker," said that volunteering with various community groups allowed her to gain an amazing amount of experience beyond what she would have as simply an employee of a business, while at the same time she was contributing to a greater good.
“It’s not just you and your house and property — you’re part of a much larger world,” she said. That knowledge, she said, should lead to involvement with that larger world.
“It doesn’t have to be volunteering for many hours. It can be picking up trash on your street or helping the neighbor shovel his sidewalk. It’s important to give back in some way.”
Education: Bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Detroit Mercy. Currently pursuing a Master’s of Public Policy, Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, University of Michigan, expected 2011.
Family: Husband, Nicholas Stanley, a software engineer, and Sylvia Plath, the cat.
Residence: The fourth quirkiest apartment in Ann Arbor.
Best business decision: Moving to Ann Arbor.
Worst business decision: Over-committing and not being able to give my all to a particular event I was working on, to the detriment of the event.
Best way to keep a competitive edge: Give yourself opportunities to try new ideas and processes, but set metrics and limits to figure out if it is working.
Personal hero: My Mom.
How do you motivate people? Empower them to solve problems, to create solutions themselves.
What advice would you give to yourself in college? Take advantage of the time to really get into the class; never again will you live so unencumbered, so do the readings and pay attention!
Word that best describes you: Enthusiastic.
First Web site you check in the morning: Gmail.com.
What keeps you up at night? Replaying poor communications in my head to figure out how they can go better next time.
Pet peeve: People who complain but do nothing to change situations or themselves.
Guilty pleasure: Web comics.
First job: Bagger at Holiday Market in Royal Oak.
First choice for a new career: Tour guide in Paris.
Favorite cause: Too many to list.
Favorite book: Susan Sontag’s “At the Same Time.”
Favorite movie: “Strictly Ballroom” or “White Christmas.”
Favorite hobby: Knitting.
Favorite restaurant: Restaurant Bloom, in downtown Grand Rapids.
LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter? LinkedIn, Facebook.
Typical Saturday: It used to be workout, clean house and farmers market, not necessarily in that order. Now it’s study, study, study
What team do you root for? The one with the best sportsmanship.
Wheels: A Schwinn bike, the AATA and a used 1998 Buick Regal for long trips.
Who would play you in a movie? Christina Ricci.
Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and a frequent contributor to Ann Arbor.com.