Laken Stewart ('08)

Individuals at Milligan College may remember Laken Stewart by her valuable contributions on the softball field while others may remember her by the dedication she gave to academics. However, all of these people would agree that Stewart stood out because of her leadership qualities and her servant’s heart. Stewart credits her leadership and servant-centered attitude to the education she received at Milligan and the relationships that developed there.

Stewart, a native of Pennington Gap, Virginia, graduated from Milligan in 2008 with a degree in accounting. She went on to receive her MBA with an emphasis in finance from ETSU in 2010. Stewart’s inclination toward the world of finances began early on.

“I chose this field because the corporate world has always intrigued me. I also enjoy working with people and numbers,” said Stewart.

Following Stewart’s graduation from Milligan she was contacted by Amira Byrd, the recruiter for Northwestern Mutual Financial Network’s internship program in Johnson City, Tennessee. Byrd contacted Stewart after receiving a recommendation from a Milligan student currently interning with the company. The two quickly scheduled an interview, followed by two more interviews and market surveys. After a debriefing session with the hiring staff, Northwestern Mutual offered Stewart the internship position.

Stewart had researched Northwestern Mutual prior to the interviews and learned of the strength, prestige and success associated with the company. Stewart quickly realized that working for a renowned company like Northwestern Mutual would be well worth the wait and effort required throughout the interview process.

Developed in 1967, Northwestern Mutual’s internship program offers real-world experience along with practical guidance in students’ career selection process. The program provides students the opportunity to work as financial representatives while obtaining their business degree. The “Vault Guide to Internships” magazine has ranked Northwestern Mutual as one of the top ten internships for the past 13 years. 

The internship is structured according to semesters. However, the length of the internship can vary considerably with each participant. Stewart’s internship lasted from July 2009 to July 2010. Her daily responsibilities included calling potential clients to set up meetings for the following week, then meeting with clients either alone or with a senior advisor for joint work. During these meetings Stewart would listen to the clients’ story and learn about their goals, passions, concerns and fears in order to discern how to best aid the client in aligning their actions with their goals.

“I spoke with clients about saving money for a house, for kids’ education, and for retirement.  I explained to clients the importance of risk management and making sure their families were taken care for the ‘what ifs’ in life,” said Stewart. “I helped clients plan both offensively and defensively for life.”

Stewart especially enjoyed the autonomy involved in her position—working essentially as her own boss taught Stewart valuable skills.

“I learned how to be disciplined with my time, how to manage money, and the importance of being self-driven and self-motivated,” said Stewart. “Northwestern Mutual is a goal oriented company so I learned the importance of writing out goals if I wanted to see them come true. I learned the importance of planning at an early age for your future, and how to not take life for granted.”

At the end of Stewart’s internship, Byrd and Nathan Jenkins, Northwestern Mutual branch manager, asked her to stay on full time. After having such a positive experience in the internship, she immediately agreed.

Stewart enjoys her job but acknowledges the difficulties involved in working in a male-dominated profession. She is grateful for the flexibility the job offers. Stewart has the ability to meet clients over lunch, coffee, or even a round of golf which gives variety to her daily routines.

“What I love about my job is that it is the one place where I can directly impact individuals. I have a big heart and I want to make a difference in peoples’ lives and Northwestern Mutual gives me that opportunity,” said Myers.

Stewart encourages students to find an internship that will both expand their comfort zone and challenge their abilities. These factors will make the student a stronger, more confident individual. She also advocates seeking an internship that provides responsibilities, expectations and compensation, in that order.

Stewart credits Milligan with preparing her to enter the workforce and developing her heart of service and leadership qualities.

“In my job I am a servant to my clients and Milligan taught me the humbleness and rewards that come along with serving others,” said Stewart.

Milligan’s business program taught Stewart the necessary fundamentals and foundations of business management and finance necessary to increase her professional success.

“My three years at Milligan were some of the most amazing years of my life, and without having met the people I did, I would not be where I am today and have the great career I have at Northwestern Mutual,” said Stewart.

The Institute for Servant Leadership, which sponsored Stewart’s internship, helps students discover their call in servant leadership and discern their own vocational career through faith and service.