2023 COS CEO: Carrie McKee

News  /  Business

Carrie McKee, senior director of Rocky Mountain PBS Partnerships & Early Childhood Initiatives, talks with Sixty35 Executive Editor Bryan Grossman about her journey to leadership — and today’s challenges — this Wednesday (Jan. 8) at The Venue at Almagre, 2460 Montebello Square Drive, 4:30-6 p.m. 

Athletics have been a big part of Carrie McKee’s life as far back as she can remember. Growing up in the basketball hotbed of Indiana and later in the Washington, D.C., area, she was as comfortable on the court as she was in the classroom or in her community.

As the daughter of a former pro basketball player and college sports administrator, McKee’s life centered on basketball, family and faith. During her teenage years, her father moved the family to the D.C. to take a sports administration job at George Washington University, and that’s where Carrie developed her game.

Hotly recruited by numerous Division I college programs, McKee settled on the University of North Carolina, where she played several years as a Tar Heel center/forward. Her sports journey ultimately culminated with a national championship as North Carolina outlasted Louisiana Tech 60-59 in the 1994 NCAA women’s title game.

But while she relishes her time and experiences that revolved around team sports, McKee says it was another passion she picked up in the D.C. area that actually drove her career path and ultimately led her to Colorado Springs.

“The D.C. area has a lot of arts venues and events, and my mom made sure I experienced those,” she says. “Sports have played a major role in my life, and I learned a lot about leadership and team building from them, but they haven’t been a central part of my life since I graduated from college.”

During her last few days at UNC, McKee happened to meet a U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee administrator who convinced her to come work for the committee in Colorado Springs. After a few years at the USOPC, and a stint at Pikes Peak United Way, she moved on to work for Young Life, a religious based nonprofit, where she taught and mentored teens for the better part of a decade. From there, she took on a lead role at Rocky Mountain PBS.

“I don’t know why I have so many passions, I just know that I am purpose driven,” she says. “Faith is a huge piece for me. Often, it’s listening to what God has to say about what’s next for me. So, most of my career changes have stemmed from that.”

Talk about what you do.

I am part fundraiser, part special projects manager. I generate revenue for RMPBS through corporate partnerships, grants and major donors as well as working as part of a PBS team that engages the public with our content and resources. That involves bringing the right community leaders to the table in order to give access of those resources to the people who need them. Plus, it’s not just having folks come to the table but also sharing their strengths.  That’s the part of my work that I especially love. 

One example of this is the RMPBS KIDS initiative which evolved during the pandemic. We knew that we were not only entertaining children but in fact — teaching and engaging kids, parents, and caregivers of all ages. The PBS KIDS viewership is incredibly diverse and only increased during the pandemic. Me and my team were tasked to create an in-home literacy learning program for kindergarten through third-grade children, which ran for 2 hours every morning, called Colorado Classroom. That project involved finding early educators statewide to teach, educational entities to share their quality content, trusted cultural and community brokers to promote the resources, and funding partners to support the initiative. Lots of players and lots of moving pieces but the end result was hundreds of thousands of families served throughout Colorado during an unprecedented and stressful time. 

I find that almost anyone will come to the table and share what they have if they believe it will have a positive impact on the communities they care about and if they know their contributions will be valued and acknowledged. Connection and impact — that’s what it’s all about for me. Connecting folks so that they not only feel seen and heard, but are also supported right where they are.  

What are the big issues you try to solve?

The type of project doesn’t really matter. Some of the systems for improving are the same in any scenario. We identify strengths, identify opportunities and then get to work by calling the right partners to the table. One of the coolest projects I’ve ever worked on was back when I was at the United Way (a project eventually named as Cradle to Career). It basically identified what the tipping points were for us to become a stronger community and to grow. So, we engaged leaders around the city, from every industry, from every unit of government, from education, from nonprofit and for profit, and we looked for data driven examples of things we could really have an impact around. Then we formed task forces that developed collaborative and creative solutions.

Also, at PBS, we want to provide a voice and representation to people who don’t always get that. We want every Coloradan to feel seen and heard. And that’s big. That’s a tall order.

How do you decide which projects you’ll undertake?

I run everything through a filter of impact, relevance to the community and sustainability. You have to ask, where can we continue to have relevancy and impact? Whether that’s a board in the community or a project, or anything, that filter helps you decide. If it doesn’t have impact, I’m not going to spend my time on it. If it’s not relevant to the communities that we value most, it’s not acceptable.

What is your mentorship philosophy?

Back when I was a kid, basketball was a big part of my life, and I was absolutely not the most athletic or coordinated kid, but I was a hard worker. Any coach I’ve ever played for would tell you, I would run through walls. I was so focused on teamwork and hard work, that I exceeded most people’s expectations, not because I was incredibly athletic or coordinated, but that I would do what was necessary to be among the best.

I also think it’s important for people to expose themselves to others who are bigger or stronger or smarter. Back then for example, I always played basketball with the boys in DC. I could count on one hand how many girls were out there playing basketball with the boys. It made me stronger. It made me tougher. It challenged me in every aspect of the game.

People should also take direction well, and love being challenged. I love being told I can’t do something. Because then I just want to prove you wrong. Some of my biggest leadership lessons came during challenges.

This is applicable in any situation and it doesn’t take high intelligence, high strength or high power to do — that is to show up, be curious, and be humble. 

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