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YPN5Q: STLF co-founder Irene Fernando

In this week’s edition of YPN5Q, we hear from Irene Fernando, co-executive director of Students Today Leaders Forever, a nonprofit that engages college, high school and middle school students in service and leadership.


YPN5Q is a weekly Q&A series spotlighting the state’s top young business and civic leaders and creative minds — professionals propelling change through entrepreneurship, the arts, public service, social media, and community involvement.

This week, we hear from Irene Fernando, co-executive director of Students Today Leaders Forever, a Minneapolis-based nonprofit that engages college, high school and middle school students in service and leadership.

Fernando co-founded Students Today Leaders Forever in 2003 with Brian Peterson, Nick Lindberg, and Greg Tehven. The organization operates under a team leadership structure in which Fernando, Peterson and Josh Remitz serve as co-executive directors.

In addition to her work with Students Today Leaders Forever, Fernando serves on the board of directors of the Charities Review Council and is an investee in Social Venture Partners Minnesota, a nonprofit that invests charitable dollars, time and expertise in social entrepreneurs who create better ways to solve complex social problems.

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Fernando has also served on the board of directors of Twin Cities out-of-school Time — providing high-quality, enriching and accessible programs for school-age children and youth in the metro area during out-of-school time — and the Academy of North Minneapolis.

Irene Fernando
Courtesy of Irene Fernando
Irene Fernando

Name: Irene Fernando
Age: 25
Residence: Minneapolis
Current job title: Co-Executive Director
Current employer: Students Today Leaders Forever 

1. What do you consider your greatest achievement?
My greatest professional achievement is starting Students Today Leaders Forever (STLF) with Brian, Nick and Greg.

I was 17 years old and 10 days into my freshman year of college when the three of us decided that dreaming big was ours for the taking.

Being part of this STLF chapter in its infancy has been amazing, but I am most proud of the 12,000 students that have turned STLF into a movement of young people committed to making the world a better place.

2. What do like most about your current job?
I love the ability to affect positive change, and to do so alongside people I highly respect and care about deeply.

The job of the STLF family (that’s what we call our staff) is to believe in young people. We hope to strengthen STLF, so it is forever driven by youth, for youth.

3. What do you know now that you wish you knew 10 years ago?
If were to share wisdom with any young person — including the 15-year-old version of myself — I would say: You are a leader. You are smart. You are beautiful. You are inspiring. You are.

There’s no need to try to be something else, because you already are worthy and capable.

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Leadership, happiness, achievement … these are not things in the far-off distance that we must journey toward. They start from within.

4. What actions or strategies have been most helpful to you in building your career?
Reflection! It is essential to continually reflect, ponder, learn and stretch your mind.

Reflect on who you are, what you want and why. Reflect on what you need professionally to feel fulfilled, as well as the guilty pleasures you need to feel balanced (TV shows, good books, etc.). Reflect on how you respond to times of stability, times of ambiguity, times of stress.

The better you know yourself, the better you are able to continue strengthening your leadership.

5. Outside of your job, how do you grow professionally?
I’ve had the opportunity to serve on several boards of directors, each with its own personality and purpose.

I’ve learned an incredible amount from serving as a board member; I’ve learned about strategy, about working with people from various generations and backgrounds, and about the leader I want to strive to be in the community.

I also ask a lot of questions. The greatest opportunity we have in life is to learn from others’ thoughts, ideas, experiences and advice.

To nominate a young professional for “YPN5Q,” email with the nominee’s full name, employer or contact info, and one or two brief sentences supporting your nomination.