Sean Loosli--the 2003 top male Most Valuable Student who is pictured taking an ussie with the scholars at the 2017 Leadership Weekend--stayed in touch with the Elks before staying in touch with the Elks was cool.
“Years before we started to engage Elks scholars on a higher level, he set the gold standard,” says Debbie Kahler Doles, the Elks National Foundation’s assistant director. “Through leadership and service to others, he epitomizes what it means to be an outstanding Elks scholar alum.”
And that’s why the Harvard grad from Utah who now lives in the Bay Area is our 2017 Alum of the Year.
Loosli foreshadowed his proactive approach to relationships in his MVS acceptance speech at the 2003 Elks National Convention in St. Louis.
“Most of us probably couldn’t name the past 15 presidents, 15 recent Nobel Peace Prize winners, or the past 15 Super Bowl champions,” he said then, “but would have no trouble, whatsoever, compiling a list of 15 people who have mentored, befriended or helped us and shaped us into the people we are today.”
Loosli went off to Cambridge that fall aspiring to be the type of person who winds up on the latter list. Bryce Caswell, his co-winner who also went to Harvard, now counts him among her closest friends.
“I was so fortunate to find a friend who cared so much about giving back to people in a way that was selfless and kind and human,” Caswell said in 2015. “It made me aspire to be a better person.” (Watch a 2015 interview with Loosli and Caswell here.)
After his freshman year at Harvard, Loosli took two years off to do missionary work in Russia for his church. Upon returning to school in 2006, he frequently reached out to the Foundation staff to ask how he could give back to the organization that had opened so many doors for him. During his junior year, the ENF finally took him up on the offer.
Back in Loosli’s home state of Utah, a donor named Thelma Young had achieved the Diamond level of giving, meaning she had donated $100,000 to the Foundation cumulatively. To date, only eight people have ever achieved that level. Naturally, the state association wanted to celebrate the milestone. It arranged to present Young’s award at a state convention.
The Foundation staff asked Loosli if he’d like to speak at the ceremony. He jumped at the opportunity to thank one of the donors who had made his scholarship possible, so the Foundation flew him across the country for the event.
Loosli graduated Harvard with a degree in Russian Studies and continued that pursuit at Stanford, where he earned a master’s degree. However, in the Bay Area, tech is king. Loosli landed in the industry. Today, he’s in product innovation for a financial software company.
“That means that I do a lot of different things with our employee base and our customer base on how we can solve problems more creatively,” he says. “How we can think about doing customer research differently to create better products.”
He continued to stay in touch with the ENF, informing the staff of his various life changes. Graduation. New jobs. His marriage. But when he learned that the Elks National Convention would be in Reno in 2013—a “short” four-hour drive from home—he stepped it up, asking how he could be part of the festivities.
The staff tapped him to speak at the general session and to participate in a panel discussion on engaging Elks scholars. He also received an invitation to the Foundation’s special event, where he reconnected with some of the donors he met back in St. Louis.
Two years later, the Foundation selected Loosli to serve on the interview panels at the 2015 Leadership Weekend. He continues to serve in that capacity, but just like the finalists, the weekend means so much more to him than those 20-minute interviews.
“It’s energizing and inspiring,” Loosli says. “It’s great for all of us to be able to see people who may have come from similar backgrounds and have that validation of being able to break out of whatever you might have been through or whatever your current circumstances are to create a better future for yourself and for others.”
The weekends have also provided an opportunity to mentor students who often remind Loosli of his younger self. Recently, he met Mark Ansell, 2015’s top winner who is now at Berkeley, for pizza and to catch up.
“A couple of other people have reached out to me over email or just texted back and forth to talk about different opportunities that have come up or to ask for advice about this or that,” Loosli says. “It’s been great to be able to stay in touch with them to see where their paths are taking them as well as maybe have some small role in helping them discover their own passions or discover what might be a good next step for them in their own lives.”
Wherever those next steps lead, Loosli encourages his fellow scholars to stay connected with the Elks.
“Stay involved,” he says. “Be proactive. Reach out. Think about how you might continue to build that community.”
He certainly will.
Loosli will return to Reno this summer to reunite with his #ElksFamily and receive the Alumni of the Year Award.
Cue ’80s power band:
“Hold on loosely,
But don’t let go”