A record number of women were sworn into the 116th United States Congress earlier this year. If Beckie Ramstack ’97 Thompson and her daughter, Keira, have any say in the matter, that number will continue to grow.
Beckie recently launched I Don’t Want to be a Princess, a company dedicated to inspiring and empowering girls to be anything they want regardless of societal conventions. The idea came about after Beckie told a friend about a trip to Disney with her family, including a then-5-year-old Keira. At every turn, Keira was referred to as a princess. After having enough of this, the self-aware 5-year-old turned to her mother and said, “Mommy, this is so annoying. I don’t want to be a princess; I want to be a pilot.”
Beckie’s work to empower girls didn’t stop there. She also has formed a partnership with the Milwaukee Business Journal to launch STEaM Summit for Girls in March 2018. It’s the work through her nonprofit company, as well as her personal and professional background, that earned Beckie the Valparaiso University Alumni Achievement award last fall.
Getting her wings
Prior to Valparaiso University, Beckie attended parochial elementary, middle, and high school, so a faith-based university setting was a perfect fit for her. As the oldest child in her family, she knew she needed to branch out but didn’t want to go across the country or enroll at a large university. Instead, she wanted a smaller setting because she “wanted a chance to be herself.”
Beckie visited Valpo and within 10 minutes knew she had found her home for the next four years. “It was a feeling. I loved the green grass. Everybody said ‘hi,’ and not just to us, but to each other,” she recalls.
It was at Valpo that her eventual chosen profession — marketing and public relations — got its start. Always a gifted writer, Beckie started working in Valpo’s university relations department the second semester of her first year. It’s there that she started to truly learn and understand the history of Valpo and what students and faculty were doing both at the University and globally.
While it gave Beckie her first real-world experience, this job also introduced her to her best friend, Rachel Duchow ’98 Schaar.
“Beckie always had a positive attitude and outlook on life,” Rachel says. “I knew then at Valpo that she would accomplish whatever she set her mind to. I’ve always admired that Beckie has creative ideas and works to implement them tirelessly, whether that be finding others in the community who may want to work with her or sharing her ideas on a larger platform.”
Going places that were predominately male is something Beckie has done all along. While she attended an all-girls high school, she found herself alongside her father on many occasions enjoying all kinds of sporting events. It didn’t seem like a big deal to her to enroll in a Sports and Society freshman seminar at Valpo. The fact she was one of only two female students in the class didn’t faze her — nor did being the only one still in attendance the second day.
One assignment has had a lasting effect on her. She had to write a speech and present it in front of the class. Having grown up in the same area as Olympic speed skater Dan Jansen and following his inspirational story, Beckie did her speech on Jansen and his ability to persevere even when facing adversity.
The professor was so impressed that he entered it into a competition without Beckie knowing it. It shouldn’t come to anyone’s surprise that she won. That professor just happened to be the one who had hired her to do PR for the University.
Years later, Beckie met Jansen, who signed her award-winning speech.
In Thy Light, We See Light
Helping others was a way of life for Beckie. While she came to love sports like her father, she and her two sisters were always volunteering thanks to their mother. A teacher for 38 years, their mother would take them with her whenever she volunteered.
That continued during her time at Valpo. “Giving back is so ingrained in every class. It’s part of the culture,” Beckie says. She takes the Valpo motto of In Thy Light We See Light to heart.
She recalls fondly the Sunday evening candlelight services. Beckie would often see friends or classmates at those services, giving her a sense of family. “It was a great way to start the week,” she says. “Valpo gives you a sense of community.”
Even today, that special feeling remains. “You meet someone from Valpo, you have this immediate
shared set of values,” Beckie says. “It’s how you treat people. We were meant to give back and care for one another.”
Helping those who help others
After a couple years as a marketing manager in the corporate world, Beckie joined the National Multiple Sclerosis Society as vice president of marketing and development. That is where she learned that nonprofits are businesses with a heart — with an emphasis on business. Her boss and mentor instilled that axiom in her, one she still refers to today.
With her career going strong and aching to one day bear more responsibility and oversight at the MS Society, Beckie became a mom to Keira. Besides being headstrong enough to want to be a pilot and not a princess at age 5, Keira was born on the autism spectrum. Beckie knew then that being a full-time mom was her next career move. For the next few years, she and her daughter worked toward the goal of having Keira start mainstream kindergarten with her friends. With that mission accomplished, Beckie took on another career challenge, and her two worlds collided.
A friend and colleague from her MS Society days launched a marketing firm to work with nonprofits and foundations. With her “business with a heart” mantra and sports background, Beckie took on the J.J. Watt Foundation, named for the all-pro Houston Texans defensive end, as one of her first clients. The partnership was wildly successful, which led to more work with athletes and large nonprofits and more time traveling and away from home.
It was then that Beckie, looking to take a step back, took that fateful trip to Disney that would forever change her and her daughter’s lives.
“That’s a story that needs to be told,” Beckie says now of her daughter’s exclamation of wanting to be a pilot and not a princess. “It’s fine if girls do want to be princesses. But it’s fine if they don’t. Let’s talk to girls more about their abilities and not appearance. Use adjectives that describe their potential and not their looks.”
Rachel has also become an advocate. “It was fun to see the beginning of Beckie’s idea for I Don’t Want to be a Princess and how it blossomed,” she says. “I’ve been able to see hundreds of girls and women share their excitement for careers in the STEaM fields, and I know that Beckie helped to facilitate and create that whole experience.”
Keira gets her wings
Beckie, with her husband, John Thompson ’97, as her biggest fan, now combines her personal and professional passions. Besides working to empower girls and women, Beckie also consults with other nonprofits, helping them see that while they are a business with a heart, they are still a business. She also is starting to look into public speaking.
As for Keira, she may just be a pilot. Or a painter. Or, as she recently told her mother, she “thinks she might give President a try.”
This is where Beckie recalls her alma mater’s motto again.
“It’s what you make of what comes at you,” she says. “It shows that you can find light in any situation if you’re willing to let it in.”