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Cultivating local talent

Posted 8:45 a.m. Thursday, Feb. 1, 2024

Shawna Dale (left) and Lilly Blum discovered their unique skill set through their time at UWL and Inland Packaging.

UWL's college-to-career pipeline is alive and well with local company Inland Packaging

Aspiring business leaders are using their UWL education as a launching pad for successful careers at a local company. 

Shawna Dale (Koss), ‘06, graduated with a degree in marketing and was soon hired as a sales trainee at Inland Packaging, a La Crosse company specializing in label manufacturing. While not classified as an internship, the sales trainee position was created to train and develop a sales professional freshly graduated from college. 

“The education I received at UWL was the catalyst for my career in sales,” Dale says, “even though I did not initially know that this would be the path for me.”

Lilly Blum, '20

Dale is not the only UWL alum who has discovered their unique skill set through their time at UWL and Inland.

Lilly Blum, ‘20, graduated with a double major in marketing and Spanish. She began with Inland Packaging as a marketing intern, leading to her being hired as the marketing communications specialist following graduation. After a year in her position, she transitioned into a marketing operations specialist role. After that, she landed her current position as marketing and CRM (Consumer Relationship Management) manager. 

Blum says she benefited from the variety of courses at UWL, which helped her discover different career pathways that were available to her.

“During my internship and time at UWL, I realized that marketing has a whole host of opportunities and pathways to explore like copywriting, marketing operations, marketing technology, marketing communications and others,” Blum says. “Present day, I’m very thankful I was able to explore some of those pathways in and out of the classroom to help me find a career path that fits my skills.”

Shawna Dale, '06

Dale also thanks the great network of UWL professors, mentors and coaches who helped guide her to the realization that she could be successful in sales. Their influence made her understand her unique skill set and develop her critical thinking and problem-solving skills. 

“I had an amazing support system from the minute I started at Inland that helped me build my confidence and develop a sales style that fit my personality,” Dale says. “There were so many mentors across multiple departments that shared their experiences and guided me through strategy development, removing obstacles and transitioning in new customers.” 

Within a year at Inland, she was promoted to a National Account Manager position, working with some of Inland’s largest customers at the time.  

“Speaking with large CPG’s and Fortune 500 companies was a challenge but provided me with an opportunity to work through complex strategy development early in my career,” says Dale, now the director of sales development. “I would credit my advancement to the training process, but most importantly the culture at Inland and those people who genuinely wanted to see me succeed and grow as a professional.” 

From college student, to trainee, to director of sales development, Dale has seen firsthand the positive effects of fostering local talent. The internship program is one way Inland provides growth opportunities for students.

Internships are important as you begin your career, Dale explains. They provide real-world settings for students and new professionals to understand their skill set and explore what they enjoy doing.  

Blum agrees, attributing her continued success to the lessons she learned during her internship. She was able to get college credit for her internship, which she admits is one reason she started looking for those opportunities early in her academic career. 

Without having my internship, I would not have the skills and career success that I have today,” Blum says. Throughout the packaging and marketing industries, I have come across other alumni. It's fun to catch up with them and build connections! Building relationships with alumni is a fantastic way to expand your network and learn from each other.” 

Inland has a strong history of working with local graduates.

Inland has a strong history of working with local graduates. The company sponsors the UWL sales team, and many UWL alumni who work there have returned to campus to speak to current students about their professional journeys. 

Our relationship with UWL has allowed us to recruit and retain some incredibly talented professionals that have contributed to my team and Inland’s success,” Dale says. “Across many departments within the organization, several local and UWL graduates have progressed into leadership positions. As Inland continues to grow, we feel it is imperative to continue to partner with our local universities to provide opportunities for growth and career development to the next generations.”


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