Kaya Plansker headshot

Leading the way

Alumna Kaya Plansker is helping to strengthen a community network at the helm of Leadership Pasadena.

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For Kaya Plansker, Pacific Oaks alumna, Children’s School parent, and executive director of Leadership Pasadena, living a life that stood up to her values became of paramount importance a few years ago.

After obtaining an undergraduate degree in communications from Boston University and embarking upon an advertising career that spanned 15 years, Plansker started to feel differently about her work, desiring a career that more tangibly helped people.

“I hit a threshold. Something needed to change in my own weighing of living out my values,” she says.

Her children, 2 and 4 years old at the time, were attending Pacific Oaks Children’s School. Plansker got involved with the parents’ and the diversity and inclusion committees. Already on board with its values and goals, she enrolled in the master’s in Human Development program at the College in January 2017.

“I knew key information in my own professional and personal worlds, but they weren’t things that I knew I needed to know,” she explains. “They were things that were relevant to a certain part of life, but were really separate from a life of purpose and personal contribution. That’s what I was looking to have.”

At first, Plansker zeroed in on what she knew she was good at—strategic understanding—and how she could combine that skill with her values and passions. She was excited about the opportunity at Pacific Oaks to get a greater breadth of knowledge and expand her perspective. After graduation, armed with a thesis on community building organizations as facilitators of social capital, she set off to work.

Plansker’s first step was creating BldgC, a publication that showcases the different communities of Pasadena. As she was in the process of incorporating BldgC as an LLC, the lawyer she was working with recommended her to Leadership Pasadena. She joined the class of 2019, going through the eight-month community leadership development program. As a member of Leadership Pasadena, she learned how the city and its different sectors worked as well as expanded her personal network.

At first hesitant to apply to the executive director position, she saw opportunity for Leadership Pasadena to grow and evolve with the times, while helping community leaders become better informed, networked, and self-aware of their own leadership styles so they can be more effective at the areas they impact.

“If we are going to be nurturing community leaders for the future, we need to look at where the future of community leadership is going and make sure that we’re working in areas like advocacy and bringing in a youth voice,” she says. “For me, it’s making sure the class is really encompassing the broad range of community leadership that’s possible.”

The shift to virtual programming in early 2020 necessitated some positive change. Plansker cites the Pasadena history portion of the class as an example. What was once a daylong seminar discussing the history and evolution of Pasadena over time turned into a vehicle for dialogue and change.

The seminar became a quality of life session, looking at where inequity starts, how it’s perpetuated, and where it is still seen in Pasadena. In this way, the participants still learned the history but through a lens that used community voices and engaged in constructive dialogue that participants can incorporate into actionable work.

Although Plansker has seen progress, she knows the organization has more work to do. She is grateful for her education at Pacific Oaks and how it led her to where she is today.

“I couldn’t be here without all the interim steps. I couldn’t be in this role and doing it the way that I feel it needs to be done without the knowledge that I gained in my human development program,” she says.

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