Jess Ekstrom Photo

I'm on Junior Panhellenic and we sponsored Jess coming to speak to our community. I honestly think it was the best money we've ever invested. Being in the Greek Community I've heard a lot of speakers, but hers was the most inspirational speech I've ever heard! She made me want to find my own "perspective anchor" and to stop measuring my success based on tangible achievements, but rather the feeling you get doing something you love.

Julianne Cavanaugh, James Madison University

Jess is extremely intelligent. Her business knowledge and professional attitude at her age blew my mind. ‘You shouldn't have to decide between making a living and making a difference’

Taylor Presley, North Carolina State University

This was my favorite event so far. It really gave me motivation to do what I believe in.

Brittany Lee, Marshall University

Coming to Jess's program was one of the most amazing things I've ever experienced. I can without a doubt tell you right now that what she presented tonight was my "spark" she was talking about. I finally figured out what I want to do with my future and how I want to be remembered because of her program. I cannot thank her enough for giving me that extra push!

Kelsey Thompson, James Madison University

When she got to the podium at graduation, she gave the best speech I've ever heard. She's living proof that one person truly can make a difference.

Jennifer Crow, North Carolina State University

Headbands of Hope: How One College Student Refused to Wait to Make a Difference

Who says an internship can’t change your life?

During the summer of her junior year, Jess Ekstrom worked for the Make-a-Wish Foundation. As she interacted with children facing life-threatening illnesses, she discovered that young girls loved to wear headbands instead of wigs after losing their hair to chemotherapy.  Armed with inspiration to do good beyond her internships, she soon after founded Headbands of Hope.

HOH creates fun, fashionable headbands, and for every headband purchased, one is given to a girl with cancer and $1 is donated to childhood cancer research. Since launching the organization in 2012, HOH has been featured on The Today Show, Seventeen Magazine, Forbes, and more. Most importantly, thousands of headbands have been donated to girls coast-to-coast fighting cancer.

So many college students want to make a difference, and plan to do it “someday.” Jess is living proof that a college student with an amazing idea and a willingness to act on it need not wait. College students can build companies, affect change, and solve problems before graduation, if they have the commitment.

In her campus keynote, Jess shares her journey creating Headbands of Hope, encouraging audience members to change awareness of issues into action.  “Awareness is only skimming the surface of change,” she said. “When we focus on action instead of just awareness, things really change.”

Jess is a great choice for programs that encourage leadership, social change and making the most of your college experience. Consider her whenever you are promoting service and social change to students.

Consider her for women’s achievement seminars, new student orientation, leadership conferences, and more. She is also a wonderful option for Panhellenic councils looking for an example of a woman who put the value of service into action.

Inspire, Not Require

Has community service become a requirement?  Something we have to do to please those evaluating us?  From college applications to campus awards, so many students are engaging in service projects within their organizations.  But, are they really making the connection to the good work they are doing?

In this keynote, Jess Ekstrom encourages student leaders to “redefine philanthropy” from a requirement to a lifestyle.  “We’re so worried about crossing philanthropy and service requirements off our list that we forget the purpose behind it. We forget to feel the passion.”

Jess uses examples from her own development as a student leader and philanthropic professional.  As founder of Headbands of Hope, she has learned the amazing power of service – changing thousands of children’s lives.  She understands that service often means doing grunt work, but she knows how a connection to those who are served makes all of it extremely worthwhile.

When Jess walks into the hospital and sees a girl’s face light up, she understands what success means.  She reminds audiences that making that connection is the key to finding the meaning in community service and social change. By connecting other students to the inspiration of service, they can raise more money, solve more problems, build better leaders and change their communities.

Sometimes, creating that inspiration means taking risks and coloring outside the lines, she says.

If students at your campus need to make a stronger connection between their service activities and the ethics of service, this program will open their eyes and hearts. If you are planning a large campus service event (dance marathon, Relay for Life, etc.), Jess will get your coordinators better equipped to communicate the crucial messages to other students. 

Leadership: Millennial Style!

Jess Ekstrom admits that she hid her young age when starting her business. At 20, she feared the Millennial stereotypes would be stamped on her forehead. She worried that no one outside the college environment would take her seriously. 

Why?  Look around.  There are thousands of articles bashing today’s 20-somethings. “I thought the fact I was finishing my Spanish homework in between conference calls would make me less credible and they’d just write me off,” she said.

She learned quickly that being a Millennial was actually one of her biggest strengths. Jess realized the stereotypes that are placed on her generation could be turned into qualities of great leaders. In her keynote, students will learn from a fellow Millennial how to use their age and generation stereotypes to become leaders in their communities.  Being socially connected, itching to see the world, expecting success, and being a self-starter are all qualities that can be used for good, contrary to what some in the media might suggest.  Jess encourages audiences to crush the stereotypes and take advantage of the resources available to college students to get an amazing idea off the ground.

“People in their twenties need to quit listening to those who say they can’t, and start acting to show that they can,” Jess said. In this keynote, perfect for any canoys leadership conference, she recounts all the rejections, mistakes, lessons and recalibrations she experienced (and continues to experience) as a social entrepreneur. “If I’m not failing at something, I’m not trying hard enough,” she said.

Self Made Success: Making College Count

When Jess started college, she wanted to become a better public speaker, so she taught fitness classes and became a campus tour guide. When she wanted to jump start her career, she worked with the campus career center and landed an internship with the Today Show. When she needed to make friends, she took a leap and joined a flag-football league. When she wanted to start a business, she worked with the business school to create Headbands of Hope.

During her keynote, Jess stresses the importance of maximizing each opportunity that presents itself during college. She shares her own stories, tips, and tricks that she found helped her succeed not only during college, but also in building her dream career as a business owner and philanthropist. Broken down into four key areas students are eager to hear about, Jess walks them through being successful in the classroom, getting involved on campus, being safe on the weekends, and making preparations now for life after college.

Through funny anecdotes (like the time she failed two tests) weaved with practical tips students can begin using immediately, Jess encourages students not to wait until their senior year to get involved. Highlighting opportunities like holding positions in student government, running a campus event, or even applying for once-in-a-lifetime internships, Jess will inspire students to focus on making their years in college have an impact that lasts well past graduation.

Jess's Bio

During her junior year of college, Jess started her own company, Headbands of Hope, to help brighten the lives of children battling cancer. For every headband purchased, one is given to a girl with cancer and $1 is donated to the St. Baldrick’s Foundation to fund life-saving childhood cancer research. Jess works full-time as the CEO of the company, regularly visits hospitals around the country to deliver headbands to girls and visits campuses nationwide to share her story of how she turned a summer internship into an organization that changes the world. Jess decided to put all of her tips and tricks (and mistakes) into a guide to help others who are about to embark on their college journey. Her book, The Freshman Fabulous: The Girl’s Guide to College, is available on Amazon.

Jess is a 2013 graduate of North Carolina State University.


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