You may never have interacted with her directly, but if you’ve attended a SWOG group meeting at any point over the last 15 years, virtual, in-person, or hybrid, her work has benefitted you.

As we approach the next group meeting (less than six weeks away!), it’s a good time to profile our meetings manager, Courtney Wille. Not to mention today she marks her 20-year anniversary with SWOG!

Courtney joined the group just three weeks out of college – she applied for a protocol associate position, got an interview, and landed the job. In the two decades since, she’s had personal experience in almost every department within the Operations Office (when confronted with this fact, she mentions she has not had much experience in the quality assurance department, which only proves my point).

Until 2007, most of her experience was working with protocols and contracts. Then SWOG’s meetings manager quit relatively suddenly. Marjorie Godfrey, then director of operations for the group, recognizing ability and grit, called Courtney into her office and asked her if she would like the position. Courtney, perhaps recognizing opportunity, or perhaps just wanting to help, said yes. The immediate result was lots of late nights learning the job, but learn it she did. 

Those of us who have had the luck to work with Courtney directly know she has all the qualities you would want in a meetings planner: ultra-organized, detail-oriented, persistent, armed with an incredible work ethic and, even in the face of enormous changes at the last minute, truly unflappable (she once confided that occasionally she’s flapped behind closed doors, but I don’t think that counts).

“Working with Courtney has always been a pleasure,” says Dana Sparks, SWOG’s director of operations (and someone who joined SWOG at about the same age Courtney did and who has also remained for decades!).  “She maintains a positive attitude despite a myriad of competing priorities, and is always focused on problem-solving, active learning, and quality improvement.”

During Courtney’s tenure in the role, our semiannual meetings have tended to alternate between Chicago and San Francisco, with a few excursions to places such as Atlanta and Seattle mixed in. She says that the consistency of returning regularly to the same hotels, and the relationships she has established with staff at those hotels, have helped enormously in making her job manageable.

Then came the spring 2020 group meeting, completely upended by COVID, and the first of a series of new meeting formats and challenges – initially the virtual meeting, then earlier this year the “hybrid” meeting, combining the litany of requirements of a face-to-face meeting with the many wild cards of a virtual meeting – in short, a ton of extra work. 

“During the COVID experience,” Dana says, “Courtney was able to pivot immediately to work within the virtual meeting environment, and she masterfully used all available tools to make the virtual experiences as valuable as possible for attendees.  But I also think that no one is more thrilled than Courtney to return to the in-person meeting environment.”

Some may wonder, since the group meetings are in the fall and spring, how Courtney keeps busy year-round? A better question is, how does she find time to get it all done? In addition to planning every detail of group meetings, she carries a full slate of other responsibilities, including office management, website management, and maintaining conflict of interest documentation for SWOG members.

What does it mean that she’s been with SWOG for her entire professional life? From her perspective, it speaks highly of the organization as a great place to work. She has found SWOG to be eminently family oriented and says the flexibility is hard to match, allowing her to regularly attend her two sons’ football games and other school events, for example. 

But it’s primarily the people and the mission that keep her with SWOG. She notes that several generations of her family have been affected by cancer, and the group’s public health mission is part of what drew her to apply for a position at SWOG in the first place.

I, for one, am very glad she did, and I look forward to her next 20 years with the group!

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