Engineering a Dream Career
by Darrell Anderson
Maureen Anderson has said it herself many times: lives were saved because no one has ever had to drive on a bridge she designed. As a published author and host of a nationally-syndicated radio talk show now, motorists everywhere can rest easy.
She was Maureen Harrington from Omaha when she spent five years at UNL to get her civil engineering degree. Female engineering students were rare in the late 1970s and, when Maureen graduated in 1981, companies were eager to hire women to diversify their workplaces. She got a job with AT&T in their management training program -- and worked in Minneapolis, Kansas City and Louisville.
Her time with AT&T confirmed what Maureen realized while still in college: she really wasn't cut out for engineering work. So why hadn't she switched majors?
"One of my favorite professors noticed what my boyfriend had," she says, "that engineering students were dropping like flies. He knew a lot of us were tempted to quit. 'Before you do,' he said, 'make sure you're running to something and not away from it.'" That made her decision easy. She hadn't fancied herself a quitter, but she also didn't think she could make a living doing what she loved.
Everything changed in 1991. Her seven-year marriage ended, and the next day Maureen boarded a plane to Oregon for a two-week workshop run by Richard Nelson Bolles, author of What Color Is Your Parachute? When she set out for Bend she could've sworn she didn't know what she wanted to do with her life. By the end of the two weeks Maureen realized what she'd always known -- she wanted to write, and she wanted to be in front of a microphone.
After the workshop, Maureen moved to St. Paul, where she worked as a cocktail waitress, newspaper classified ad salesperson and radio sales rep. She also got an internship with the Minnesota News Network, a statewide radio news service.
It was at MNN that she learned how to be a radio journalist, which helped her land a job at KDLM-AM/KOOL 95 FM in Detroit Lakes, Minn., in 1992. Maureen was the station's news director and she hosted the morning talk show, Hodgepodge.
"I lived for that talk show," Maureen says. "I was at a small station in a small town, but I went at it as if I was at CNN. One of my earliest thrills was talking Bobby Knight into doing an interview while he was still the men's basketball coach at Indiana University." Knight timed the interview so it would air the day before the Hoosiers played the Minnesota Gophers. "I couldn't sleep that night," Maureen says. "I felt like the kid in A Christmas Story who takes his brand-new BB gun to bed with him and dreams of getting off spectacular hip shots."
In five years, Maureen was ready for the next stage in her radio career. In 1998, she left the local stations and began doing a daily syndicated feature called The Career Clinic, which focused on career development topics. Stations in dozens of markets around the country, including New York City, Philadelphia and Portland, picked up the show. It was carried worldwide on the American Forces Radio Service.
Maureen's second occupational love is writing. In 2001, she wrote the memoir of world class marathon runner Dick Beardsley, Staying the Course: A Runner's Toughest Race, which chronicled not only Beardsley's running exploits but also his battle with an addiction to painkillers.
In 2006, Maureen's second book, Left for Dead: A Second Life after Vietnam, won a Minnesota Book Award. It was the memoir of a combat-wounded soldier from Minnesota who was pronounced dead both on the battlefield and in a field hospital in Vietnam. Jon Hovde survived the loss of both a leg and an arm, went on to a successful corporate career, became president of the Minnesota School Boards Association, and speaks publicly about his story.
Maureen's third book, The Career Clinic: Eight Simple Rules for Finding Work You Love, weaves her personal career journey into a collection of fifty profiles of people who found their dream jobs.
"I can't believe how much fun this is," Maureen says of what she now calls her combo platter career. She often jokes she's found not one but two careers she's almost embarrassed to get paid for: "But the thing about radio or writing," she adds, "is that you're not generally paid so much you can't live with yourself."
In 2008, Maureen got back in the talk show game. A new 50,000-watt AM station was being built in Fargo, North Dakota, just an hour away from her home in Detroit Lakes. It was a two-hour weekend show, and was also called The Career Clinic. It soon went into national syndication, as well. The show has since been renamed Doing What Works: Your Guide to a Better Life, and is heard on some 80 stations nationwide.
Maureen blogs for the Huffington Post and has several other books in progress, including one about a diet she developed that's junk food free. She thinks her mission in life -- at least at the moment -- is to help people break their addiction to sugar.
"I went cold turkey," she says, "and it's by far the best thing I ever did for myself."
Speaking to groups about her recovery -- she celebrated seven years of junk food sobriety in August -- is as much fun as she can have: "I love fielding questions from people who think they've tried everything when it comes to a diet, but they haven't tried this."
Although Maureen's career path veered away from engineering, she's always been proud of her time at UNL. There aren't many talk show hosts and writers, after all, who can say they have a degree in civil engineering. "It's always good for a laugh," she says. "When, for example, I have to ask someone how to work a television remote."
Darrell Anderson is married to Maureen Harrington Anderson (’81 – BS, Civil Engineering). They own and operate a radio production and syndication company and their programs air on hundreds of radio stations across the United States. Darrell has worked full time in the radio business since 1979, including stints as a news reporter, talk show host, station owner and manager. They have a daughter, Katie, who is a senior at New York University — but is the proud owner of two Husker shirts.