Age 34  |  Director of career services/corporate relations, Kaplan University

The best part of Lori Gelhaar’s position at Kaplan University, she says, is hearing students speak a simple phrase: “I got the job.”

Gelhaar works closely with Kaplan graduates to help them find jobs, which she describes as one of the most rewarding positions on campus.

“The population that we serve, for many students this is their first (academic) success,” Gelhaar said. “Many of them are so proud to be that first-generation college graduate, to have that diploma, and then accept that first full-time real job. ... You can’t even explain the level of excitement that they have.”

Gelhaar has worked at Kaplan (formerly Hamilton College) since 2002, in which time she has helped increase the school’s graduate placement rate. Learning her role at Kaplan was a bit of a challenge, Gelhaar said. She had previously worked in human resources and then in executive recruiting, but never in education.

She recalls her first day at the college, when her boss took her to her office, said “good luck,” and left it up her to figure out the job.

“I remember sitting there thinking, ‘All right, where do I start?’” Gelhaar said. “And my predecessor wiped everything, and had thrown away everything and had cleaned off his computer.”

Ed Rogan, president of the college at the time, gave Gelhaar the freedom to implement things and try new ideas. That allowed her to learn and grow from her mistakes.

One of the ideas that did work was the creation of a program called Keeping Educated Youth in Des Moines, which is an organization designed to bring local area colleges and universities together to share best practices and learn from each other.

Gelhaar is also busy with her husband, three children and two dogs.

Five reasons she’s a 40:

• Increased job placement rate for Kaplan University graduates.

• Gelhaar is the chair of the Employers’ Council of Iowa, on the board of directors for the Urbandale Chamber of Commerce and founded Keeping Educated Youth in Des Moines.

• Gelhaar “redeveloped the department from ground zero” when she took over her role at Kaplan, said Ed Rogan, former president of what was then Hamilton College.

• She has won multiple awards in her position, and the college and department have won multiple awards under her watch.

• Gelhaar has shown passion and leadership on every project she has undertaken, said Susan Bonnicksen, the Urbandale Chamber of Commerce president.

Mentor: Family, friends and co-workers. If she has to pick one, she says, it’s Ed Rogan, former president of Hamilton College.

Fun fact: Gelhaar and her husband, Gerry, are big sports fans. Although they are Packers backers, the only time they’ve been to Lambeau Field in Green Bay was for a country music concert.