When Tina Carstensen graduated from Newton High School in 1993 and packed her bags for Central College in Pella, she had one thing in mind: pursuing her love of art.
While a career as a potter or painter wasn’t necessarily in the cards for Carstensen, the resulting endeavors could not have come together in a better fashion.
After graduating with a degree in communications studies, Carstensen launched her career in the marketing department at Shive-Hattery architecture firm in West Des Moines, joined a local leadership academy and dove headfirst into volunteer efforts – all things that led to her being honored as a part of the Des Moines Business Record’s 2013 “40 Under 40” class.
“At Central, the program is a Communications/Theatre background, so I was able to design sets and do makeup and lighting and costume design,” she said of her time in school. “That really piqued my interest in other things. I knew I was going to be able to make a living with graphic design. My family is all still in Newton, so I knew I wasn’t going to go live on the East Coast and design sets for movies. I knew I needed to stick around, and that there would be opportunities for communications and graphic design, if not in Newton, in Des Moines.”
After commuting for six years, Carstensen moved to West Des Moines in 2008 – the same year she became involved in an organization she credits with her selection for the 40 Under 40 class.
“I moved to West Des Moines in 2008 because I wanted to be that much closer to my job,” she explained. “It was at that point that I got involved in the West Des Moines Leadership Academy, and I give sole, 100-percent credit to them for me being in this 40 Under 40 group. Without them, I wouldn’t have broken out of my shell, I wouldn’t have started getting involved in the community and I wouldn’t have met the hundreds of amazing people that I’ve met.”
The West Des Moines Leadership Academy began in 2008 with a class of 30 students that met once a month for a daylong session discussing leadership styles and enhancing leadership skills. As a portion of the curriculum, each class is assigned to develop a community service project; Carstensen’s class aimed at improving the lives of less fortunate kids in the West Des Moines area.
“It was called ‘Building Leaders One Kid at a Time,’ and essentially what we wanted to do as a group was to get to the less fortunate students in West Des Moines,” she said. “West Des Moines is seen as a more prestigious community, and it’s very, very much not; it surprised a lot of people. West Des Moines Human Services came to one of our classes and shared how many kids were on free lunches and needed the help, so we wanted to share with these kids opportunities they may not have had otherwise.”
Among these opportunities were a trip to an Iowa Cubs game where the kids were allowed to throw out the first pitch, a behind-the-scenes tour at the Des Moines Playhouse and a limo ride through the Jolly Holiday Lights display. It wasn’t all fun and games, however, as Carstensen’s class showed these students just how it feels to give back as well, via Christmas letters sent to troops on active duty.
It was this project – combined with the 90 extra minutes she saved by not having to commute from Newton to West Des Moines each day – that lit the fire for community service in Carstensen and drove her to become involved in a handful of organizations throughout West Des Moines, namely those that help animals.
“I’m insane about animals,” she said. “They have been, for the longest time, my first and foremost passion. I work with the Zoo Ambassadors at Blank Park Zoo, and we’ve worked on an animal play yard as well as the Gibbon monkey habitat.”
In addition to the zoo, Carstensen regularly works with the Animal Rescue League and Animal Lifeline – however, it’s in a way you might not expect.
“Because I am so passionate about animals, the day-to-day work would be difficult for me because I want to take them home,” she added. “I figure I can always sit at my desk and do graphic design work for them, though.”
These efforts, combined with numerous other graphics projects she’s completed strictly as a volunteer, made Carstensen a prime candidate for this year’s list. Despite this, the notification of the honor still took her by surprise.
“Jason Swanson (Business Record Director of Operations) called to let me know I’d been chosen, and I was surprised because it’s a very strong competition – they get around 150 applicants each year,” she explained. “It is, with what I’ve been hearing, the top of the crop. I’m grateful for all the letters of recommendation from the people that have helped me get to this point.”
While the induction into the 2013 40 Under 40 class, which will take place March 12, is the most recent accolade on Carstensen’s extensive resume, she remains modest in her assessment of the honor.
“It’s so humbling that so many people think I do a great job at what I do,” she said. “For me, a humble girl who grew up in a trailer court in northeast Newton, this is a huge honor.”