Laura E. Knights, BS ’03, was always driven to help people and serve her community, a lesson instilled first by her parents and reinforced at Washington University, where Knights was an Ervin Scholar and counted the late Dean James E. McLeod among her mentors.
“He always said that [life] is about service,” Knights says. “No matter what you’re doing, how successful you are, how much money you make — the important thing is serving and being of service. If you’re not serving, you’re not really leading.”
After trying social work and nonprofit development after college, Knights found her passion in personal development and executive coaching. She calls herself an “M-Powerment” coach because of her three-pronged approach to helping people set goals and achieve them: motivation, movement (or action) and momentum.
“I help people do both the heart work and the head work,” Knights says. “The heart work is dealing with self-sabotage, dealing with self-confidence issues that are holding you back from being successful.” After she helps people realize how their own behavior is getting in their way, she helps them take action steps to achieve their goals and make long-term plans to keep going even after coaching ends.
In addition to individual coaching, Knights leads the Dream Builders Mastermind Circle for women entrepreneurs, and she is a sought-after public speaker. She has spoken at PricewaterhouseCoopers, the Chicago Women’s Conference, Family Focus, AmeriCorps and Chicago Public Schools.
One of Knights proudest moments, however, came when she spoke at the Ervin Scholars orientation, in August 2013. “That was full circle,” Knights says. “I remembered sitting in that seat as an Ervin.”
While at Washington University, Knights studied business and also earned a graduate certificate in nonprofit management. In 2006, she enrolled at DePaul University and earned a master’s degree in social work. While she worked and was trained as a clinical therapist, she gave speeches in her free time.
“I would speak and people would reach out to me, needing help with their goals,” Knights says. In 2011, she started her own freelance coaching business. She realized that she’d unwittingly been studying just what she needed in order to be a coach.
Around this time, Knights also received a visiting appointment at the University of Illinois at Chicago as a senior research specialist, where she develops literacy, life skills and career skills programs, as well as workshops for adults and teens.
Knights, though, wanted to do more to serve her community. She had always been interested in girl empowerment. Knights attributes much of her success to mentors, including the college and career counselor at her high school who encouraged Knights to visit Washington University. While a university student, Knights was a facilitator for the women’s prayer group with the Harambee Christian Ministries on campus.
While a therapist, Knights worked in Roseland, one of Chicago’s most dangerous communities. After she left therapy, she decided to start a faith-based mentoring group for girls she’d met in Roseland. Now, many of those girls are in college, and Knights used the material she developed to create a line of books, Destined D.I.V.A. Lifestyle System (Daughters of Integrity, Virtue and Anointing).
“I wanted to train women to do this in their own sphere of influence,” Knight says.
Knights enjoyed writing, and began working on a series of children’s books called Noonie’s World. The first will be out in May 2014. It was inspired by her 4-year-old daughter, Kai, and helps young children strengthen social-emotional skills. The first book, I’ve Got Music in My Soul, is about a child’s love of music, and it includes a companion score that Knight’s husband, Marshall, a musician, wrote for the book.
Knights is glad that her career and free time are devoted to helping people achieve. “Everybody wants to make money, and we want our businesses to be successful,” she says. “But how am I serving? That’s a question I ask myself daily, and a large reason that I know not only came from my upbringing, but also from my experience at Wash. U.”