Cultivating Hidden Potential

PROVO, Utah – Feb 03, 2021 – Whether he’s working with employees or in an untamed backyard, John Cowgill enjoys helping people and plants realize their true potential—finding their ideal growth environment and cultivating hidden potential.

As a BYU Marriott School of Business EMPA student graduating in April 2021 and a job coach at Deseret Industries (DI), Cowgill uses what he has learned in the EMPA program to create valuable connections with DI employees and help them reconnect with the job market. He believes that oftentimes the most effective way to connect with others is through reflective listening. “People’s responses to that kind of listening are amazing. They don’t feel judged,” he says. But he didn’t learn the importance of listening overnight. 

Experiences throughout Cowgill’s life with friends and family have taught him how to show compassion to those with different opinions. “Sometimes we think ‘Well, I need to let them know that I’m right.’ That never goes over well,” says Cowgill. “A great life lesson for all of us is learning to pause and listen.”

As a job coach for DI, Cowgill uses that compassionate approach to reach out to those he counsels. However, compassion isn’t the only thing that helps Cowgill connect with DI’s employees. The difficulties he faced while trying to find his place in the professional world fostered empathy toward those he worked with. 

“I had a hard time deciding what to be when I grew up,” says Cowgill, talking about his own past while growing up in both Montana and Utah. He knew he loved to create, so he decided to pursue what he believed to be a practical application of art: landscape architecture. 

Cowgill began his degree in landscape architecture at Utah State University before transferring to Arizona State University, where he completed his degree in 2007. After graduation, he worked for MHTN Architects in Salt Lake City. Unfortunately, Cowgill was laid off in 2009 as a result of the Great Recession.

After being laid off, Cowgill found work at the city parks department in Bountiful, Utah, before switching jobs again—this time to the city’s power department, a job he admits was neither inspiring nor interesting to him. “My personal experience of working at the power department was mundane,” he says. “I felt like I was just expected to go in, do my job, and keep my head down.”

Cowgill found new hope when he met his own job coach, a counselor at Weber State University, while attending church one Sunday. The counselor helped Cowgill discover his desire to pursue nonprofit management. In order to do that, Cowgill applied to BYU Marriott’s EMPA program. “I feel like I’m on this trajectory to grow exponentially because I had that time of resistance while working for the power department,” he says. “When I thought I was stagnant, I was actually building the energy that has propelled me in a whole new direction.”

The new direction has not only helped Cowgill re-create his career path but has helped him guide others to re-create their own paths as well. Much of what Cowgill has learned in BYU Marriott’s EMPA program has helped him as a job coach for DI. “This job coincides perfectly with what I’m learning in school,” says Cowgill. “Not only do I use what I learn in class in my job, but I’ve also been able to apply a lot of my experiences from work to my classes.”

Though Cowgill spends a lot of time creating connections and work opportunities at work and school, he also enjoys creating in his own backyard. Eight years ago, when Cowgill and his family moved into their new home in Layton, Utah, Cowgill was excited to cultivate the untamed half-acre backyard. “Most people would have said, ‘This is a nightmare; I’ll never want to attack this,’” says Cowgill. “But my design brain kicked into gear, and I thought, ‘There’s so much potential here.’ So, I’ve been shaping the earth like a piece of clay.”

Through coaching, Cowgill helps DI employees shape their future career like he has shaped his backyard. He helps them overcome what may have once been a nightmare, so they can cultivate their own hidden potential. Cowgill says, “I’ve always wanted to be in a position where I could influence people—to connect, teach, guide, direct, and inspire.”

John Cowgill
John Cowgill. Photo courtesy of John Cowgill.
Tree with white blossoms flowers over a rustic wooden shed. The ground around the shed is being shaped for John Cowgills landscape project.
During his free time, John Cowgill enjoys landscaping his backyard. His next project is to plant native Utah flora and fauna. Photo courtesy of John Cowgill.

Media Contact: Chad Little: (801) 422-1512
Writer: Rebecca Nissen