Archive for the 'Alumni Success Stories' Category

More Than a Class Assignment

The Annual Career Fair is an exciting time at Davenport University for many students as they dress to impress recruiters from more than 70 employers and hope to land a great job. However, for students who do not have access to professional clothing, the Career Fair can be an intimidating and uncertain time.

From past experience, staff members knew that on average a dozen students are turned away from the Career Fair each year because of their lack of professional attire. They suspected that there was more to this problem than the students’ lack of awareness or unwillingness to comply with the dress code. That’s when a Davenport University staff member saw a student need that needed to be addressed and stepped in. Brandi Melkild, Regional Internship Manager, created the Panther PRC (Professional Resource Closet) to help.

“I started collecting clothing from staff and faculty, personally purchasing and donating second-hand clothing to have available to students to have before the Career Fair,” said Brandi. To help launch the project, Brandi turned to the Career Services Program Fund, which is largely supported by staff and faculty donors. With this backing, she was able to fund the items that were needed immediately before the 2017 Career Fair.

With tears in her eyes, Brandi said, “Every student who didn’t meet dress code was given the opportunity to immediately upgrade his or her outfit by visiting the closet. Every student had professional attire options.”

After the success in early 2017, Brandi wanted to expand the closet and ensure its sustainability. She presented the project as a business case to Professor Steve Bayus, Distinguished Adjunct in International Business, Marketing and Management and the facilitator for the business experiential learning class. BUSN 489 is a field experience class that students may take in place of an internship for programs like accounting, marketing and business management.

In the spring of 2017, the students were tasked with the role of consultants, developing a specific plan of operations and business design for a DU resource program located on the W.A. Lettinga Campus.

The project was expanded to include the case for carrying personal hygiene products and non-perishable food goods. Over the semester, the students researched similar offerings at other colleges, conducted an on-campus need survey and developed recommendations for staffing, generating student awareness, procuring inventory and budgeting.

The students and faculty involved in this project were personally invested and it became more than just a class assignment. Their needs assessment results highlighted the importance of a resource to address professional clothing needs as well as other resources on campus. Of 51 Davenport students interviewed, 36 percent wished they had a better fitting or more appropriate business clothes and 66 percent did not own a business jacket. In relation to the need for non-perishable food items, 24 percent of students interviewed reported skipping a meal because they couldn’t afford food and 47 percent reported spending the largest portion of their budget on food.

We need to be proactive to help our students battle hunger and clothing needs on campus,” said Jenny Hendricks, one of the undergraduate student consultants. “This service helps meet the short-term needs of students until they reach long-term independence.”

The next semester, after implementing the business plan the undergraduate class created for the resource closet, Brandi presented the idea to a master- level Project Management in an Operations Environment class taught by Justin Littlefield-Lawwill. The master’s level class sought a purposeful final project for the class and decided to build upon the undergraduate-level students’ work. They developed a project plan with a goal of operating the Panther PRC throughout the 2017–2018 academic year.

Thanks to guidance from the student projects, funding from the Career Services Resource Fund and many other generous donors and supporters, the Panther Professional Resource Closet is now available for students to utilize via Center for Campus Life or Career Services referral. The PRC is currently accepting donations of non-perishable food and business attire.


Alumni Success Story – Bryan Holloway ’16

Bryan Holloway, ’16 MBA, joined Kellogg’s nearly 11 years ago as a machinist. But, thanks to amazing mentors and leaders along the way, Bryan is now the plant controller of the Eggo plant in Blue Anchor, New Jersey. Learn more about Bryan and his journey landing his dream job below.

Tell us about yourself!

I was born and raised in Grand Rapids. After high school, I started working at Kellogg’s as a machine operator. After three years of working on the floor, I knew I needed to do something more with my life. So, I enrolled at GVSU thanks to the Kellogg tuition remission program. My love for Dave Ramsey helped me hone in my business interests to finance. I graduated with a degree in finance, helping me land a spot on the payroll team at the Wyoming Keebler plant, which opened the door to the finance department. I pursued a role as a financial analyst for about a year, then an opportunity in the Global Business Solutions Center opened as plant finance support personal. In this role, I worked on finance and costing projects for the Jackson, Tennessee, Pringles Plant and the Pikeville, Kentucky, Pop Tarts plant. At the same time, I enrolled at Davenport to earn my MBA in Strategic Management. A little over six months ago, I landed a job as the plant controller of the Egg-o plant in Blue Anchor, New Jersey.

As a graduate of DU, when you think of your experience what comes to mind?

I loved my DU experience. The instructors brought out the best of the students and set us up for success in the real-world. The thing I enjoyed the most was the study abroad program. I studied in Europe and loved every moment of it!

In a nutshell, what do you do?

As the plant controller, I am responsible for the overall financial performance of the plant. I am the liaison between the corporate offices and the plant. I communicate with the stakeholders, work with departments on budgeting and do cost planning.

What is your dream job?

Honestly, this is a dream job. When I started in the Wyoming plant, I worked with the best leader, named Gracie. She worked with on strengthen my strengths and improving my weaknesses. I thrive to be like Gracie. Today, she is still one of my greatest leaders and person I aspire to be.

Are you are you passionate about?

I believe in paying it forward. Without the help of my leaders, like Gracie, I would not be where I am today. I love helping people.

What do you do when you are not working?

I am in a new city, so I enjoy exploring my new surroundings, traveling and being with my friends and family.

Hungerford Nichols Creating Synergy for Students and Alumni

When Heather Halligan, ’03, pictured the perfect job, she envisioned one that put people first.
Heather Halligan, who began working at Hungerford Nichols nearly five years ago as a Marketing Specialist, said that is why she loves her position. “Hungerford believes in helping people. We have a family-like culture where people enjoy going to work.”
Many of her colleagues, 13 to be exact, feel Davenport prepared them to be savvy-solution seekers to fit in the highly collaborative culture at Hungerford.
“Hungerford Nichols has uncovered a fruitful pipeline of resources in Davenport University students and alumni,” claimed Human Resources Specialist and current MBA student Hillary Mullennix ’18. “Davenport’s business-focused instruction fits our culture.”
Mullennix applied to Davenport because of her experience working with professors and staff. “Both the professors and career services staff are extremely invested in the success of the student. They are passionate about helping students find jobs and building their networks. I wanted to go to a place where people cared about the students.”
Davenport has become a path to recruit successful employees for all three Hungerford businesses spanning accounting, IT and financial services. Between the three divisions, nine alumni and students work for Hungerford Nichols CPAs + Advisors, three graduates work for Hungerford Technology and one finance instructor works at Hungerford Financial.
“Hungerford has an innovative strategy to recruit Davenport students,” exclaimed Mullennix. “We build relationships with students before they graduate. We meet with them over coffee, in a comfortable environment, and share all of Hungerford’s opportunities, including interning, job shadowing or completing office visits. Then we give them information about the types of accounting options including tax, corporate and auditing.”
Additionally, Mullennix noted that Davenport makes it easy to hire students by offering flexible course options. She said this aligns with Hungerford’s mission of work-life balance. “We allow our employees to set a schedule that works best to meet our client’s needs, allowing our employees to take classes when it is most convenient.” She said the relationship they’ve built with DU is mutually beneficial—it provides meaningful work to great employees.
(l to r) Spencer DeYoung ‘14 MIA, Network Administrator; Cris Sanchez ’13 BS, Network Administrator; Seth Winchester ’11 BAS, Network Administrator; Jenny VanderBoon ‘ 11 BBA, MBA, Manager; Jenn Rogell ’10 BBA, MBA, Manager; Diane Brownell ’88 BBA, Senior Accountant; Elizabeth Jacobsson, current student, Accountant; Jessica Giddings, current student, Accountant, Heather Halligan ’03 MBA, Marketing Specialist; Hillary Mullennix, current MBA student, Human Resource Specialist; not pictured: Sherrin Burnette, Administrative Professional; Matt Warner ‘14 BS, Network Engineer; Tom Price, Finance Instructor since 2010

Eric Rupert ’06 Says “Ni Hao” to Shanghai Business

Hockey friends of Eric Rupert, ’06, speak of him in tones of awe usually reserved for local legends, and with good reason.

In a few short years after graduating, he became a specialist in eco-building materials, created a vast network of business contacts and co-founded a company that specializes in providing sustainable building products in Shanghai, China.

Eric Rupert was born and raised near Windsor, Ontario, with an innate love of the Canadian national pastime, hockey. He came to DU initially with a group of hockey players who were recruited to help build the fledgling team. The group became as close as family and bonded over a love for the sport. While on campus, Rupert earned a Bachelor of Business Administration degree in Human Resources Management and later took advantage of flexible learning opportunities to earn a Master of Business Administration degree, partially online.

Entrepreneurial from an early age, Rupert always knew he wanted to pilot and grow businesses and be accountable for his own agenda. After responding to an online ad looking for a business partner in 2011, he left a comfortable life in Vancouver and headed to China to start a business-to-business trade company. The partners hoped to build a platform that would compete against the Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba. “Within four months we knew it was a spectacular fail, but it was exactly what helped propel the path I’m on now,” he says. “I was exposed to China and taken with how much was possible with focus and hard work.”

The next venture he created with his partners centered around one of the most commonly found plants in China—bamboo. For a time, his home was the mountain town of Zhenghe, Fujian, surrounded by bamboo forests and tea plantations. Today, he calls Zhenghe his cultural home and it is where he developed bamboo industry expertise while working with a factory to develop the manufacturing infrastructure for products.

The small mountain town provided him with his first language challenges because he had no prior knowledge of the Chinese language and the local people did not speak English. As Rupert learned the language, he found the people were warm and welcoming, and he formed lasting friendships he still holds sacred today. He says, “I was certainly the only foreigner for miles and that forced me to learn about the new environment I was in. During this period of time, I had great experiences in business and social education, and I met incredible individuals who were involved in high technology applications of bamboo.”

Bamboo is a member of the grass family whose species are among the fastest-growing plants on earth. Performance grade bamboo is significantly stronger, more stable, and more uniform than any wood species and it is more readily available and renewable. Currently, 75 percent of the world’s bamboo products come from China, but Rupert notes most continents in the world have environments conducive to growing some species of bamboo.

One of the major reasons bamboo is eco-friendly and sustainable is how quickly it can be harvested. “I love wood; I’m a Canadian after all, but bamboo is just so unique—it regenerates for harvest in only 3–7 years depending on application and creates more usable fiber per acre,” Rupert said. “Compare that directly to 30-year timber forests for regeneration at the low end.”

After three years in rural China, Rupert started searching for a different opportunity within the bamboo industry. A chance meeting on a plane ride and shared connection to the same part of China led to the formation of a new company in Shanghai, focused on performance bamboo products—AltPlus.

As owner and leader of AltPlus, Rupert sells architectural and structural grade bamboo products to international markets. He is working to develop a sales team and grow the line of products to be sold internationally. He’s proud of the relationships he’s built along the way in his career and knows these relationships are what paved his path and attracted like-minded, ambitious people.

The city of Shanghai is home to more than 24.5 million people and is a leader in sustainability innovations. It was a big move for Rupert, since the population of his entire home country of Canada is just 35 million, but he enjoys the energy and opportunity of the city. He’s even found a community of hockey players. As he looks forward to bringing new products to the sustainable building market, he also wants to give back.

“I really enjoyed my time at DU and it’s tough sometimes to be so far away. I welcome alumni who are traveling to Shanghai to reach out to me—let’s connect!”

Discovering Opportunity: Mai Yansomboon – DU Review Summer 2017 Feature Story

Porntida (Mai) Yansomboon ’14, brings a wealth of personal knowledge and experience to her job at the Royal Thai Embassy in Washington D.C. “I grew up in a business savvy family,” says Yansomboon, a Thai citizen who lived in Grand Rapids before attending Davenport. “My family imported tractors and equipment from Thailand. When I got the opportunity to work at the Royal Thai Embassy and help people discover business opportunities, just like my family, I jumped on it!”

Yansomboon moved to the United States as an exchange student when she was 18 years old. She decided to stay in Grand Rapids for college and chose Davenport because of its reputation and close proximity to her host family’s house.

After graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in International Business in 2014, Yansomboon worked at a material handling company in project management. She saw a position posted on the Royal Thai Embassy website in Washington D.C. and applied. She says, “Thanks to my unique experience, I got the job!”

Today, Yansomboon works as a project staff member at the Thai Business Information Center. She works with Thai businesses looking to invest and settle in the U.S. and provides them with the connections and information needed to be successful.

Conducting business outside of a company’s home country has many challenges, and Yansomboon is there to help. On a typical day, she might reach out to Thai business owners who have questions about regulations on doing business in the U.S., help hopeful business owners discover opportunities or act as a business coach and liaison to governmental departments.

Yansomboon acknowledges her success is due to many people. “I credit my success to my families – both my family in Thailand and my host family. They are both so encouraging.” Moving to the U.S. also gave her the opportunity to study and discover what she is capable of. Yansomboon looks forward to opening the doors for more Thai business owners and toward what her future holds. She hopes to return to school to earn a Master’s in Business Administration soon and continue to grow and expand her skills to serve others.

Alumni Success Story – Jeff Lumpp MBA ’13

Jeff Lumpp was on the fast track to landing his dream job when an opportunity he couldn’t turn down presented itself. Learn about how this opportunity led him to even bigger things below.

Tell us about yourself!
I grew up in Muskegon, Michigan and attended Mona Shores High School. After high school, I attended Muskegon Community College for two years and transferred to Michigan State University where I earned my finance degree. Corporate finance was my sweet spot. Professionally, I have worked in a variety of roles starting in commercial banking and moving up to the role of CFO and now President of the Hylant. I earned my MBA from Davenport. I am married to my lovely wife, Tanja, who is also a DU MBA graduate who works at Hylant and we have a 10 month old daughter.

How did you start in commercial banking?
During my senior year of college, I started working at Fifth Third Bank in commercial credit in underwriting. It was a good way to learn the ropes and gain a deeper understanding of the banking world. After the first year, the job was getting pretty easy for me and I was looking for advancement. I was promoted to a senior financial analyst in Grand Rapids where I did reporting. We could report on everything you could think of.  It was a fun role – I thought I knew Excel until I did that job.

You thought Excel was fun?!
Ha! Now I am an expert!

What was next?
My love for strategy started to develop. My supervisor at the time recognized my willingness to develop my skills. He promoted me to the CFO of the Grand Rapids Business Banking division. We developed three-year strategic plans for each market that paid off. We were able to sort through 2009-10 with 13-14% revenue growth. At this point, I was given the opportunity to manage all retail banking and business banking as the CFO in Grand Rapids. When I began that role, I also started my MBA at Davenport. After I earned my MBA, I was asked to move to Toledo to be the Northwest Market CFO to oversee the all lines of business, strategic planning and implemented many different revenue enhance projects. I was on the fast track to landing my dream job at the Fifth Third Bancorp corporate headquarters in Cincinnati, Ohio. I actually got the job I had been dreaming about; however, my wife and I realized family is more important and we decided that moving back to West Michigan was the right answer so I turned the job down in Cincinnati. Then a chain of events led to the opportunity of a lifetime with Hylant and I was asked to move to Grand Rapids to lead business development for a Hylant, one of the nations largest family owned insurance and risk brokerage firm.

In a nutshell, what do you do now?
I am the President of Hylant Group Grand Rapids. My job is to develop strategic and visionary plans, build brand and community development and manage the operations. I get to educate businesses about reducing risk while interacting and building relationships with the community. It truly is a dream job.

How was your experience at DU?
I loved the way the MBA program was set up, as an accelerated program. Tanja and I attended classes together. I feel like I learned and experienced so much at a young age and I was able to have an amazing dialogue with professors who had real-life experiences. I am still connected with some of the professors, including Lori Kerlin who we just had lunch with recently.

How do you want to be remembered?
I want to be remembered as a genuine, nice and transparent leader. I like to have fun, but I like to work hard too.

Do you have any advice for students or alumni like you?
Own your career because no one else will. My mentor told me that many years ago and I have followed that advice ever since.

What do you do when you are not working?
I love spending time with my wife and daughter. I enjoy golfing, being outside and traveling.

Alumni Success Story – Eric Killough ‘06

Retired Coast Guard Chief Eric Killough ‘06 has had several lifetimes of achievements already and is now setting his sights on a business platform he created in Slovenia to help young people reach their highest potential. Learn more about Eric’s story as a mentor, entrepreneur and coach below.

Tell us about yourself!
I am originally from Seal Beach, California. I am a retired Coast Guard Chief. I live full time on the coast of the Adriatic Sea in the small Central European country of Slovenia. In 2008, I created the concept “Navdih Amundsen,” which means maximizing human potential through dedication, endurance and persistence. I seek out opportunities to assist people in achieving self-fulfillment or opportunity.  For example, I help young Slovenians find academic and athletic success through attending college and taking advantage of opportunities in the USA. Some of the activities involve 1-on-1 mentoring geared towards “life path projecting”, goal setting, personal financial management, or meeting physical fitness objectives. My desire to help young people is rooted from my time as a Coast Guard Chief and in a position of influence over younger men & women. I have assisted and guided many towards earning their college degrees.

Along with my Navdih Amundsen project, I am an English tutor and the facilitator of a Conversational English program at Srednja Tehniška Šola, a college preparatory high school in Koper, Slovenia. Perhaps my most rewarding work has been as an American football coach. In 2015, I started the American Football Klub at Srednja Tehniška Šola Koper. Aside from being a retired Coast Guard Chief, tutor, teacher, coach, real estate investor and mentor, I am also a certified personal trainer which fits perfectly with my coaching and mentoring responsibilities.

As a graduate of DU, when you think of your experience what comes to mind?
My first thought is always how grateful I am that the program I wanted was available when I needed it. I’ve always been a traveler and interested in the global community. While pursuing my MBA it was awesome to have fellow graduate students from Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Serbia, Canada and, of course, the USA. It really added to my understanding, as a student of global business, of foreign cultures and ideas. With 11 years gone since completing my MBA, I am still close with my number one collaborator from school and that means a lot to me. And as these years have gone by I’ve become prouder and prouder of the direction that Davenport University is going. I’m proud to be part of a growing legacy.

What is your biggest accomplishment?
Personally, I have been on all seven continents, circumnavigated the globe twice, swam in four of the five oceans, and crossed the Atlantic on a ship. I have been a competitive weight lifter and earned my way onto the Wall of Fame at Aviano Air Base, Aviano Italy. In 2010, I placed 3rd in the Slovenian Open National Bench Press Championship for males over 40 years old. I earned my MBA from Davenport University, which is my proudest academic accomplishment. Professionally, making Chief in the Coast Guard. I was a member of a four man crew of awesome Coast Guardsmen at Coast Guard Recruiting Office Detroit. We were selected, out of 104 recruiting offices in the entire USA, as 2006 National Recruiting Office of the Year – the same year I received my MBA from Davenport. I also feel that starting the American Football Klub at Srednja Tehniška Šola Koper and succeeding with my rental property and equity trading is a huge accomplishment.

But if there was one thing I’d say, if I had to say just one thing and label it “biggest accomplishment” I’d say it is being financially independent and in a position to help others and having the results to show for it.

What has inspired you to serve others?
Because so many people have helped me. My biological mother lived in a car. I was placed for adoption at birth and adopted by an awesome family. I went from the back seat of a car to Seal Beach, Orange County, California. I often tell people that the reason I don’t play the lottery is that I already won it. My parents gave me an incredible life. They instilled in me the importance of education, reading, and financial discipline. My father, Hadley William Killough II, my former Little League baseball coach, Jack Snow, and John Landers, who recruited me to the Coast Guard, taught me so much about respect, effort, and confidence, which lead me to the right path. Also while working as a recruiter myself, and second in command of recruiting for Southeastern Michigan, I worked under the leadership of Fred Napoleone. He showed me how to play cool under pressure, think outside the box, and connect with people in a way that inspires. Helping others is what I am wired to do.

What is your dream job?
My dream job would be to play for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Regrettably, I’m terrible at baseball.

I would eventually like to work for a small university or community college and share my experiences with students. Help them dream a little bigger by setting the goals that will lead to making those dreams come true.

What do you do when you are not working?
I read, swim in the sea, hike, weight lift, drink a bit of beer, go to church, and spend time with my two daughters.

Introducing the 2017 Alumni Award Recipients

The Alumni Board of Directors is pleased to announce the 2017 Alumni Award recipients. The following alumni have exemplified the vision and values of Davenport University through their professional and community service. Introducing the 2017 Alumni Award honorees, pictured above from L to R:

Distinguished Alumni Award
Mike Nelsen, Class of 1987

Mike earned his BBA in Business in 1987 and was quickly was recruited to help launch as employee number two. Mike built fulfillment operations from the ground up focusing on one of the industry’s first drop-ship networks of 300+ suppliers that powered sales of $100+ million in 1999. After, Mike helped start, which was sold to HSN. Now, the Chief Development Officer at CommerceHub, Mike is responsible for business and client development efforts for both online and brick and mortar retailers, distributors, and supplier companies such JCPenney, Best Buy, Dell, Home Depot, Costco and QVC.

When Mike is not working, he spends most of his time with his wife and three sons, who have all been very active in athletics. Between football, lacrosse and hockey games, Mike has traveled thousands of miles a year to watch his son’s sports and now focuses on getting them through college. He was our first speaker in 2016 when we launched our annual Neighborhood Business and Friends luncheon.

Donald W. Maine College of Business Alumni Award
Wendy Morrow, Class of 1993

Wendy is the Chief Financial Officer of Grand Haven Custom Molding (GHCM), a privately held plastic injection molding company in Grand Haven. Prior to GHCM, Morrow spent 16 years at The Stow Company in Holland, where she was the first woman to be named Vice President of Finance in the company’s history. Wendy started at The Stow Company as an accounting supervisor. Four months later, she was promoted to controller, then to corporate controller. She is also a Certified Management Accountant (CMA) and a member of the Institute of Management Accountants. Wendy is an active volunteer at the Tri-Cities Family YMCA.

Hy Berkowitz Professional Excellence Award
Pat McPherson, Class of 2006

From stump grinding to mopping factory floors, Pat McPherson ’06 was especially determined to earn the money to get his Davenport degree.  Looking back, Pat says that he does not know what was the hardest: sorting bottles from plastic bags at Lakeport Market, cleaning pop can machines at Meijer, or cleaning bathrooms and showers at Lakeport State Park. All of this while working at the family stump grinding business in high school to make money to pay for college. However, once it was time to head to college, the hard work did not end. Pat attended classes Monday through Thursday, and drove to Detroit to mop factory floors Friday through Sunday.

Nonetheless, thanks to his interest in IT, Pat pursued education at Davenport University where he earned his BS in Computer Networking. Now, Pat works on a team at ITS Partners as a senior sales engineer solving IT problems for clients all over the world.  Pat works with organizations that have anywhere from a few thousand devices into the hundreds of thousands. Pat assists organizations in determining if there are tools that can solve their problems, architect how the solution would be configured and implemented within their environments.

College of Technology Alumni Award
Josh Serba, Class of 2011

In 2014, Josh was hired as the Network Manager of AHC+ Hospitality.  In 2015 he was promoted to Chief Information Officer (CIO), where he oversees the daily operation of the IT department, and steers the technology decisions for AHC.  AHC+ Hospitality owns the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel, JW Marriott Grand Rapids, and Peter Island Resort & Spa in the British Virgin Islands; and also operates the Courtyard by Marriott in downtown Grand Rapids.  In his short time as CIO, they’ve upgraded the network infrastructure, WiFi, server environment, TV systems, and much more. In his spare time, he enjoys coaching his two son’s baseball and hockey teams.

Outstanding Young Alumni Award
Leslie Winkle, Class of 2011 & 2016, Traverse City Campus

Leslie is a second-generation Davenport graduate who followed her father’s footsteps in attending DU. She received her BBA in 2011 and completed her MBA if 2016. She is the owner of Studio 415, a full-service salon for men, women and children in Traverse City, which she purchased in 2014. Studio 415 has a simple, yet purposeful mission: ‘work hard and be nice.’ Leslie’s ‘be nice’ ethic means giving back to the community as well.

In 2016, Studio 415 was selected as the recipient of the Hagerty Small Business of the Year presented by the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce.  Leslie is also an adjunct instructor at the Traverse City campus teaching accounting.

College of Health Alumni Award
Joseph Rodriguez, Class of 2011

Joseph graduated from the Midland Campus in 2011 with an Associate in Nursing. He currently is a Nurse Case Manager at SouthernCare Hospice in Saginaw, where in 2016 he was recognized as the Regional Clinician of the Year for his outstanding performance and delivery of care. He is a strong healthcare advocate and actively shares and teaches his communities about available health care services, not just for end of life care and hospice, but also in preventative care, palliative care and long-term care.

In his spare time, Joseph supports and advocate for The ROCK (a center for youth development); The Diaper Alliance, providing diapers for those in need in the bay-area, and American Cancer Society’s Making Strides Against Breast Cancer and Relay for Life.

Kat Paye ’14 Alumni Success Story

This Saturday, the 91st Annual National Cherry Festival kicks off in Traverse City. We sat down with the festival’s biggest cheerleader, the executive director and alumna Kat Paye ‘14, to learn more about her nearly 25 year journey with the festival. Read her alumni success story below.

Tell us about yourself!

I have lived in TC since I was six years old. I got involved with the National Cherry Festival at a young age as a volunteer in the wheelchair mile event. As an eight year old, I got the important job of folding t-shirts, putting stickers on boxes and pinning tags on the race participants. By the time I was 16, I had the starting gun in my hand and I  was in charge of actually starting the race. My good friend Jeff, a quadriplegic who managed the event, made this possible for me. Jeff was instrumental in keeping me involved in the festival. By the time I was 20, I was the youngest board member. I was the event director and managed six events in just a few short years. Then, I left my volunteer board position and joined the festival staff. I was the operations and volunteer manager role for five years and last year, I was named the executive director of the National Cherry Festival!

The Executive Director of the National Cherry Festival seems like an awesome job! What do you do in a nutshell?

As an executive director, I am the festival’s biggest cheerleader. I am also doing strategic planning, looking at the five and ten-year plans and seeing where are we headed. I manage staff and budgets. We have 150 events in eight days. The events range from kids events to senior events, air shows, concerts, parades, carnivals, diaper derby, toddler trot, pit-spit contents, pie eating, and song competitions. Those eight days are the most fun, and exciting days of my year!

Is this your dream job?

Absolutely! My dream job was to work for the festival and I did that. Then my dream job was to become the executive director. When I got my new role, I was ecstatic!

What is your biggest accomplishment?

Being the executive director is my biggest accomplishment right now. In my last role, one of the biggest accomplishments for the festival was when we won the International Festival & Events Association’s award for the ‘Emergency Preparedness & Risk Management Plan.’

How do you feel Davenport played a role in your success?

I wanted to go back and finish my degree. I met with the campus director in Traverse City, Alyssa Irani. She helped me figure everything out. DU had night and weekend classes that fit my schedule. I also enjoyed the small class sizes that helped me get the personal attention I needed. I graduated in 2014 with a degree in business. Alyssa was the reason why I had such a great experience at DU.

What do you do when you are not working?

I love events! My husband and I love volunteering at local community events. My husband and I joke saying that he gave me a ring and I gave him a radio. He is my right –hand man.

Last question, do you love cherries?

I love cherries! Cherry-pie is a food group for me! I own everything cherry related. I have a cherry-themed kitchen!