Alumni Success Story – Sara Eschels ’84 ’97 ‘06

As a three-time alumna of Davenport, Sara Eschels ’84, ’97, ’06 believes in paying it forward, just as her former bosses and mentors have done for her. “Leading and helping others is my way of paying back the people who helped me get where I am today.” Learn more about Sara Eschels and her role of the “HR Quarterback” at Hylant helping others grow below.

Tell us about yourself, Sara!

I grew up in Scottville, Michigan in a tight-knit family. I was the youngest of a family of four – three boys and me. We were raised on a farm, but my family did not farm – we leased it out. My dad was a real estate agent and my mom was a bank branch manager. I grew up in a non-traditional family, where my mother had the steady income and my dad took care of the family and household duties. I really enjoyed my upbringing. After high school, I headed to college thinking I wanted to go into accounting. Thanks to some great advice and bosses who really took the time to get to know me, I learned that the human resources field was more in my wheelhouse. Today, I work in human resources as Talent Manager for Hylant.

Why did you pick Davenport?

I was familiar with Davenport because my Uncle Carl Eschels graduated from Davenport a while back. Uncle Carl had nothing but wonderful things to share about his experience at Davenport. I liked how all the classes were relevant and directly related to the business world. I loved Davenport so much that I returned for my bachelor’s and master’s degrees.

Share with us your professional career journey.

Soon after graduating with my associate’s degree, I moved to North Carolina and worked at a bank.  The town was a military town, so there really wasn’t a lot of career opportunities.  When I moved back to Michigan, I was able to secure a position at the Perrigo Company in Allegan as the Executive Secretary to the Vice President of Human Resources.  Perrigo was such a great place to work because my boss was so supportive and wanted me to learn and grow. He encouraged me to take promotions and roles that were out of my comfort zone, so I could learn something new. When I was at Perrigo they had a full tuition program, which I took advantage of and ended up going back to school and getting my bachelor’s degree. I worked my way up at Perrigo, with the help of a few great mentors along the way. I was a HRIS administrator where I was in charge of the HR systems, next I moved to an office manager role for the department, and then managed the company store, and the last position I held at Perrigo was the manager of the compliance training group. Then, thanks to a former manager and friend, I landed a position at Fifth Third Bank where I worked as Professional Development Facilitator and eventually the Professional Development Manager. My job was to work with employees to help them develop the soft skills they needed to grow as professionals. The position was awesome and I had such a great staff that I could mentor and lead. I moved into a HR Business Partner role, a few years later where I worked with the retail leadership team on strategic HR needs.  Fifth Third also offered a great tuition reimbursement program so I was able to finish my MBA at Davenport while I worked there.

In a nutshell, what do you do now?

I work at Hylant as a Talent Manager. The best way to describe my position is the “HR Quarterback.” I am the point of contact for everything HR-related for ten of the Hylant offices, including Grand Rapids, Ann Arbor, Detroit, Fort Wayne, Chicago, Indianapolis,  Bloomington, Nashville, Orlando and Jacksonville. I travel a lot more now to develop employees. I am able to ask people what they want to do to grow and not just laterally within the company. I think of employee development as the growth of the person – personally and professionally. If it is not at work, what do they want to do to better themselves – volunteer, mentor, have a better work-life balance? I am here to challenge and help people grow.

Your recent positions have been all about helping people. Is this where you see yourself making the most impact?

I have been extremely fortunate to have some amazing bosses and mentors along my professional and personal journey. I am just paying it forward. I am passionate about people and helping them grow and develop. I love being a leader and manager. It is so rewarding to know that I have positively impacted someone’s life by helping them get a promotion or coaching them through a challenging situation in their lives.

What is your biggest accomplishment?

I am a 2nd degree black belt in taekwondo. In 2012, I decided to do something to get myself into shape. I gravitated towards martial arts instead of a traditional gym and fell in love with the first taekwondo class I took. I am a certified taekwondo instructor, as well. Not only do I love attending taekwondo, but teaching classes is even better.

What do you do when you are not working?

I spend a lot of time with my two Siberian Huskies (Jax and Nikko).  Spending time with my family and friends is number one.  I also enjoy golf, skiing, bike riding, of course TaeKwonDo.  I love to travel and visit new places.  I am always trying to plan my next adventure.

DU Review Sneak Peek: Bonnie ’84, ’94 and Ron ’88 Kopp and Melanie (Kopp) Reilly ’13

For more than 25 years, Bonnie Kopp ’84, ’94 has worked to create legacies for others through her work as senior trust advisor at Northern Trust. Bonnie works with families to help build wealth, create estate plans and manage funds for those who have created trusts. About her philosophy, she says, “It isn’t the number of years you spend on earth that matters; it is the legacy you leave behind for those that follow you.”

Bonnie is also part of a proud a legacy family at Davenport University. Both she and her husband of 32 years, Ron Kopp ‘88, attended Davenport after high school. “I worked full-time at a bank during the day and went to school at night, while Ron worked in the factory at Steelcase at night and went to school during the day. Our companies had tuition reimbursement so it was only natural for us to pursue our degrees.”

Bonnie graduated with an associate degree in 1984 and bachelor’s degree in 1994 while Ron graduated with his associate degree in 1988. Davenport continued to be a part of their life as their careers flourished and they started a family.

Nearly 30 years later, Bonnie’s oldest daughter, Melanie (Kopp) Reilly ‘13 needed a school that offered a flexible online program to earn an MBA while she worked in New Zealand. Bonnie recommended Davenport. DU’s online program was exactly what she was looking for. “Studying online at Davenport worked really well for me because of the flexibility offered,” said Melanie. “It didn’t matter that I was in a different time zone. The instructors were supportive and genuinely interested in my experience overseas; they were happy to help cater my homework and essays towards how it would apply to New Zealand. I enjoyed interacting with students all over the U.S.”

Now, as an alumni board member, Bonnie shares her passion with fellow alumni who want to give back to the University. “As an alumna and now parent of a student, I have a more well-rounded understanding of what Davenport has to offer. I hope that our story motivates others to share their experiences and passion for Davenport.”

Did you know?

Davenport’s academic programs available through the online Global Campus are receiving accolades from various organizations based upon a variety of criteria, including cost, value, accreditation, experiential training and curriculum. “We are excited about the growing recognition for Davenport’s high quality academic programs available through its online Global Campus,” said Brian Miller, Dean for Davenport’s Global Campus. “Online learning allows many students to better manage their time while pursuing their higher education degree while also working. The Global Campus brings more than 50 high-quality programs to students wherever they may live.”

DU Review Sneak Peek: Sue Nemmers ’85 and Rachel Payne ’10, ’12

For Susan (Kitzrow) Nemmers ‘85, Davenport University is a special place for two generations of her family. “Both my daughter, Rachel, and I started at Davenport in pursuit of a business education but gained so much more. Though we attended 25 years apart, we gained very similar experiences, friendships and a foundation for our success. It is our home.”

Sue started at Davenport after high school to pursue her associate degree in the executive secretarial program, with the help of grants and scholarships. She worked on campus as a work-study student to help in the alumni and development office. After graduation, she accepted a full-time role as the first alumni director of Davenport College. She admits, “It was amazing that Davenport took a risk, hiring me as a 20 year old.” Sue was responsible for growing the alumni association, running the phonathon program, hosting alumni events, creating marketing materials and managing the alumni board.

“It was the best job,” Sue recalled. “It was truly a grassroots effort and the University supported me one hundred percent. We had an alumni holiday party in my parent’s basement.”

Sue worked in the alumni office at Davenport for five years and was concurrently a member of the first class at Davenport to earn a Bachelor of Business Administration degree in 1985.

Sue married Dave Nemmers in 1984 and settled in Caledonia. Four years later, they welcomed their first child, Rachel.

Almost 18 years later, Rachel (Nemmers) Payne’s ’10, MBA ’12 journey at Davenport mirrors her mother’s. Rachel started at Davenport in the fall of 2006 after receiving the W.A. Lettinga Full-Tuition Charter Scholarship. “At first, I was interested in becoming a collegiate cheerleader and I knew Davenport didn’t have a program yet. I knew my mom had a great experience at DU and realized how impactful the full-ride scholarship was to my future. I couldn’t pass it up.”

Almost immediately, Rachel became an advocate for a new DU cheer program. As a sophomore, she created proposals, wrote plans and met with the Athletic Director, Paul Lowden, about starting a cheer program. Rachel recalled, “Looking back, I can’t believe I was that persistent!”

Her persistence paid off in February of her senior year when the head cheerleading coach position was posted. She interviewed and earned the head coaching role in early spring. During this time, Rachel was a work-study student in the Human Resources department working in training and development.

“It was perfect. After I graduated with my BBA in 2010, the HR department hired me as a student worker. I was able to earn my MBA as a full-time student, hone my HR skills as a part-time intern and grow the program from the ground up as the cheer coach.”

Rachel spent much of her time promoting the program and recruiting cheerleaders, taking time to be selective and build the legacy of the program effectively. Rachel enlisted her mother to help her with the program too. “Mama Sue” traveled with the cheerleading team as they competed regionally and nationally.

During Rachel’s six-year tenure as the cheerleading coach, she led the program to three national championships. “The best part about my time coaching at Davenport was seeing all of the athletes continue their passion for the sport of cheerleading at a school that was extremely supportive of the program.  Davenport took a chance on me when they hired me to start the program from the ground up.  I am so proud to see the legacy and success of the program continue on with some of the most talented coaches and athletes in the country.”

Today, Rachel is a human resources professional at Spectrum Health and Sue is an active community volunteer. Both serve DU in mentoring roles as well as staying active with the Alumni Association by attending events and activitiesBecause Davenport was such an integral part of Sue’s formative years, she and her husband, Dave, decided to leave a portion of their estate to Davenport in their estate plans.

“It is amazing how alike Rachel and I are,” Sue said. “Our relationship has grown stronger because of our ability to relate and reminisce about our similar paths at Davenport.”

DU Review Sneak Peek – Regina Moore ’83, ’90

Regina Moore was born in Boston into poverty, turbulence and uncertainty. Statistically, her odds of breaking out of the cycle of poverty were slim, but determination and grit were on her side. Regina found promise at Davenport University and changed not only her own life forever, but the lives of her entire family and the next generation.

At age 5, Regina became the ‘only parent’ to her siblings when their mother abandoned them. They were taken in by a previously unknown grandmother. Instability marked her early childhood as she moved from home to home. At times Regina cared for her younger brother and sister while a guardian worked. By age 8 and for the next five years, her and her siblings were in foster care. Through the chaos of multiple homes, Regina found serenity and purpose in school.

“School became my haven at an early age. Whenever there was turmoil or uneasiness at home, I would go to the library and read book after book. Then I would go home and make my brother and sister play school with me,” Regina said. “I was the teacher and we went through many math problems, as it was my favorite subject. I sought refuge in school.”

Regina excelled in her studies. In the tenth grade, she was selected to be in the advanced honors English course. One of her assignments was to write a story about her life. “I was only 15 at the time,” Regina recalled. “My teacher pulled me aside after reading the paper and asked me if it was true.” Her story was honest. Regina wasn’t sure why he had asked. It was just the story of her life.

The teacher encouraged her to share her story to inspire others. Regina said, “That was the first time I realized my story was not like anyone else in the class.”

The next year, Regina became a teenage mom. She graduated from high school one year early and held the title of highest GPA among minority students which helped her receive a full-ride academic scholarship to college. Sadly, when administrators discovered that she had a baby, her scholarship was revoked and she was unable to begin.

Now 17 years old and one month after graduation Regina moved out of her adoptive parent’s home and got a job working as a nurse’s aide making $2.65 per hour. “Though, it paid the rent, I realized that job wasn’t going to provide for my daughter the way I wanted to. I knew I had to go to college. My adoptive parents never talked about college. If it wasn’t for my high school counselor, I would have had no idea what college was.”

A year later, at 18 the universe handed her a sign. She received a Davenport College pamphlet in the mail and told her two-year old “let’s pursue computer programming as I think computers are going to take over.” Regina also added a major with accounting.

“I called the number and spoke with admissions representative, Mary Kay Bethune of Davenport College. She helped me fill out the paperwork and find financial assistance through grants and scholarships. She was my saving grace.”

In her first semester of college, Regina gained custody of her 15 and 16 year old brother and sister. While maintaining a steady 3.07 GPA, she worked full-time and raised her daughter, as well as her 15 and 16 year-old siblings.

Regina’s conviction to her education spilled over into her personal life. She remembers two conditions she set down before she married her daughter’s father, “First, I told him that no matter what, I am going to finish school on time. And secondly, I don’t iron.”

She earned her associate degree in computer information systems and programming in 1983. Six years and three more children later she separated from her husband.

Regina, states she made the conscious decision to not raise her kids on public assistance but decided to earn her bachelor’s degree in accounting from Davenport to support her family. She worked full-time during the day, went to school at night, and tutored other students.

“Education was my family’s escape. I remember us studying as a family together. I learned at a young age that no one could take my knowledge away. They could take my home, my stuff, and everything else I had, but not my knowledge. We found our purpose in knowing that knowledge would allow us to take care of ourselves.”

After Regina graduated with her bachelor’s degree, she moved her family to Atlanta to pursue a career as Staff Accountant at National Linen Service, a Fortune 500 company. She was promoted to Systems Manager (combing both degrees) after speedily learning the companies’ new financial system. Next, she was recruited by The Home Depot corporate headquarters to be the Senior Financial Systems Analyst. Where she managed the Financial Systems Department, which included supporting nearly 2,000 accounting personnel.

“My job at Home Depot was the best job I had ever had. But, but the dedication to work conflicted severely what was best for my family.” Regina moved back to Michigan so the boys could participate in sports with help of their dad. She started working at Meijer as an internal auditor and then moved to the IT department in which she helped to write the programs for the first gift card system. Concurrently, Regina started her own accounting and tax preparation company called Accurate Accounting to earn extra money for her family. Her business boomed and she left Meijer to pursue entrepreneurship full-time.

Regina made sure to teach her four children the value of the education that she had received. One by one, she watched as they graduated high school and pursued higher education. Her eldest daughter, Tari earned an academic scholarship to the University of Michigan and graduated with a Psychology degree, and worked as a foster care worker in the same county that Regina had been a foster child. Her second daughter, Mari, graduated from the University of Georgia with a degree in Textile Design and moved home after college and work for Regina’s accounting business. She fell in love with accounting and decided to earn a Master’s in Accountancy from DePaul, her CPA license and most recently earned a Master’s in Tax from Illinois University and now works at Ernst Young in Chicago. Donte, her third child, earned an Associate’s degree from Harold Washington College in Chicago, in his 12th year at UPS and a Sunday school teacher. Emmanuel, who recently married DU alumna Kelsey Chambers, went to Western Michigan University and is currently in his 10th year at West Michigan’s Stanley Steemers as a Senior Team Leader. He also aims to attend seminary to become a youth pastor.

Regina’s heart for educating children spilled over into the community as well. Her youngest child, Emmanuel, best friend RaSaun Knight needed a more stable home life and moved in with them while in high school. He was encouraged and inspired by seeing that all his friends’ siblings went to college. He graduated from the GR Police Academy through GRCC. He is a current student at Davenport majoring in Business and Technology Project Management.

“The morning that I realized I was taking, Emmanuel, my last one, to college, I cried happy tears. I fell to my knees in joy and thanked God. I did it… I broke the cycle.”

Alumni Success Story – Tom Hazen ’99

Today, you might find Tom Hazen ’99 loading a plane with product bound for Portugal, managing distributor relations or traveling to Milan to oversee operations, but his passion for traveling and adventures started at an early age. After college, Tom landed a job working for Materion Performance Alloys. Working his way up, Tom is now a Global Project Manager for plastic tooling. Learn more about Tom below.

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Tell us about yourself!
I was born Grand Rapids and raised in Ravenna, Michigan. Ever since I was little, I enjoyed traveling. My father was a schoolteacher and had an industrial painting company. During the summer, I would travel the state with my dad to help him paint. Traveling is a part of my DNA – I started at an early age and still do to this day. I worked full-time while I finished my degree. I earned my associates in 1989 and earned my bachelor degree in 1999 from Davenport. As soon as I graduated, I landed at the company I am at now, Materion Performance Alloys. I have held a few different sales positions but today I work as a Global Marketing Manager for plastic tooling business unit.

Why did you pick Davenport?
I picked Davenport because of the hospitality and management program. Davenport helped me get my first job working the front desk at the Holiday Inn South on 28th Street. I soon decided that I would change into a sales and marketing curriculum. After leaving the hotel industry I worked during the day at a metal casting foundry, went home and got ready, then headed to class at night at the Fulton Street campus. The foundry job helped me realize that I really wanted to pursue a career in sales and marketing.

What shaped your experience at Davenport?
The professors and staff are who really made my experience at DU great. One staff member in particular, Bob Orlikowski, who worked in student services, really helped me every step of the way. Bob was a great sounding board and assisted me through my studies. When he passed, I saw that the foundation started a scholarship in his honor. I have supported the scholarship ever since.

In a nutshell, what do you do?
I work as a Global Market Manager for plastic tooling at Materion  Performance Alloys. Our company makes many different products related to the use of beryllium. I have been working in the tooling division since I started. In my current role, I am responsible for selling the mold materials that Materion produces and ensuring they are available globally. I build relationships with our distributors to ensure we are delivering on what we promised for all of our customers. For example, if a company specifies our mold materion in the United States and they are manufacturing in Germany; I work with our distributors overseas to ensure that the customer who wants our mold material can walk into any distributor in Germany with our blueprint to guarantee they are getting the same product we make in the United States. I work remotely when I am not traveling. I was recently in Portugal to visit with a distributor to negotiate a pricing and shipping project. Then went over to Milan to work with the distributor in Italy, then to Germany to do the same.

What is your biggest accomplishment?
I am proud that I have established a good reputation and presence at the company that I am at now. I feel respected and valued. Of course, being married to my wife of 21 years and raising two boys is a huge accomplishment too. I am proud that I have maintained a steady, adventurous job while being able to raise my family in West Michigan.

What is your dream job?
I feel like I am in my dream job now.

Best advice you’ve ever received?
You are going to make a mistake and you’re going to fail but it’s the way you respond to it that will define you.

What do you do when you are not working?
I enjoy spending time with my family. My wife and I spend a lot of time watching our son’s plays sports. I also enjoy being outside, running, and exploring Grand Rapids.

Alternative Spring Break Heads to New Orleans to #DUgood!

Davenport University’s Alternative Spring Break (ASB) Program recently sent 18 students to New Orleans from February 25 - March 3 to assist with flood prevention and recovery through ecosystem restoration. ASB offers students the opportunity to become active citizens in their home communities and communities across the nation.

The group stayed in the historic Lower Ninth Ward, which was one of the hardest hit areas during Hurricane Katrina and during the floods due to its proximity to the Gulf of Mexico. The area first experienced a devastating loss in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina, and thousands of homes are still being lost due to devastating floods in the area, with damage from the floods rivaling that of Hurricane Katrina. The area was also hit with tornadoes earlier this year, further adding to the damage and loss within the area.

The ASB crew played a small part in providing aid to the area and its residents in partnership with the organization Common Ground Relief. The group helped repair the local ecosystem through planting water-absorbing plants and Cyprus trees in Jean Lafitte National Park as well as in area bayous with the National Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service, and worked in the Common Ground Relief nursery to take care of plants for future projects. These efforts will help restore and preserve both the homes and natural environment in the area, and allow wildlife to return to their homes.

The group also had the opportunity to engage in the cultural experience of Mardi Gras, and learned a lot about the people in the communities they were helping. In addition to the work completed in New Orleans, the group also conducted to volunteer projects at Howard Christensen Nature Center, which allowed them to help better the community of Grand Rapids in addition to the city of New Orleans.

Student and Site Leader Marissa Beadle has been involved with ASB for three years and states that ASB, “Has given me the opportunity to grow as a volunteer and active citizen not only here in Grand Rapids, but in different communities across the nation from St. Marks, Florida to Columbia, South Carolina and now New Orleans, Louisiana. I have met some of the most wonderful students here at Davenport through ASB and could not be more thankful for the opportunity grow within the RSO and end my time as a Site Leader!”

Alumni Success Story – Dichondra Johnson ’06

When Dichondra Johnson ’06 goes to work, she changes Michigan’s economy.

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In her new role as Business Development Manager for Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC), she is focused on retaining  businesses in Michigan by connecting them to talent resources, access to capital and resources for local investment opportunities. She also works with the “Pure Michigan” campaign to promote tourism and with community development initiatives to create vibrant communities in Michigan.

Dichondra feels fortunate that her primary task is to ensure that her favorite places in Michigan are great to live, work and play in. A typical day might see her calling on businesses in Wayne County to address any growth and expansion needs that might stop them from remaining in Michigan. She says, “We try to keep businesses from having to close or relocate. Oftentimes you’ll see news items that say a large company is expanding and building a new plant.” She serves a point of connection between companies and resources they can use to fuel growth or expansion. Dichondra likens herself and others in her role to that of a ‘one-stop shop’ to make sure that companies have what they need to be successful.

She’s proud to have a direct impact on the state of Michigan’s economy as well. She says, “I’m one of the first to hear about company’s plans, including if they will be growing in a way that might impact their footprint on Michigan. When they say something like, ‘It would be cheaper for us to do business in California because our supplier is there,’ we look at what we can offer them and what we can do to alleviate those barriers.”

Growing up, Dichondra loved the arts and never imagined she’d be working in public policy. Her undergraduate degree in arts administration and marketing set the stage for her to work with international artists. After working in the industry, she knew that she would need to grow her knowledge of global business practices and that realization led her to earn her MBA at Davenport.

After Davenport, she earned a Master’s in Public Administration as well. Someday, she hopes to earn her PhD to teach university level coursework in her ‘retirement’.

Dichondra has a lifelong love for learning and she encourages students today to think about their careers in terms of transferrable skills. She says a strong understanding of how businesses run benefits most students and notes, “I tell kids to look past job titles and starting salaries because so many of the careers they are going to have don’t even exist today.”

Today, Dichondra’s unique views on placemaking stem from her extensive background in arts and her diverse contact list has allowed her to have great mentors. One early mentor taught her to see other’s interests in a situation and how to bring genuine value to a deal.

Since then, she’s grown her network into a formidable strength. She says, “One of my proudest achievements was being a part of the Michigan Political Leadership Program. It is a competitive fellowship program through Michigan State that I completed in 2011 and the experience and contacts will stay with me through my career.”

Dichondra is fortunate to have just landed one of her dream jobs, one she says she’s been wanting for a very long time. Her network and ability to connect with people, plus a solid business foundation, have made her successful and helped maintain relationships throughout her career.

Alumni Success Story – Judy Williams ’62

Judy Williams ’62 drew inspiration from being the only woman in her accounting program. Never intimidated even now, nearly 53 years later Judy works in an accounting role at Saladin Shrines, a non-profit that provides support for Shriner’s Hospitals for Children. Learn how Judy is aligning her passions with her love of numbers below.

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Tell us about yourself!

I was born and raised in Grand Rapids and went to Creston High School. In high school, I took a bookkeeping class and absolutely fell in love with it. I loved the numbers and the challenge of balancing the books. After high school, at the age of 17, I started at Davenport. I attended for a seven terms from September of 1961 to June of 1962. Then I worked in various bookkeeping positions until September of 1968.  The at the age of 25, I decided to fulfill my first dream of joining the military and went to bootcamp at Parris Island. I joined the Marine Corps and was selected to attend electronic school. At Davenport, I was the only woman in the accounting program of 44 students – in the military I was in a class of 2000 where there were only six women. I completed a year of electronic school and was in the military for two years. I married a career marine and we started a family. After my husband retired, we moved back to Grand Rapids and I decided to attend Davenport again to finish my degree. Numbers have always interested me and I can proudly say that, thanks to Davenport, I have been in accounting for 53 years.

Why did you pick Davenport?

Davenport was known for accounting and I was selected to be a part of the top of the line professional accounting program. Back then, we didn’t get to pick our class, just our program. When students arrived, administrators would hand us a paper that would have all of the classes on it. I was about 27 years old in a program full of 18 to 20 year old men, but that didn’t intimidate me. I normally got the best grades in the class!

You were never intimidated by being one of the first woman to achieve something noble. What advice do you have for other women who might be in a similar situation?

Be inspired! I remember my professor, who was not very fond of me being in his accounting class, saying things like “this test is going to separate the men from the boys.” Then I got the best grade in the class! He would respond to that by saying, “Well, I guess Miss. Johnson is the biggest man we have in the class.” That backhanded compliment inspired me to continue to prove my knowledge and strengths. My advice would be to find out what peaks your interest and follow your heart.  Apply yourself and learn as much as you can.  If you are doing something, you really like you will do your best.

In a nutshell, what do you do?

I am the jack-of-all-trades at Saladin Shrine in Grand Rapids. Shriners formed our organization with the goal of providing healthcare services and funding to children with orthopedic conditions, burns, spinal cord injuries, and cleft lip and palate. I was “retired” when I started working here part-time to help manage patient records. Then, my position became full-time and I took over the role of managing the Children’s Trust, bookkeeping, assisting with fundraisers and helping with patient transport. Knowing that my job directly impacts the children we serve is very rewarding.

What are you passionate about?

My military experience is what I am most proud to claim. As a military family, I am very passionate about working with veterans. I volunteer my time to help people returning to civilian life. The most memorable experience in boot camp happened when I was sitting in the bleachers with my platoon watching the senior platoons of men march in their graduation ceremony.  Our drill instructor quietly said, “a year from now about one third of these young Marines will be gone.” Unfortunately, she was right. Many came back with serious injuries including PTSD.  Back in the 70′s and 80′s this was an unknown malady.  It continues to plague many and I try to reach out to veterans who show signs whenever I can.

What do you do when you are not working?

I enjoy spending time with and visiting my two sons and their families. I volunteer as the finance chair for my American Legion post, where I am one of only two women in a leadership role in my post. Also, in my spare time, creating doll clothes has always been a passion of mine. My sewing business is called Unique Bowtique.

Alumni Success Story – Rachel Tuttleman ’10, ’11

Rachel Tuttleman BBA ’10, MBA ’11 believes working at Shefit, Inc. a Grand Rapids based startup company, is “the most rewarding, yet hardest job” she has ever had. Learn why below.

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Tell me about yourself, Rachel

After growing up in Rockford, MI, I moved a few miles to Grand Rapids to attend Davenport University, where I graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Management and Accounting in 2010. I immediately began to pursue my MBA with an emphasis in Healthcare Management. After earning my MBA, I secured a job at Spectrum Health in their Process Improvement Department. For several years, I worked on implementing Lean Improvements for their entire organization. In 2015, I moved to Michigan Office Solutions where I lead quality and lean process initiatives. Around the same time, my friend, Sara, started a sports bra company called “Shefit, Inc”. It was exciting to see her progress as she started building a brand. I have a strong passion for women’s health and knew Shefit was where I wanted my career to thrive. In 2016, I joined the Shefit team and haven’t looked back since.

In a nutshell, what do you do?

As a small business, we all wear a lot of hats. I am currently the Director of Operations and Financial Management at Shefit, Inc. I manage financials, budgets, assist with strategic planning, build relationships with vendors, support inventory control, and help with anything else our team needs. Sometimes this may mean packing bras and shipping to fulfill countless customer orders, other times this is working with our strategic partnerships to develop the next big product. As a startup, you must do whatever it takes to keep the day-to-day business needs successful.

What made you want to leave your 8-5 job to work for a start-up?

For me, I wanted to find a place where I could put my passion into action. Working for a startup has been the most rewarding, yet hardest job I have ever had. I remember having early conversations with Sara about wanting to work for her. I admired her drive and passion to help others. She gave me a chance and I started helping her at night with packing and shipping. My passion for the products only grew from there. Then, Sara and her husband, Bob, appeared on the popular TV show, ABC’s “Shark Tank”, where they landed a deal with a Shark. Shefit sports bras’ exposure skyrocketed overnight and Sara approached me about the operation and financial role, and I couldn’t say yes fast enough. I took a risk and left my “safe” career for a startup company, which has proven to be the best decision I have ever made. Shefit started as a home business, with operations out of a basement. They hired their first full-time employee in 2015 and have grown to 6 full-time employees and 3 part-time employees since. We’ve also moved out of the basement and have a warehouse in the Hudsonville area. We affectionately call it the Jenison Garment District.

Walk us through your typical day.

Normally my day starts at 6:00 a.m. at the gym, obviously in my Shefit sports bra. By 7:30am I am diving into my emails, reviewing financial transactions, wire information, HR duties and answering any operational questions. By mid-day, I’ve most likely had several meetings with our accounting firm, vendors or staff members. At nights, I am frequently at a tradeshow or bra fitting home party discussing the benefits of the Shefit Ultimate Sports Bra. My day is non-stop, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s the life of a startup and it’s exactly what I expected.

How has Davenport had a role in your journey?

Davenport provided an excellent education for a career in business. I should admit; no education can ever prepare you for working at a startup. It’s crazy, because every day is different! The projects we completed in school directly apply to the real-world, which helped me translate what I learned in the classroom to my day-to-day work.

What is your biggest accomplishment?

Two things – earning my Master’s Degree and helping Shefit grow. I am leading the charge in creating instrumental procedures to help scale the business quickly and successfully. Not only am I working to change and improve the organization, I know deep down in my heart this product is changing and improving the way women are working out.

What is your dream job?

This is my dream job! I love making people feel comfortable in their own bodies and seeing them happy. I love the work I do and love this company with my whole heart, and I always will. We not only focus on sports bras, we specialize in empowerment and want to give women the power to be who they want to be, at whatever stage they are at in life. We want to help women love the body they were given, not wish it were different. So, for me, this is my dream job because our entire team is helping so many women across the globe.

What is the best advice you have ever received?

Lead with compassion. This means being mindful of how we treat others and ourselves. It means taking an honest look at our behaviors and actions, and making small adjustments. By doing so, you will notice a happy working atmosphere and satisfied staff and customers, which overall will improve productivity and profitability. We believe the only way to grow the company is by building a great team and encouraging women to be the best they can be.

What do you do for fun?

I enjoy spending time with my boyfriend, Patrick, who by the way, I met at Davenport. We often hang out with friends and family, as well as our black lab, Derby. When we find the time, we enjoy skiing in the winter and boating in the summer. It’s nice to live in a state where you have so many opportunities to experience the outdoors in all seasons.