Alumni Success Story – Pat McPherson ’06

From stump grinding to mopping factory floors, Pat McPherson ’06 has had some dirty jobs. But, thanks to his interest in IT, Pat pursued education at Davenport University where he earned his BS in Computer Networking. Now, Pat leads a team at ITS Partners as a senior sales engineer solving IT problems for clients all over the world. Learn more about Pat and his journey to ITS below.

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Tell us about yourself, Pat!

I am from a little farm town called Lakeport, Michigan. Growing up my plan was to be a truck driver just like my dad. However, my high school received its first computers during my senior year and I fell in love. I took a few computer classes at the tech center where I learned Cisco and Oracle. After high school, I went to DU because of its reputation of training excellent IT professionals. My road to graduation wasn’t easy – I had to work many dirty jobs to help pay for school. Overall, my time at DU was a great experience and I graduated in 2006 with a BS in Computer Networking. Now, I work at ITS as a senior sales engineer.

You mentioned you worked many “dirty jobs.” What are some of the jobs you worked?

Well, money was tight and I had to pay for school. My first “dirty job” was working for the Lakeport Market and was the “human” bottle sorter before the pop can machines came out. Next, I moved on to Meijer and worked as a pop can machine cleaner. Looking back, I do not know what was grosser, sorting the bottles from the plastic bags at Lakeport Market or cleaning the pop can machines at Meijer. At the same time, I worked at our family business doing stump grinding. Next, I worked at the Lakeport State Park for a summer, mowing lawns, weed wacking, digging out fire pits, and cleaning the bathrooms and showers. Finally, my dad got me a job mopping the floors at a local factory. I would go to class Monday – Thursday, and then drive to Detroit and work Friday, Saturday and Sunday. I mopped the factory floors for four years until I finished college.

From driving truck to IT, why did you pick Davenport?

I went to Davenport because I was interested in technology. As soon as I got to Davenport, my experience was exactly what I’d hoped. I had some amazing professors. Nancy Hanson was awesome and I took all of her Cisco classes. I enjoyed the Microsoft classes with Ron Draayer and programming classes with Pete Anderson.

How did you get a job at ITS?

My professor, Nancy Hansen had connections at ITS. She told the whole class to apply for their entry-level engineer program, which took students interested in IT through an extensive training and externship process. I had my first interview and then six months later I was asked to come in again. The second time they were not interested in my experience and said that they could not hire me. I was pretty bummed, so I went home and continued to work has a stump grinder. I had enough money for about two weeks. But, I got a call a few weeks later saying I got the job! Luckily for me, the CEO, Wade, insisted that they hire me. Wade really like my story of persistence, especially the stump-grinding story. I was the only person out of the whole class who got the job.

In a nutshell, what do you do now?

I have held a few positions at ITS. I started as a junior engineer, moved up to a engineer and instructor, then to senior engineer. I mainly focused on computers that needed updates or programs installed.  As a junior engineer, I would deploy computer systems to companies that had around 100 computers at a time for one client.  Then I worked my way up to senior engineer and would deploy systems management tools to enterprises that would consist of over 100,000 computers. I went from working in the bottle department at Meijer to later doing their systems management deployment across all their stores.

I moved into as sales engineer role about five years ago and was recently promoted to a senior sales engineer. In this position, I meet with clients and learn about their problems and try to come up with solutions. Before I was the one implementing the solutions, now I am the one designing and creating solutions for our clients all over the world.

What is your dream job?

Funny you ask. My dream job is to work at a deli shop or game stop. In my thinking, those jobs are less stressful but in all reality, it probably is not. This is probably some sort of retirement job. When my wife and I retire, our goal is to start a mobile petting zoo and get some goats, pig and chickens. We would offer the petting zoo free at kid’s birthday parties and events.

What do you do when you are not working?

I spend time with my wife, Jenna, and my one-year-old daughter, Sophie. I also enjoy spending time with our fur babies which consist of an English Bulldog, a Poma-Poh and a Shih-Tzu. They’re quite the odd wolf pack but we love them!

Alumni Success Story – Mohamad Abdulkader Agha ‘03

Chancellor Emeritus Donald W. Maine called it fate. Mohamad Abdulkader Agha ‘03 called it meant to be. Their serendipitous relationship is heartwarming. Learn more about Mohamad’s path to Davenport and his success as he lives and works in Dubai, leading the strategy team at the International Humanitarian City (IHC), part of the Mohammad Bin Rashid Global Initiatives foundation to improve 130 Million lives by 2025 through humanitarian and developmental work. Read more below.

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Nearly 6,000 miles from his home in Syria, Agha found a new place to call home in Grand Rapids in early 2001. His decision to come to America wasn’t easy. After losing his father at the age of 13 and his mother only nine years later, Agha found himself looking for guidance in his next step. Luckily, he has three older sisters who had his best interests in mind and encouraged him to gain a global perspective on life by pursuing his MBA in the United States.

His brother-in-law, who is a doctor in the Grand Rapids area, recommended that he check out Davenport because he heard that the class sizes were small and the professors used real-life experiences to teach the classes.

Agha recalled wondering why he should go to a school in a small city, when he could go to school in Los Angeles or New York City.  His brother-in-law’s advice was to go a place where he could have personal attention. Agha remembered his brother-in-law saying, “Don’t be a small fish in a big pond, be a big fish in a small pond.”

Agha started classes at Davenport in spring 2001 and in the summer he completed a graduate program at Georgetown University, then went back home to be with family. While he was home, the events that shook the world on September 11th occurred. Things were uncertain and he was unsure if he was going to return to Davenport.

“I got a phone call from Davenport,” said Agha. “The call was from my advisor.  She said, ‘Congrats, Mohamad! You have been awarded the international students’ scholarship this year. We look forward to your coming back to Davenport.’ And that call made me book my flight to come back.”

As his studies progressed, he continued to build relationships on campus. He got an invitation to speak at the international students’ luncheon because of his reputation for academic success and charismatic professionalism.

“I got up, I did my speech and after I was done, I was asked to join a table with the former president of Davenport University, Don Maine. I shook hands with him and we introduced ourselves to each other. I was sitting there, enjoying being next to the “big man on campus,” yet not really knowing who he was. Then, the former VP of Alumni & Development walked up and said, “Mohamad, that gentleman paid for your scholarship. Your scholarship is the Maine Family International Student Scholarship!”

From that moment, Agha and Maine clicked. Although there was a difference in age and experience, they became friends.

Maine recalled, “When I realized international students did not receive financial aid, I wanted to direct my donation to those international students who needed it, kids like Mohamad. It is the humanitarianism in me. I enjoy helping young global talents.”

As Agha’s career flourished, so did their friendship. “We used to have lunches that lasted two to three hours to discuss global affairs at a restaurant in East Grand Rapids. At that point in my life, I didn’t have a father. So guidance was either spontaneous, by observing others, or by Don giving me the time and mentoring me step by step.”

Agha consulted and updated Maine about every chapter of his life. After earning his MBA from Davenport, Agha worked at Ernst & Young. Next he was recruited by the United Nations. At the age of 30, he was the youngest director hired at the UN to manage the Private Sector Development Program. He led the UN Global Compact as a representative and secretary general to its Advisory Council for five years.

In 2012, Agha left the Middle East. He took a job at the World Logistics Council as the director of strategic partnerships to lead a global team which coordinated with organizations from 56 countries involving the top technology, finance, insurance and semi-government organizations.

Now, Agha and his wife, Rim, and baby twins (Abdulkader & Ayla), live and work in Dubai. He leads the strategy team at the International Humanitarian City (IHC), part of the Mohammad Bin Rashid Global Initiatives foundation to improve 130 Million lives by 2025 through humanitarian and developmental work.

“Here is a person whose country has collapsed,” said Maine. “He built a brand new global career. There are a lot of people who could not do that. He now has mastered the culture of the UAE and risen to the point of being entrusted to serve its global initiatives. He left Damascus to work in Geneva and Kuala Lumpur and then made his way back to the Middle East.”

What makes Agha’s relationship with Davenport so special is the personal attention he was given by Maine and the professors. He left Davenport with high academic knowledge and the culminating experience of all of the individuals who shared their experiences and knowledge with him.

“I am thankful for Don Maine because he filled a void in my life. Yes, his scholarship has made a huge difference in my life, but money could be replaced. What isn’t replaceable is his experience and later on his friendship and love that keeps growing. Thank you, Don Maine!”

Volunteer for BPA & DECA

Business Professionals of America (BPA) and DECA need your help!

  • On February 4, 150+ DECA students will meet to network, learn business strategies and showcase their skills at the weekend-long Career Development Conference. We are in need of industry leaders and professionals to judge these events, specifically we need an accounting event judge on February 4, 2017 from 7:45am-5:00pm at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Grand Rapids. Interested? Please email Suzanne Gut.
  • On February 11, hundreds of students will gather at the W.A. Lettinga Campus for the Business Professionals of America State Leadership Conference. BPA needs more than 40 volunteer judges, graders and greeters to help at the conference. If you are interested in volunteering on February 11th, please contact Scott Gumieny.
  • On March 4 at the W.A. Lettinga Campus, middle school students will compete at the BPA State Leadership Conference. BPA is looking for volunteers to be judges, proctors and graders in the morning and early afternoon. If you are interested, please contact Dara Carr.

Alumni Success Story – Stacie James ’98

After landing a co-op position at Kellogg Company as a student just over 22 years ago, alumna Stacie James ‘98 worked her way up earning the position of Plant Finance Controller. Stacie has balanced the books, managed international finance relationships and now manages the finances for one of the largest cereal plants in “Cereal City USA.” Learn more about Stacie and how she grew into the position of controller below.

Tell us about yourself, Stacie.
I was born and raised in a small town in southwest Michigan called Union City. After high school, I attended Davenport College in Battle Creek. In my sophomore year at Davenport, the Dean, at the time, was teaching my accounting class. He approached my friend, Karen and I, to see if we were interested in a co-op position at Kellogg. While Karen took the job, I was hesitant given I was only in my second year of schooling, therefore I declined. It was three months later when she reached out to me, stating there was another opening.  Given her experience and satisfaction with the job, I just couldn’t let the opportunity pass by again.  That is where it all started. I took the student co-op position which lasted just over two years, then I got hired for full time during the latter part of my junior year.  I have worked at Kellogg for more than 22 years in multiple roles and now I am a Plant Finance Controller.

Why did you pick DU?
My parents encouraged me to go to college. I was a numbers person and was good at math, so I decided to try accounting. I got good grades and enjoyed it. Davenport’s staff was very friendly and I enjoyed the small classes.

You have been at Kellogg for over 22 years, can you tell us about how you have grown there – your promotions and jobs?
I started with simple work like balancing accounts and journal entries. A couple years later I was hired as an Account Reconciliation Assistant. After that, I was able to explore a few different roles. I was put in the Corporate Controller’s Group as a Staff Accountant. In this role, I had an attention-grabbing job – I prepared board books and executive summary books for the executive staff. I learned very quickly that formatting was very important – decimals, number of zeros, spacing, font. Next, I was promoted to Senior Financial Analyst for financial reporting. In this role, I was able to experience interactions with the international locations because I managed and administered the database to collect their financials. I made friends with people in Europe, Latin America and Asia. I learned how to listen very carefully to all the diverse accents for understanding and to make conversions with the different currencies. Next, I was promoted to Associate Manager of Corporate Financial Planning. Then, it was on to multiple Global Supply Chain Finance roles, where I’ve provided support for more than 10 years, focusing on the cost of goods sold, capital spending, overhead and management of the Operations P&L. All of my roles have prepared me for my position today.

In a nutshell, what do you do now?
Currently, I am the Plant Finance Controller. I serve as a member of the Senior Leadership Team, in addition to overseeing a high functioning finance group driven towards customer service in support of our operation’s team.  Continuous improvement and price efficiency is always top priority.

What are you passionate about?
I am passionate about honesty. I also believe you should always do your best and always look for ways to improve.

What do you do when you are not working?
I enjoy watching Tiger baseball, bowling, fishing and taking my 14 year old daughter, Payton, to the movies.

6 ways to get involved in your Alumni Association in 2017

Stay connect by getting involved in your active alumni network!

Social Media - Follow us on Facebook and Instagram! Connecting on our social media outlets is one of the fastest ways to get the most updated information on what is happening with DU alumni. Plus, who doesn’t like fun pictures of alumni and snowy campus photos!

Events - Attend an event! Our 2017 schedule of events will include alumni tailgates, professional development opportunities and special days on the golf course! We have something for everyone!  View our upcoming events on our website.

Volunteer – Volunteer your time and talents to speak to a class, join at a regional alumni club, or offer advice on an alumni panel. Are you a recent grad in West Michigan? Join our Young Alumni Council!

Athletics – Cheer on your Panthers alongside our mascot, Pounce, at an athletics event. Not located in Grand Rapids? Many of our teams play games all over the country! Visit the athletics website for the full schedule of events.

Sign up to receive Davenport University e-mail updates to connect with fellow alumni and stay informed about DU’s latest initiatives, events and professional development opportunities.

Make a Gift – Invest in future DU students by contributing to the general fund, scholarships or a specific department. Learn more about giving back to DU.

Contact Information

To get involved in alumni activities or to learn more about benefits and services, contact:

Jason Madden ‘08
Executive Director of Alumni Relations and Development

Erik Dane ‘07
Assistant Director of Alumni Relations and Events

Sara Mooney ‘09
Assistant Director of Alumni Communications and Development

Road Map for your Personal Development

I’m a huge fan of GPS. Before that, I was a constant user of websites like MapQuest and Google Maps. Before that, I possessed a 50-state road atlas, State of Michigan map with detailed inset maps of various cities and two county map books that included every street within the county. When I’m driving, I definitely want to know where I’m going.

When I first started in my professional career, I was driving to a conference in Atlanta, Georgia. To this day, I remember working my way through the various pages of the atlas, comparing routes and then eventually highlighting which expressways I would take that would be the quickest option. Doing this type of planning can seem tedious, or worse, pointless. However, I believe planning your trips saves enormous time in the long-run, keeps you out of trouble areas and allows you to remain focused on your long-range destination.

Planning Your Life

You see, I don’t know anyone who ventures out on a trip – whether for business or pleasure – and operates with the mentality that they don’t know where they’re going, nor do they care. I don’t know anyone who gets in their car and says, “Let’s drive south for a while, and where we end up, that’s our vacation destination!” I don’t know anyone who travels for business and does not know exactly where they are headed. Unfortunately, I know a lot of people who treat their lives that way. Each new day that they wake up is unplanned, unfocused, and very accidental with respect to direction.

In March of 2012, I was reflecting on the importance of having purpose in life, and tweeted what proved to be a profound statement that I use quite frequently now in trainings and consultative services: “You will never drift into purposefulness.” So, if you can’t drift into purposefulness, then it has to be intentional.

How to Create a Personal Development Plan

A friend of mine always tells people that his favorite leadership quote is from the movie, “Alice in Wonderland.” An odd place to find leadership principles, but a quality statement, nonetheless: “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.” Now, to be clear, this isn’t advocating multiple options to the same destination, this is talking about the end destination not mattering, so your options are all equally valid (or to be fair, invalid!). This is like getting in the car and saying, “Let’s drive south to our vacation!” This type of attitude about our lives is unacceptable to me, and I’m hoping it is unacceptable to you as well. To keep yourself from falling into the trap that you can drift into purposeful, I’m proposing something different – a Personal Development Plan. So, what does a Personal Development Plan look like? Here are some ideas to get started:

  • Where do you want to go? What do you want your life to look like in about five years? Having too long of a timeframe (over five years) can make the end seem unrealistic. Having too short of a time frame can make the progress seem too incremental. My suggestion is to look at all areas of your life: professional, educational, financial, personal, physical, etc., and determine what you want to look like at the end of five years. That becomes your “destination location” – you now know where you want to go.
  • Begin taking each of the categories and identifying what has to happen in your life to get there within the timeframe. For example, if you’re going to be pursuing an advanced degree, it isn’t enough to put on your plan that you want to graduate. You also have to think strategically about every step. You may have an entrance exam requirement to fulfill like a GMAT or GRE, the application process, etc. You need to include every aspect into your plan.
  • Determine what you need to do differently beginning today, to start reaching the goals that you have. If you want to be somewhere different in five years from where you are now, then you have to do things that are different. The layman’s definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over but to expect a different result. So, what do you need to do differently? Some examples include reading a certain number of books on your area of expertise within your industry; begin blogging; identify a mentor within your industry; or, attend conferences that will force you to expand your learning. 

The Benefit to You

Having a Personal Development Plan sets you apart from your peers. It will create options for you both personally and professionally. A recent study shows that 42% of college graduates do not read another book after graduation. If you’re not reading, you’re missing out learning best practices. The fact is, leaders are readers, and if you’re not reading, you won’t be leading.

By separating yourself from your colleagues, you begin to be the one who people go to for additional opportunities, for answers to questions and for input on strategic decisions. All of this helps to get you to your intended destination that you’ve targeted for yourself in your five-year plan.

Let the Institute for Professional Excellence Help…

With our professional development and/or executive coaching services, the Institute for Professional Excellence (IPEx) at Davenport University can assist you regardless of your level within your organization.  IPEx will help you reach your greatest potential by providing education and training opportunities to support your Personal Development Plan. We want to make sure that your future looks different from your present and you stay on track to achieve your goals. IPEx can help you identify and arrive at your desired destination.

© 2016 | Dan Rundhaug | Executive Director
Institute for Professional Excellence (IPEx) | Davenport University

Dan can be reached at: or 616.233.2582



Alumni Success Story: Ellen Garrison ’00 ‘05

As the CFO of Accroseal, Ellen Garrison ‘05 is responsible for all aspects of accounting, human resources and operations. Ellen credits her human resources certificate from DU as the foundation for her success. “More doors have been opened for me thanks to the technical skills and knowledge I received while earning my HR certificate at DU.” Learn more about Ellen and her success in the manufacturing industry below.

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Tell us about yourself, Ellen!

I am from upstate New York. I earned my bachelor’s degree at Siena College in 1985 in marketing and management. I moved to Michigan to work at Richard Allen Medical. At the time, my boss was the manager of the human resources department. She suggested that I look into a human resources seminar to hone my skills. When I arrived home that evening and checked the mail, there was a well-timed postcard from Davenport offering a human resource technical degree. I thought ‘Why not?’ and brought it to my boss. I enrolled in the program and earned my certificate in 2000. I continued to pursue my MBA slowly while working full-time and graduated in 2005. I gained experience by serving as an office manager at River City Plastics, a controller at Adams Outdoors and as a division controller at Schupan & Sons.  Each role built on the foundations of human resources I’d studied at DU. Now, I am the CFO at Accroseal, a plastic compression molding company. I am responsible for accounting, human resources and operations. Every day is fun for me, and, while it’s not a ‘romantic’ job, I love it!

Why did you pick Davenport?

I picked Davenport because of the post card. I liked how the MBA program was geared towards working adults. It was easy to take classes and the online master’s program was awesome. I enjoyed my masters most because I was in the business world and I could apply what I was experiencing and learning in the classroom to real life. In this position that I am in now, I think I embraced what I learned so much that now I apply it and don’t even realize it. My capstone was the class that drove it all home.

In a nutshell, what do you do?

As the Chief Financial Officer for Accroseal, I am responsible for all the financial aspects, human resources, information technology and operations. I have one person on my staff, Breanna Klaassen ’12, who is also a graduate from Davenport University. My goal is to train her so she can fill my role.

What is your biggest accomplishment?

I worked on my Master’s degree for a long time, so when I finally earned it, it was an awesome accomplishment.

What is your dream job?

I am in my dream job! I drive to work every day and I can’t wait to get there. I have wonderful bosses. The company is goal-oriented and it is important for us to reach our goals. If the company reaches 18% growth the owners take the entire company and spouses to Key West for a long weekend in January. We have gone twice now.

Best advice you’ve ever received?

If someone is going into business or thinking about earning a second degree, considering learning more about human resources. That has really been a door opener for me.

What are you passionate about?

I am passionate about my work. When I am not at work, I am thinking of ways to improve it.

What do you do when you are not working?

My husband and I enjoy traveling, spending time with our children and grandchildren and good friends.

DU Football Inaugural Season A Success

The Davenport University football team concluded their inaugural season on Saturday, November 5 with a 6-5 record, which is very impressive for a first year program. Coach Lou Esposito said, “I am proud of the team. They had a winning season as the first team in school history and I am looking forward to next year.” He shares a few notable accomplishments below…

  • Ranked second in the NAIA in kickoff return yard average (26.6)
  • Third in rushing defense (85.9)
  • Fifth in total defense (270.2)
  • Eighth in scoring defense (17.5)
  • 12th in opponent third down conversions
  • 17th in total sacks (25)

In addition to the team’s success on the field, a number of Panthers were recognized for their academic success.  Nate CouturierBrent Showers and Patrick McMahon have all been named CoSIDA Academic All-District in College Division District I for this season. The trio of Panthers have been key for the first year program at Davenport University.

Winter sports are ramping up! View the full sports schedule on the Panther Athletic website today!

Alumni Success Story: Deb Marshall ’06

Motivated by the desire to create a better life for her children, Deb Marshall ’06 is no stranger to hard work. She is a mother, wife, grandmother, employee, volunteer and adventure seeker! Deb spends her days as a systems engineer at Van Andel Institute, where she helps manage information technology hardware and software systems. Learn more about Deb and her role as a systems engineer below.

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Tell us about yourself, Deb!

I graduated from DeWitt High School. I got married in my junior year and I had my first child on my first day of my senior year. I had to grow up early. I had four kids before I was 24 years old. Our marriage didn’t work out, so I had to work to support my family. I knew I had to make a better life for myself and my family, so I decided to go to school. I started at Lansing Community College in the fall of 1984 with just two classes because I had a Pell grant, working full time and being a single mom. One night in the spring of 1985, my 11 year old son was doing homework at the kitchen table.  I was doing dishes and talking to someone on the phone, probably my dad. I was telling him I just couldn’t keep up and I was going to have to quit. It was just too much. My son stopped doing his homework and said “Mom you can’t quit now, you’ve come too far to quit!” That’s what drove me and it was that semester that I met my husband. So I’m glad I didn’t quit – my husband and I have been married for more than 30 years.

I graduated from LCC with my associates in applications programing in 1992. Then I took some time off from school to put my kids through college. After working for Auto Owners Insurance and Jackson National Life, I found a home at Steelcase for 12 years where I decided to return to school and enroll at DU. I earned my degree in 2006 in network engineering. Now, I work at Van Andel Institute as a systems engineer.

Tell us about your experience at DU.

Enrolling at Davenport was an easy decision. I loved how the curriculum was hands-on! The philosophy at Davenport wasn’t teaching to pass a test, but rather teaching so you knew the content. I remember one night taking a test – our instructor started the test at 7:00 p.m., I didn’t leave the building until 2:00 a.m. to make sure I knew the content. My last class was a study abroad trip to China – it was a phenomenal experience!

Tell us more about your trip to China!

My trip to China was a lot of “firsts.”  It was the first time I had been overseas.  It was the first time I had taken a long vacation – 3 weeks. The first time I was away from my family.

A key thing to make staying in a foreign country work, is that you have to adapt to their ways. Every meal I ate with chopsticks except one and that was pizza at Pizza Hut.  Meals were interesting unless we were in the school cafe. You have to “try” everything on the table even the big fish that still had it’s head with eyes still on it; no picky eating.  Presentation of the meal is very important to them.  And while I was taught that it was polite to “clean your plate,” in China you will be given more to eat because it’s a sign you need more food.

There were a few things that really stood out.  When we first had a round table discussion with the students about questions about the two countries, one of the first things they said was ‘we don’t eat cats.” The next was the political conversations we had in the dorm of the grad students. Also the other thing that I noticed that several of my fellow students in China had been accepted by multiple universities and when asked where they were going to go, the statements were I’d like to go “here”, but the final decision is up to my parents.

In a nutshell, what do you do?

I am a systems engineer at Van Andel Institute, a cancer and Parkinson’s disease research institute in Grand Rapids. At a large company, (more…)