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10 Within 10

Young alumni are putting  their stamp on the world in diverse and significant ways

Contact: Heather Smith


By Cynthia J. Drake, M.A. ’08
Reprinted from Centralight Summer​ 2017

Now in its fourth year, the 10 Within 10 program recognizes young alumni who bring honor to
Central Michigan University through their work in their career or community. This year's slate of Chippewas is making a difference in politics, TV news, human resources, education, entertainment and finance. And they carry their Central pride wherever they go.

What is your fondest memory of CMU? 

Working for Residence Life as a resident assistant and spending countless highly caffeinated hours studying at Grawn. Former classmates would remember me probably as a caffeine addict. It was only on rare occasion you’d catch me without some form of coffee or energy drink in my hand.

What has been your coolest moment since graduation? 

Reading about my projects as they become public knowledge in the Wall Street Journal and other media continues to be a surreal experience.

What are you proudest of? 

Honestly, I feel quite proud sitting in this interview. But holistically, I feel proud of having focused the good fortune afforded to me into a career and company for which I am deeply passionate.

What advice would you give to new graduates? 

While technical skills are no doubt the ante to play, there is no substitute for differentiation like a consistently good attitude.

What has your work life taught you?

Focus on winning by helping others achieve success. Always think win-win. Like the game of Tetris, successes fade, but failures build, so focus your energy on the present and future.

What is your fondest memory of CMU? 

Being a Leadership Advancement Scholar. I met the best of friends through the program, and I was provided unlimited opportunities to learn, practice and teach leadership skills.

How would your former roommates or classmates remember you? 

Driven, passionate and loved to dance at oldies night.

What are you proudest of? 

I’ve been able to apply the skills I learned at CMU to my roles at Gap Inc., Apple and Twitter.

What advice would you give to new graduates? 

Take risks – you’ll learn tons about yourself. I moved all the way to San Francisco after graduation for my first job. It was scary and challenging, but I grew so much personally and professionally.

If you could do anything right now, what would you do? 

Travel more to explore new places and different cultures. Some of my most valuable experiences have been on international trips.

What is your fondest memory of CMU? 

There are so many memories and experiences that I carry with me. Those moments of rushed excitement as freshmen raced through the gauntlet for their first time on campus at Leadership Safari … the adrenaline of counting down the final moments until we were on the air at News Central 34 … the gatherings with brothers of Sigma Alpha Epsilon, forging new relationships and doing our part to leave CMU a better place.

What has been your coolest moment since graduation? 

Every day is the coolest moment, because every day I get to live my dream. My career has taken me many places, from covering the Republican and Democratic national conventions to Washington, D.C., the Dominican Republic and Norway. I have covered presidents and have flown in the Goodyear Blimp.

What has your work life taught you?

You won’t always win, you won’t always succeed. You will fail, and it’s OK to fail. 

What are you proudest of? 

I am proud that, of all of the lessons I learned at CMU, I truly learned what it means to give back. I never paved the road to success, I’m just driving on it, but it’s important that I maintain the road, too. I mentor and give back to the next generation, finding ways to help them succeed. 

What advice would you give to new graduates? 

Get in touch with reality. The world is a very different place when you’re out on your own. You will never have all of the answers, so consider every day an opportunity to grow and learn something new. Be the true you. That’s all you need to succeed.

What is your fondest memory of CMU? 

Meeting new people. Avoiding the library. Playing basketball with friends at the SAC. Participating in two Alternative Breaks. 

What has been your coolest moment since graduation? 

Being on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives when they passed my boss’s landmark legislation, the 21st Century Cures Act. It’s a bipartisan piece of legislation to safely speed the approval process for life-saving drugs and medical devices. It took us more than three years, but in December 2016, President Obama signed it into law. Seeing all of our hard work pay off was incredibly rewarding and yes — in a nerdy way — very cool.

What advice would you give to new graduates? 

Audit yourself. Be self-aware and understand what you’re good at and what you’re not. When it comes to finding a job or settling into a career: Triple down on whatever it is you’re passionate about. Ignore pretty much everything else.

What has your work life taught you?

Being a good communicator means being a good listener, first and foremost.

If you could do anything right now, what would you do? 

Travel more. The world is so big!

What is your fondest memory of CMU? 

A two-week study abroad trip that I took to Shanghai and Beijing, China, through the Honors Program and the College of Business Administration. We spent time sightseeing, eating local food, visiting both American and Chinese businesses, attending lectures, and learning about the culture. 

What has been your coolest moment since graduation? 

Coming back to work at CMU. To me, taking this job really felt like coming home, which is an experience that I don’t think everyone has when starting their first job out of college.  

What are you proudest of? 

I’m proudest of what I’ve been able to give back to CMU. Having earned two degrees from CMU and now working here as a professor, I’ve had the ability to see our program and the needs of our students from both a student and faculty perspective.

What advice would you give to new graduates? 

Take advantage of opportunities that are offered to you — no matter how big or small. Even if they’re a little out of your comfort zone, new experiences can help you develop new relationships, expand your knowledge and skills, and grow both personally and professionally.

What has your work life taught you?

Your education never stops. Even though you will learn a lot in school, there is always more to learn, and it’s important to take opportunities to keep learning. 

What has been your coolest moment since graduation? 

I’ve witnessed intimate concerts by some of the biggest names in the music industry, planned birthday parties for former presidents and legendary pop-culture icons, and helped organizations raise millions of dollars at events to benefit those in need.

What are you proudest of? 

Michigan will always be home, but I’m proud of where my path has taken me. Washington and New York are two incredible cities to spend your 20s and build your career. The memories I’ve made and the friends and connections I’ve developed along the way have been the most rewarding.

What has your work life taught you?

One of my favorite quotes is, “If you work really hard and you’re kind, amazing things will happen.” It’s so simple, but I really attribute that to where I’ve gotten in my career.

What advice would you give to new graduates? 

Get as much experience as you can. Also, don’t be afraid to utilize your connections or to reach out to decision-makers directly versus going through the usual channels.

If you could do anything right now, what would you do?

Honestly, I would travel. I was lucky enough when I was younger to travel with my parents, both CMU professors who took student groups on study abroad tours as I was growing up.

What has been your coolest moment since graduation? 

My coolest — and scariest — moment was going great white shark cage diving in South Africa last year with my family. To see a great white shark on TV is one thing; to be face-to-face with one is another.

What are you proudest of? 

The first: my kids. Even at 4-years-old (I have boy/girl twins), they do things that make me so proud as a father. The second: my wife, Nichole. Being a military spouse is not easy. Picking up and moving every few years, sometimes twice in a year, and across the world is tough for anybody. Not only does she do it, she embraces it.

What advice would you give to new graduates? 

I keep a small note taped just below my computer in my office that simply reads, “When You Die, Die On ‘E.’ ” That’s it. Have no regrets; leave nothing left.

What has your work life taught you?

Lots. I’ll keep it to three: 1) You cannot effectively lead an organization from behind your desk. I’ve seen leaders try; they’ve all failed. 2) A good leader will know all their folks’ names and a lot about them. A great leader will know their spouses’ and kids’ names and a bit about them. 3) Surround yourself with people smarter than you. Then give them the credit.

If you could do anything right now, what would you do?

I’d be sitting in Congress. I’m passionate about leadership and implementing common-sense change. We need more of it.

What has been your coolest moment since graduation? 

The travel I’ve been fortunate enough to enjoy while at Deloitte – “prost-ing!” at Oktoberfest in Munich, experiencing endless rainbows in Iguacu Falls, seeing the Eiffel Tower at night, hiking the Grand Canyon or a 14er in Breckenridge, eating live octopus in Seoul – these are, without a doubt, some of the coolest moments.

What are you proudest of? 

The personal brand I’ve created at Deloitte. There is a certain level of ownership in my career that I am solely responsible for – no one else. You cannot wait for opportunities to come to you. It just doesn’t work that way.

What advice would you give to new graduates? 

My best piece of advice for new graduates is to keep an open mind. In both my professional and personal lives there have been opportunities that have come my way that I never thought I would enjoy. Same goes for things I thought I had a passion for that ultimately weren’t the right fit for me. You don’t know what you don’t know, so give yourself the freedom to try new things and then decide.

What has your work life taught you?

Practicing empathy never goes out of style. Much of my day-to-day is serving clients, and for me that means walking in my clients’ shoes.

If you could do anything right now, what would you do?

Yoga teacher training. Yoga is something I stumbled upon right around the time I began working at Deloitte. Over time, it has become so much more than a physical practice.

What is your fondest memory of CMU? 

Meeting my beautiful wife, Angela, at freshman orientation. Musically, my fondest memories are having my first orchestral work premiered by Professor Carlton Woods and the CMU Symphony Orchestra and rehearsing and performing in the CMU Symphonic Wind Ensemble.

What has been your coolest moment since graduation? 

The birth of my sons, Izaak and Declan. They bring so much meaning and joy to my life.

What advice would you give to new graduates? 

Your education continues after graduation. In many ways, college is a place to discover what you don’t know, and the years after graduation are a great time to delve deeply into the questions you’ve discovered. Set goals but really dig into the process. Take risks. Be open. Listen. And know dreams require hard work.

What has your work life taught you?

It’s taken me quite some time to realize that, although it’s very important to me, my work is not my life. Balance is important.

If you could do anything right now, what would you do? 

I would do exactly what I’m doing. Every day I am given the opportunity to make music with incredible musicians and collaborators, to work alongside brilliant and inspiring colleagues, and to teach creative, energetic and inquisitive students.

What is your fondest memory of CMU? 

The all-nighters we’d pull in the Moore 119 editing bays before an MHTV deadline. My friend Scott once discovered Red Bull mispriced at Ric’s, so he bought them out and walked into Moore Hall like Taurine Santa Claus. 

How would your former roommates or classmates remember you?

As an ambitious jerk with perpetual car problems.

What has been your coolest moment since graduation? 

In 2013, seeing my name as the “written by” credit during the third episode of “Rick and Morty.”

What advice would you give to new graduates? 

You’ll get lucky slower or faster than other people and in different proportions. So what? There’s no timetable for anything except being a professional basketball player, maybe. Are you trying to be a professional basketball player? Then chill out, be nice to everyone, and recognize we’ve all been addicted to sugar since childhood and that they don’t even tell you the percent daily value in the nutrition facts because it’d be like 7,000 percent.

What has your work life taught you?

Your job, even if it’s a great job, should occupy a portion of your life smaller than the portion dedicated to preserving your mental and physical health. Because one day your job is going to make you wonder, “What if I became a yoga instructor?”


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