By Cynthia J. Drake
Adapted from Centralight Winter 2018
Roll-up-their-sleeves work ethics and big hearts lead many Central Michigan University students and alumni to jobs at nonprofit organizations, where they're a force for positive change around the globe.
Here's a sampling of alumni who say CMU equipped them to make a difference as nonprofit leaders:
Blythe Moran, American Cancer Society
Blythe Moran, 1980 graduate, is executive director of the American Cancer Society in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan.
Key takeaway: "For me, the most gratifying experience has to be hearing the personal stories from individuals whose lives we've impacted: the woman who says without us, she would not have had a ride to treatment; the father who told me he's alive today because of the research that led to the discovery of a drug that saved his life. Our impact is global, but it's also so personal."
What about your experience at CMU equipped you for this role? "I went to CMU specifically for the School of Public Health, which helped prepare me for this role. I remember several professors who sparked my passion for public health. The university gave me several opportunities to get hands-on leadership experience both on campus and in the community.
"In addition to this, I joined the Zeta Tau Alpha sorority that not only provided a wonderful network of friends but also introduced me to the world of philanthropy and the opportunity to make an impact."
Jim Hughes, CATCH Charity
Jim Hughes, 1979 graduate, is executive director of CATCH Charity in Detroit.
Key takeaway: "Ask yourself what you are most passionate about. Surround yourself with people who share your passion and can direct you toward a career that allows your work to be your passion. Also, know that what you are passionate about today may be different five, 10, 20 years from now."
What about your experience at CMU equipped you for this role? "I sincerely believe that my journalism degree and experience working at CM Life was instrumental in preparing for me for this particular job, simply because so much of what I do involves communicating and telling stories.
"Communication is the key, whether it be in meetings and conversations with prospective donors and sponsors; writing about the charity, our fundraising activities and the mission; how CATCH funds make an impact for the beneficiaries; or promoting CATCH through local and social media."
Nancy Brown, American Heart Association
Nancy Brown, 1985 graduate, is CEO of the American Heart Association in Dallas, Texas.
Key takeaway: "As CEO, I frequently ask myself: 'What difference am I going to make? How am I going to help?' And when I talk with leaders in our organization, I often mention the difference between asking 'What am I doing?' and 'What am I solving?' It's a subtle but very important difference in how we approach our work. If we're not creating solutions, we're not achieving our mission."
What about your experience at CMU equipped you for this role? "My time and experience at CMU gave me the foundation I needed to pursue new opportunities with confidence after graduation. It wasn't only what I learned in my classes, but also connecting with others outside of class and learning from their unique perspectives.
"It's easy to gravitate to a worldview that mirrors our own experiences. CMU opened my eyes to the larger human story and diversity of thought. These experiences molded who I was as a student and shaped who I would become as a leader."
Robert Collier, Council of Michigan Foundations
Robert Collier, 1994 graduate, retired in November as president and CEO of the Council of Michigan Foundations in Grand Haven, Michigan.
Key takeaway: "I'm very optimistic that the millennial generation and Generation Z are going to be involved. Clearly, we have to work to make sure they understand their involvement is meaningful and is important to their communities and to Michigan, the country and the globe. Part of it is we have to recognize the talents they bring to the table. They want to see things get better for their communities."
Advice for current CMU students looking to make their mark on the world: "One thing is to keep in mind that one out of every 10 Michiganders works in the nonprofit sector. We have a lot of baby boomers who are retiring, and we need young leaders.
"Whether you're interested in the environment, health education, infrastructure … there are lots of opportunities to have a meaningful and rewarding career by being involved in the nonprofit sector."
Jerri Hamachek, Moody Gardens
Jerri Hamachek, 1987 graduate, is marketing and public relations manager of Moody Gardens in Galveston, Texas.
Key takeaway: "Pay attention to what speaks to your heart."
What about your experience at CMU equipped you for this role? "Before I went to CMU, I knew that's where I wanted to go. I kind of felt like that was going to be the place where I would grow — not only as a place to learn, but as a place for me to grow personally.
"The social and learning experience is important. It helps you get a feel for where you want to be."
Isaiah Oliver, Community Foundation of Greater Flint
Isaiah Oliver, 2007 graduate, is president and CEO of the Community Foundation of Greater Flint in Flint, Michigan
Key takeaway: "I hope people ask 'Where did he come from? How did he get here? Where can we find more kids like that?' so I can say, 'I'm just a kid from Flint. There are thousands of intelligent, amazing, driven, talented kids in Flint.'"
What about your experience at CMU equipped you for this role? "I'm a kid from the north side of Flint. Life in Mount Pleasant was a culture shock. It made me question everything I'd ever known and reaffirm my personal truths.
"I found my true self because of this newfound exposure to life outside of my comfort zone. That experience opened a new inquisitive 'must know why' instinct in me. This drives my work in the nonprofit sector."