Kirk Haworth, ’15, Brady Fry, ‘15, Nannette Clark, ‘15 and Dana Sump, ‘17 all have very successful careers at the corporate headquarters of Casey’s General Stores, Inc., based in Ankeny. Among them, they have more than 85 years of combined employment at the fast growing convenience store chain.
So why did they all decide to go back to college to complete a bachelor’s degree at a time in their lives when some might have considered it unnecessary?
The short answers are strong personal motivation and a supportive employer that values education.
“Education is very important here, and Casey’s wanted to make sure that as they are growing their leadership for the generations to come, everybody has the tools they need to take our company to the next level,” said Fry, category manager for the prepared foods division.
When two of your bosses come to your office to talk, you take it seriously. What they had to say to Fry was, “Brady, we really think you should consider getting a college degree.”
“I called Simpson immediately and set up an appointment to get started,” he said.
Sump, senior category manager in charge of packaged beverages, had a related experience.
After his boss made a similar comment, Sump replied, “I haven’t been in a classroom for 30 years!”
“But it started the ball rolling. I thought about it for a month or so and then said, ‘I’ll do it,’” said Sump.
Personal reasons also played a big part in their motivation to return to school.
“Part of my motivation was my promise to my father, who is now passed away, that I’d get my bachelor’s degree,” said Clark, lead inventory accountant. “It feels good to have lived up to my promise to him.”
Haworth, director of real estate and store development, always had intentions of going back to school earlier in life, but as his family grew and he got busy with work, he put it on the back burner.
“The other thing that was a driver was that both my brother and sister are Simpson graduates and I thought it would be nice to graduate from Simpson as well,” he said. My mother is still alive and I wanted to get it done while she was still around to see it.”
All four also had a professional role model. Terry Handley, ’09, Casey’s President and Chief Operating Officer, obtained his degree from Simpson’s Continuing and Graduate program. He was in his mid 40’s and, like his four co-workers, was already accomplished in his career and personal life.
“The education piece was one thing I had left undone and I wanted to accomplish that for personal reasons,” Handley said. “I started C&G classes in 1988 and then stepped away after a year of college due to conflicts with a new position at Casey’s. It took 17 years to swing back into it.”
When he returned to school for his business management degree, Handley remembers people asking what he would get out of his education at that point in his life.
“I probably wasn’t going to learn a whole lot more about accounting and finance than I had learned being on the job, but it was the intellectual aspect I knew would be a great benefit,” he said.
Some of Handley’s favorite classes ended up being literature and music. “I was absorbed by those because it was something new,” he said. “It rounded me off a bit as far as my knowledge base. Now I read more and listen to classical music, things that I never would have done before.”
Fry can appreciate that.
“Originally my intent was to receive the piece of paper that said I had a college degree,” he said. “About a year into the program, I realized I was gaining so much more from it. The sense of accomplishment when it was done is very tough to describe.”
For a company the size of Casey’s, it’s unusual to have so many employees going to Simpson at the same time.
“I didn’t tell a lot of people I was going back to school,” Clark said. “But when I told my boss who had retired where I was going, he said, ‘Good for you! That is the only place to go!’ He felt a degree from Simpson meant more, and that I had a better shot of learning what I needed to at Simpson.”
“For me, it was just very convenient,” Fry said. “The Ankeny and West Des Moines campuses made it so easy to work around schedules. Whether it was work or you were on vacation and still taking classes, the locations were great.”
Sump said Simpson’s location was important, but the college’s curriculum also played into his decision. “I can take one class at a time rather than several at once and that worked for me.”
Taking on the commitment to finish your degree requires a level of commitment and motivation, especially at the height of your career.
“Motivating myself has been my biggest challenge,” Sump said. “I’m not a person that likes to sit down and bury myself in a textbook and read. So I have to read things twice and review before exams, and do some things others don’t have to do. I basically had to learn how to learn again.”
Haworth does a lot of traveling with his position at Casey’s. “It’s been tough to balance it all – work, life, school. It helps that instructors and professors have been good to work with over the years,” he said. “They were a little bit more flexible with the adults. They know if we need to miss, we have a good reason,” he said.
Helping them all along the way was the staff at Simpson. It’s one of the things that make Simpson’s Continuing and Graduate program stand out from the others – the personal service and guidance. Classes for these students were divided between Simpson’s campuses – Indianola, West Des Moines and Ankeny – but because of Casey’s location in Ankeny, the majority of classes were there.
“Craig Peck is wonderful.” Clark said. “He was a great advisor and helped me plan my schedule based on what nights were available, and what my options were in the liberal arts program. He’d talk me off the ledge, especially when I took classical music, one of my most difficult classes.”
Fry agrees about the guidance he received from Peck. “I can’t say enough about him. He just did an amazing job. He knew my personality, knew what I was trying to accomplish, and steered me through the right classes.”
The path wasn’t always easy but for these students, and many sacrifices were made, but all say it was worth it. And they would encourage others as well, no matter what their age or where they are in their careers.
“I would strongly encourage anyone to go back,” Haworth said. “It’s never too late. The whole college experience is different at my age than a traditional student, but it made you do things you didn’t think you could do or maybe you didn’t want to do. But you had to do it and I believe it makes you a stronger person overall.”
Even after graduating, Clark continues to help Simpson with its Transitions class, an introductory look at going back to school as an adult.
“You’re never too old to go back,” she said. “Even if you don’t know what you want to do, take some liberal arts classes to get a feel for the school and your schedule. See how much time it’s going to take you. Ease into it.”
“I tell people that you can’t say, ‘I can’t do this.’ You have to say, ‘I can, I can, I can!” Clark said.
Fry said he went to each of his classes with a little apprehension because every class was something different. “I don’t know how you put in words the value of a Simpson education or any education,” he said. “Each individual will never fully realize how much they will get out of their education until they complete it.”
Fry and Haworth received their bachelor’s in business management, and Clark received her bachelor’s in accounting. They all participated in the commencement ceremony in December 2015 and they each graduated with honors – Summa Cum Laude for Clark and Fry and Cum Laude for Haworth.
Sump is completing his degree in business management and is expected to graduate in May of 2017.
From someone who has walked in their shoes, they receive high praise for their accomplishments.
“They’re all wonderful people, long term employees, and they are committed to Casey’s,” Handley says. “That’s what’s important about the education piece. We have these great people here that maybe at the time they were coming out of high school or looking to college realized, like I did, that they didn’t have the time management skills, the personal maturity to complete the task, or maybe it was a financial issue. Yet here they are now.”
“They’ve proven themselves successful in their careers up to this point without the degree,” Handley continued. “But I believe they have to have that degree to take them to the next level. It will make them better people and better leaders. And that’s what’s so important about a degree from Simpson.”