Brand Story - The University’s MBA fosters changemakers like Port of Morrow’s Kalie Davis.
In Eastern Oregon, Morrow County works to translate its economic growth into innovative opportunities for all. To sustain innovation, the Port of Morrow needed someone who could build connections between people, organizations and opportunities. One and a half hours from the Port lies Eastern Oregon University (EOU), an educational, economic and cultural engine for rural Oregon, and the alma mater of Kalie Davis — just the leader they were looking for.
Today, Davis helps strengthen the region by collaborating with local partners to identify and create avenues for students and professionals to engage with industry.
“I spend a lot of time meeting with people, finding out what their interests are and then getting them to the right place,” explains Davis, who holds both a bachelor’s degree and MBA from EOU. “My goal is that Morrow County and its industries stay strong and healthy, and that plenty of good connections are happening.”
Whether organizing the Nuts, Bolts and Thingamajigs manufacturing camp for junior high students, recruiting job seekers, teaching a high school work ethic course or serving on the GO-STEM (Greater Oregon Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) advisory board through EOU, Davis believes that solutions arise from interpersonal connections.
To help facilitate them, she draws on her education: “There are so many different pieces of the MBA program that I use on a regular basis: project management, communications, and working with people of different backgrounds and personalities.”
Having grown up, studied and worked in Eastern Oregon, Davis’ role lets her focus on the region’s future. Workforce development is oriented toward tomorrow’s continued growth, including helping people see Boardman, Oregon, as an ideal place to relocate: “When I say we’re forward-thinking, I’m not kidding. We heard about the need for childcare, so we worked with industry partners and opened a full-time childcare center [in Boardman] that costs parents a maximum of $400 a month.”
As cities swell in size, professionals occasionally overlook the cutting-edge work happening further afield in more rural regions. For Morrow County, home to the country’s second-largest data center cluster, growth is inevitable, but only with the necessary labor force. To foster and attract talent that benefits the entire area, Davis supports initiatives that highlight Boardman’s exciting career paths.
One example is the educator externship launched through an educational partnership with her alma mater that lets teachers explore the opportunities available to their students in the working world. Junior high and high school teachers learn about various apprenticeship programs, industry careers and the best path into them. In return, GEAR Up or the Eastern Oregon Workforce Board provide a $1,000 stipend and teachers earn graduate credits through EOU.
Another project is an industry internship program that was thought to be unfeasible. Big industry actors wanted to accept interns and students wanted the experience, but the potential liability was a dealbreaker. Davis helped craft a solution in which the Columbia River Enterprise Zone paid for between 20 and 30 student interns to work in various industries, and the InterMountain Educational Service District served as the hirer, eliminating the final hurdle of liability.
With that out of the way, companies were eager to get involved: “I was blown away with how many businesses said they’d participate. We did 100 interviews in two days for Morrow County students,” she says.
Thanks to this team effort, Boardman now hosts an internship program that gives students the chance to explore a new industry, while establishing connections between companies and potential future talent. Both sides win. Importantly to Davis, the program evens the playing field so that students can explore a variety of companies and industries, not just those who can afford the internship.
“I always wanted to be in career services because the whole goal is to get you where you want in life. So when I work with students I always lean more toward opportunity — not focusing on the degree itself but what it allows them to do,” she says. While serving as an admissions counselor at EOU after obtaining her bachelor’s degree, she employed this same logic when deciding to enroll in the MBA program.
An Eastern Oregon native, Davis wanted to pursue higher education without having to go too far away. La Grande, the home of Oregon’s Rural University — tucked between Umatilla National Forest, the Blue Mountains and the Wallowa Mountains — presented the best of both worlds. She could remain in the region while meeting people from all corners of the globe.
When she and her husband relocated midway through, instead of being faced with the tough decision to give up her goals, she was able to complete the accredited program fully online through EOU. Soon after, she got a job with the Port of Morrow.
“I really liked that getting a degree in business wasn’t limiting. There’s so many different things you can do with it,” Davis notes. “It was a great return on investment.”
Davis is part of a large EOU MBA family of leaders taking what they learned and heading out into Oregon to help strengthen regional economies. Aside from earning potential, return on investment and flexibility, the program’s true value comes in its ability to produce passionate changemakers.
“It all ties back to where I started my education at Eastern Oregon University,” she concludes. “I feel strongly that if you’re from Eastern Oregon and passionate about where you live, there’s nothing better than finding an opportunity in your own backyard.”
Brand stories are paid content articles that allow Oregon Business advertisers to share news about their organizations and engage with readers on business and public policy issues. The stories are produced in house by the Oregon Business marketing department. For more information, contact associate publisher Courtney Kutzman.