Carmichael Builds Networks

January 27, 2004
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GRAND RAPIDS — When Zoe Carmichael talks about networks, she isn’t referring to the media outlets that show reality-based shows. No, when she talks networks she speaks of the often unconnected group of people that we all encounter every day, and how those daily encounters can help keep each one of us from being voted off the island.

In fact, it could be said that networks and education define much of who Carmichael is and how she sees the world. Add to those two the willingness to take a career gamble and one could gain an insight into her thought process and a peek into her past.

She rolled the career dice in 1998 and left a good position she enjoyed with GRATA, the public transportation group that later became ITP, when she started teaching marketing and communications as an adjunct at Davenport University. Why would she do that? Because higher education is her first love. Her parents taught in the Pittsburgh area, where she was raised, and they instilled in her the value a solid education can play in a person’s life.

But little did Carmichael know how important a role that higher ed would actually play in her life, as the strangest thing happened to her while she taught at Davenport.

“During a marketing class one of my students suggested that I apply for the assistant director of nontraditional recruitment at Davenport. I thought, well, shoot, I’ve got an in. So I applied for it and I got the job,” she said.

Now, how many teachers get job leads from their students? Maybe only one?

“It’s very rare,” she laughed. “I’ve worked in higher ed and taught part-time at various colleges and universities ever since.”

Carmichael earned her master’s degree in human resources from WMU, after getting her bachelor’s from Calvin College, and with the savvy and experience she picked up from the admission’s office in Davenport, she felt ready to tackle a bigger assignment at Western.

Nearly three years ago, WMU Regional Director James Schultz hired Carmichael to be the student services coordinator for the downtown Grand Rapids campus. Her primary responsibility is to recruit new adult students for the university’s graduate programs. She also works closely with the principals of local school districts to promote continuing education for their teachers.

“I help develop and market new professional-education programs, so I’m always looking for new classes to offer. Another big one is that I represent Western Michigan University at education fairs and other recruiting events,” she said of other tasks she has.

Carmichael likes what she does.

“I really love getting someone excited about pursuing a new career opportunity. I really enjoy that,” she added with a lot of satisfaction in her voice.

“These are all full-time working adults with families and all kinds of other responsibilities and enrolling in a graduate program is a big commitment. I can use, ‘Hey, I did it and you can do it, too,’ as a big selling point. They look at me and think if it’s good enough for her, maybe there is something to this. And being an alumnus, I think, is an advantage.”

As she looked back on the path her career has taken and the success she has enjoyed the past six years, Carmichael said three things were key for her.

“I can’t stress enough: networking, networking, networking,” she said.

“It’s who you know, it’s relationship building, and how you treat people.”

Wanting a degree from Calvin College was what drew Carmichael here from Pittsburgh, where she grew up after being born in Angola, Ind. And since she has been here, she has remained active in the area by volunteering her time and talents for a number of different groups and events over the years.

Carmichael currently shares the title of Heartside Business Association president with Marge Palmerlee, of Degage Ministries. It’s an important time for the association with the renovation of four buildings on South Division, the construction of a new facility on the old Milner Hotel site, and an expansive and expensive transit and parking study for the district all underway.

“We’re just trying to do what we can to bring more recognition and notoriety and business to the area,” she said.

All three projects could have a major impact on businesses there, but, perhaps, none more than the study that should be done in August. The district’s largest, single source of parking, the City Centre ramp, closed at the end of the year due to structural concerns and the closing left Heartside with 700 fewer spaces to park.

“We’re trying to get feedback from everyone, from residents to business owners to different developers, on what are their daytime needs and evening parking needs, and really trying to get a good assessment of what those needs are so the parking consultants can make their recommendations,” said Carmichael, who is on the study’s steering committee and part of the MainStreet Advisory Council.

“We’re trying to encourage business to locate here, but they want to know where are (their) customers and employees going to park? You can’t lure good businesses here or develop the area if you don’t have good parking.”

When Carmichael isn’t working she often parks herself in a theater or in a coffee house, as she is a self-described boffo movie buff and big-time coffee drinker. How boffo of a buff is she? Well, she poetically said sitting in a dark theater and honing in on a movie was a “nice way to escape the pressures of being alive.” She regularly talks film with a circle of friends and her husband Grant, who is a Web and exhibit designer for Square One Design.

Although she couldn’t name her all-time favorite movie, her preferred coffee hangout easily rolled off her lips.

“I really like to support local businesses, like going to Kava House. I’m a big caffeine hound, so you can usually find me at the Kava House,” she said. “I’m not really into sports. I just like spending time with friends, going to movies and hanging out at the coffee house.”

As for her immediate future, Carmichael said she wants to improve adult learning and professional opportunities for local residents, and she plans to do that by staying put, because she likes being a part of what is going on here.

“I’m hoping to continue to work with the graduate programs in a marketing and recruiting capacity, hopefully for Western. But also to continue to serve the community by volunteering and by serving in public relations roles,” she said.

“I really enjoy Grand Rapids. I like to see the wonderful things we’re doing here and I hope to always be a part of the public relations scene here.”    

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