Life before Elon

For many faculty and staff, coming to Elon meant leaving behind careers as business entrepreneurs, actors and concert promoters.

It was during a phone call in an office at Motorola Inc. that Michelle Kusel, assistant director of leadership at Elon University, knew she was not where she was meant to be. As a human resources representative for the company, she was discussing career options with a former intern she had worked with for years.

Michelle Kusel

 “I felt in my heart I knew what I wanted to tell him, but I also knew what I had to tell him for the benefit of the company, and those two things didn’t align,” she recalls. “I decided I wanted to switch sides, I wanted to be on the university side helping students find jobs. It was an ‘aha!’ moment for me.”

That moment led Kusel, who already had a degree in engineering, to pursue a master’s degree in higher education at Loyola University Chicago. It was there she fell in love with leadership.

“What I love about leadership is it means something different to different people, you can craft it to whatever you want it to be,” she says. “Every day, I wake up trying to be a better person and what better way to do that than through your job?”

While Kusel’s path to a job at Elon was not a straight one, her story is not unique. Many Elon faculty and staff followed different paths before having that ‘aha!’ moment that led them to join the university. For some, that moment came after years of exhausting work that offered no real satisfaction. For others, it was a moment of realization many years in the making.

Finding a sense of community

Ross Wade

For Ross Wade, assistant director of career services for the School of Communications, it was the feeling of being part of a family what brought him to Elon.

“I got into theater and I liked it, but my favorite part was the sense of community,” says Wade, who worked in the film industry before joining the School of Communications. “It was the combination of creativity and community that I liked.”

At Elon, Wade forms strong relationships with coworkers and students alike. The first-year students he started working with when he arrived in 2008 are graduating this year and he says he has enjoyed watching them grow.

“My backup plan was being a high school guidance counselor, which is kind of like what I’m doing now but with college students,” he says. “I’m totally hooked on higher ed. I love watching students evolve and find out what they want to do. There’s that community, that sense of being able to grow and learn continually.”

Unexpected lessons along the way

Rissa Trachman

The journey for Rissa Trachman, assistant professor of sociology and anthropology, was not always as clear. While working toward an undergraduate degree at the University of Texas at Austin, she stumbled into a job in concert promotion. She’s grateful for the four years she spent in the industry, but they didn’t come without challenges.

“It was working all day to book shows and working all night to settle shows with artists and managers,” she recalls. “Doing that was more than 90 hours a week. I enjoy this so much better.”

When she chose to pursue an advanced degree, Trachman returned to a passion she had held from an early age. Interested in geology as a child, she studied archaeology in graduate school after originally falling in love with it in a class prior to her stint in the music business.

And while her experiences filling local arenas may not align within her current scholarship, the years she spent in the profession did not go entirely to waste.

Maggie Mullikin

“One of my jobs as a concert promoter was to come up with a budget for every single show and event; that process has been extremely handy as an academic trying to budget archaeology fieldwork,” she says. “It also gave me confidence to move forward with my education and think confidently that I could find a job afterward.”

Maggie Mullikin, coordinator of graduate outreach and special programs for the School of Communications, is also no stranger to the power of confidence. Originally studying elementary childhood education, Mullikin had a slew of careers ranging from teaching to traveling the world as a puppeteer before being approached to work as a model, which she still does in her free time.

Though they seemingly have little in common, there is an overlap between the latter and her current career. As a model, she says, she developed confidence in herself, something she now instills in the students she works with, particularly when it comes to pursuing internships.

“I’m able to say to the student, ‘you should be proud of this,’” she adds.

Returning to earlier passions

But perhaps the biggest career jump, both literally and figuratively, came for Dave Powell, professor of computing sciences and business administration. In the mid-1970s, and after graduating from West Point, Powell elected to become a paratrooper and spent three years in Italy. He later enrolled in a civil engineering graduate program at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute where, as he puts it, he was bitten by the computer bug.

After a short stint working for General Electric and obtaining a doctorate, Powell taught briefly at RPI while laying the foundation for a small company. Soon after, he relocated the business to North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park hoping to expand.

Dave Powell

“As it got bigger, I got more away from my love of teaching and being around students,” Powell recalls. “I’ve always loved being around individuals around the ages of 18 to 24; it goes back to my service days.”

In 2000, Powell joined Elon’s Department of Computing Sciences and, 11 years later, he says he’s still just as passionate about the campus. He is particularly impressed by the university’s commitment to study abroad programs, experiences he encourages for all his students to pursue.

“I love students who are willing to take risks to go abroad,” he says. “It’s a great way to get exposed to the world. The world’s gotten smaller and I love how Elon is going along with it.”

By Caitlin O’Donnell ’13