In 2013, a new Spring Term class was added to the Alma College curriculum. Dubbed “Plaid Returns,” the business administration course was created to help students better understand the challenges of strategic leadership by incorporating the perspectives and advice of successful alumni.
The course was the brainchild of alumnus Darryl Schimeck ’82, who knew firsthand that successful alumni are shaped by their alma mater, forming a foundation for the success they achieve later in life.
The course met in 2019 for the seventh consecutive year. As in each of the previous years, more than two dozen professional leaders lined up to mentor Alma students. While many of the speakers traveled to Alma, the class also took trips to Chicago and Detroit to allow students to interact with successful alumni in metropolitan areas. Participating alumni have included CEOs, presidents, executive directors and vice presidents from a variety of business fields.
“’Plaid Returns’ highlights the success, engagement and service of our alumni to their alma mater,” says Schimeck, who team-teaches the course with business faculty and President Jeff Abernathy. “As the class progressed, one of my dreams was to someday have students who took the class come back and speak. This year I was pleased to welcome alumni from our original class.”
Returning alumni Mitch Adams, Chase Fairchild and Al Lesperance brought a different perspective, sharing their early-career stories — both their successes and their “bumps in the road” — as well as their advice for maximizing opportunities for career success.
“I was excited to have been asked to come back and speak,” says Lesperance. “The strategic leadership class impacted my personal and business life.”
The innovative class has received national attention. In 2016, “Plaid Returns” won a gold award for alumni engagement in a competition sponsored by the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education (CASE).
Mitch Adams ’17
- Major: Environmental studies, with a business administration minor.
- Employment: Environmental health and safety coordinator for a glass manufacturing company in Plymouth, Mich.
- Why Alma? Small classes, faculty interactions, lacrosse.
- Advice to students: “Treat finding a job like a full-time job. Do your homework before a job interview. Look past the first few pages on LinkedIn and Indeed.”
Chase Fairchild ’17
- Major: Accounting
- Employment: Audit associate for a public accounting firm in Grand Rapids.
- Why Alma? Academics and basketball.
- Advice to students: “If you are in a field that requires licensure, do your exams before you take your first job. It’s hard to study, take and pass CPA exams while working full-time.”
Al Lesperance ’16
- Major: Business administration, with a philosophy minor.
- Employment: Sales representative for a Japanese trading company in Ferndale that supplies polymer resin to the automotive industry.
- Why Alma? Small classes, football and lacrosse.
- Advice to students: Learn and grow from difficult situations. “My first job was with a company that had a bad work culture and high turnover. I had a positive transition into my second job in an entirely different culture that is ceremonial, respectful and serious.”