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Professional experiences right in 'your own backyard'

June 15, 2019
By Kelsey Rettke'15
Tim McKevett'86 and Michael O'Neill

When Tim McKevett'86 ventured across the Wisconsin-Illinois border from his native Chicagoland hometown to attend Beloit College in 1982, he was certain he would end up pursuing a career in corporate law.

Over 30 years later, McKevett's career may not have catapulted him as originally planned, but he's truly traveled up the corporate ladder. He's raised his family in Beloit, and is now president and chief executive officer of the Beloit Health System.

McKevett recently participated in an "Exploring Beloit" panel organized by students, which allowed the campus community to learn from the lived experiences of community business leaders like himself. Michael O'Neill, the president and CEO of Kerry, a global food and beverage company with headquarters in Beloit, also participated as a panelist.

Students Farhan Tahir'19 of Lahore, Pakistan, and Salma Ali'21 of Dhaka, Bangladesh, who organized the panel, wanted to remind their peers that professional resources really do exist in their own backyard.

"At Beloit, I was fortunate enough to work for some of the big local companies, but I always saw my peers struggling," Tahir says. "They were all searching for internships in bigger cities while ignoring the presence of billion-dollar corporations in our local community."

From intern to CEO

Beloit Health System is the largest employer in the city of Beloit, and an organization McKevett did not expect to lead one day.

Like many undergraduate students, McKevett's professional pursuits changed, based on a single class he took.

"I fully expected to seek a career in corporate law," McKevett says. "In my sophomore year, I shadowed some law practices and realized this may not be the path I wanted to pursue."

Fast forward to his junior year at Beloit in 1985. McKevett was taking a finance class, and the instructor was a visiting professor who was also the president of Beloit Memorial Hospital.

An eager junior, McKevett worked with former Dean of Students Bill Flanagan to arrange an internship at the hospital. At the time, Flanagan was the director of experiential learning, working in that capacity to help students find meaningful work experiences and internships.

"Tim was eager to gain work experience, and I had a connection to the hospital," Flanagan says. "It turned out they found in him what I found: a hard-working, dedicated individual who had aspirations for growth and development."

McKevett liked the internship so much, he decided to stay on through his senior year, and earned an offer for a full-time position by the time he graduated in 1986.

"[McKevett] did everything he could do to learn from the experience, and accepted every task they threw his way," Flanagan continues. "That's why he's successful, in addition to being one of the most ethical, honest, and straightforward people you will meet – he's also smart, analytical, and possesses great people skills."

McKevett went on to work his way up from intern, to administrative assistant, assistant vice president, vice president, senior vice president, president, and then, in May 2014, he was appointed president and CEO of Beloit Health System.

"There is no doubt that Beloit College is one of the best [liberal arts colleges] in the nation," McKevett says. "Its diversity is its strength, and it prepared me for a successful career."

Small town, big opportunities

For Tahir and Ali, Beloit isn't exactly what they imagined as a typical Midwestern town.

Hailing from a Pakistani city of 11 million people, Tahir, 22, a business economics and mathematics major, says adjusting to Beloit, a city of 37,000 people, was different.

"I still remember there was only Lucy's #7 Burger Bar, and then the same year, Zen Sushi Bar & Grill opened downtown," Tahir recalled of his first-year eatery options. "And now we have a couple of different options, each serving different cuisines. Who would have thought a small town in southern Wisconsin would become 'this global' right in front of me?"

Ali, 20, also a mathematics and economics major, said she was intrigued by the "city-college" relationship as a first-year student.

"I was excited to learn more about the city after exploring the downtown area and the farmer's market," Ali said. "Since then, I have learned so much about Beloit's rich history, its diverse community, booming businesses, and entertainment and food options."

Like McKevett, Ali and Tahir are taking full advantage of the ample opportunities for professional experience in the city while they're still students. They both participated in Beloit's Duffy Partnership Program and connected with employers throughout the city and region.

During his sophomore year, Tahir did an internship at Rockford, Ill.-based SupplyCore, Inc., a supply chain distribution company that works with the U.S. Department of Defense. He's also done internships with Kerry, whose North American headquarters are six miles from campus, Northwestern Mutual's Janesville office, just 15 minutes outside of Beloit, and Family Services of Southern Wisconsin, located in Beloit.

Tahir says he was fortunate to be able to use his liberal arts skills and translate his experiences in the classroom during internships. "I wasn't sure what I wanted to do," he says. "So I tried everything. Only a liberal arts degree gives you the freedom to test and trial."

Ali is currently working as an intern at Beloit-based Hendricks CareerTek, a career and learning center for local K-12 students to get hands-on experience in industry jobs before graduating from high school.

"I have learned so much working for a non-profit that strives to promote educational and career development among the youth of the Stateline area," Ali says.

Tahir says he wanted to organize the "Exploring Beloit" panel to help bridge the gap between the college and community.

"Beloit has growing opportunities in terms of employment, business growth, community development, and more," he says. "We wanted a way to highlight this development in light of the local businesses that are significantly involved in Beloit's growth."