By anyone’s measure, Kimberly Davis achieved success early: By age 22 she had purchased her own home, the same one she grew up in on Chicago’s south side. Just a few years later, she was in a great career using her bachelor’s degree in finance to handle both accounting and human resources for a downtown real estate firm. But she sensed that “something was missing,” and she struggled to determine exactly where, professionally, she belonged. A chance meeting led her to the Master’s in Public Policy and Administration (MPPA) program at Northwestern University School of Professional Studies — and to a leadership position at Inspiration Corporation.
“I was at a seminar on the Affordable Care Act,” she recalls. “I was thinking about how much policy impacts every aspect of our lives and wondering, ‘who makes these rules?’ Then I ran into an acquaintance who was in the MPPA program. It appealed to me because of the dual focus on policy and administration. I could also attend part time, which is essential if you have a job and a mortgage.”
It was while working on her degree, and in particular the core values assignment in a leadership course, that Davis realized what had been missing: she wanted to get back to helping others. As an undergraduate, she had tutored at the nonprofit group America Reads and worked her way up to assistant director. She understood the deep satisfaction that social service can offer.
“The program triggered an epiphany about how I’d like to apply my finance skills as well as my new knowledge,” she says. “But it was also the broad nature of the program—students of many different backgrounds, and flexibility in courses and assignments that was so valuable. You can make it whatever you want it to be.”
Davis then landed a position as director of finance for Inspiration Corporation (formerly Inspiration Cafe), a nonprofit organization that provides meals, job training and other services to help Chicago’s low-income residents rise above poverty and homelessness. She oversees a budget of $5 million and many aspects of the daily operations for the 90-employee organization.
“Did my degree and the Northwestern name help me get here? Absolutely,” she says. “And every day, especially in board meetings and budget conversations, I draw from what I learned. Long term, I can leverage my degree in a way that advances my career and also helps others.”