By day, Tina Pietrangelo ’07 leads a staff of more than 300 people as the Plant Manager of the Haworth LPP Plant. By night, Tina’s passion is serving as a board member at the Boys and Girls Club of Holland, mentoring the next generation of leaders. Learn more about Tina’s journey, her experience at Davenport and the importance of reflecting on her past below.
Tina Pietrangelo ’07 Alumni Success Story
“Growing up, I never knew I was poor. I remember bragging to my friend about my cheaper ‘reduced’ lunch cost,” said alumna Tina Pietrangelo ‘07. “I thought my mom negotiated a great price on lunch.”
Tina’s parents are hardworking, but neither had a formal education. “My parents provided us the best life they could. We even relocated to Holland from Saginaw during my high school years so that we could have a safer community to live.”
The word “college” was never brought at the dinner table at Tina’s house. It wasn’t until she heard a rumor about Upward Bound that sparked her interest.
Upward Bound is a program of the US Department of Education to provide support and opportunities for high school students from low-income families and those who are the first in their families to attend college, like Tina.
“I heard the Upward Bound program paid you to get help with your homework. I went there and I got the ‘education fever.’ The next day I asked my counselor what it took to enroll in college at Davenport.”
With lots of enthusiasm but little money, Tina started at Davenport on Fulton Street in Grand Rapids to earn the chance she was looking for to succeed. Her path wasn’t smooth but she made mini-goals and progressed towards graduation.
Tina found employment at Burger King and she was able to take advantage of their tuition assistance program. “They matched every dollar I earned with scholarship assistance. I worked every shift I could to get the most money available.”
Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough. When she ran out of money, she wasn’t able to afford classes and had to drop out.
She worked as a restaurant manager for many years but the thought of returning to school was always in the back of her mind.
In the meantime, Tina got married and started a family. She left the restaurant business, got a job working in manufacturing at Johnson Controls and began to work her way up.
During a conversation with her stepdaughter, she realized that her kids were learning from her career path. A lightbulb went off when her stepdaughter was questioning the value of a college degree, since her and husband didn’t have one at the time and were successful. Wanting to be the best role model she could be, Tina re-enrolled at Davenport.
She decided to return to school with the mantra: One Class. One A. Her goal was to earn her associate’s degree before her step daughter graduated high school and earn her bachelor’s degree before her step daughter graduated college.
“I remember posting a list of all the classes I needed to complete in my closet. Every time I completed a class, I would joyfully cross it off the list. One by one I was getting closer to my goal.”
Between the in-seat and online class formats, Tina says Davenport made the classes manageable for her busy life as a full time mother and worker. “I was able to do my homework with my kids at the dinner table. I enjoyed how the professors made the classroom experience applicable to real-life situations. The knowledge and skills I was learning in my classes at DU were directly applicable to my job at JCI. I don’t know of any other university using that teaching model.”
In the spring of April 2007, Tina crossed off the last class from the list posted in her closet and prepared for her long-awaited graduation day. She arranged for her family to watch her walk across the stage at the Van Andel Arena in style – in the JCI executive suite.
Tina is now the Plant Manager for the LPP Plant at Haworth in Holland, leading a team of 300 employees. She also finds great fulfillment in volunteering as a board member for the Boys and Girls Club in Holland and stresses to the kids the importance of going back to school to further their education.
“Mentoring is my passion. I use it as my platform for advocating for the youth. Every time I am able to share my ‘hopes and dreams’ with kids who are struggling with challenges, I remember my roots and reflect. I was in their shoes.”
Recently, at the Boys and Girls Club Youth of the Year program the nominees recognized Tina for her involvement with the program by presenting her with a RUN DMC shirt to remind her of her youth.
The message Tina often tries to impart to the Youth of the Year nominees is to strive to be their best, never forget where you come from and use your past as a means to reflect and thrive for a brighter future. Tina stated that she connects with the kids by reflecting on her personal journey. She helps identify with the youth what she may have responded to and does so by asking herself what would I have told the “younger her.”
Tina never attended a boys and girls club as a kid but said that she was a club kid facing similar challenges that some of the youth face and values the support the club offers to help be a springboard for the youth to realize their dreams.
”The kids at the club are amazing. By investing our time and funding, we are impacting the lives of kids that may be our future leaders. The ROI of such an investment is beyond measure.”