April 26, 2022

Ilitch School graduate eyes career in sustainability after personal rediscovery

Ilitch School graduate Sarah McCall and her daughter Sydney.
Ilitch School graduate Sarah McCall, pictured here with her daughter Sydney, said family has been a driving force on her path to graduation. Photo courtesy of "Trilogybeats" Rogers @Trilolgybeats313.

Sarah McCall believes that as much as she chose Wayne State University, the university also chose her. McCall, who will earn a master of business administration from the Mike Ilitch School of Business, notes that she has taken a “slightly non-traditional” path to graduation, but her journey has been one of intention and purpose.  McCall believes vivid dynamics teach us how to grow in countless ways, and we can take those resources into the multiple life roles each of us have.

“I’ve been among the oldest student in many of my classes. I favor both my left brain and my right brain. I’ve had to rediscover myself entirely. I don’t check a lot of the ‘boxes’ as to what a traditional student looks like, but at Wayne State, lots of us don’t — and that’s celebrated here,” she said. “The Warrior spirit is one of perseverance, and that resonated with me. If you honor commitments to yourself and put the work in, what’s possible increases and you can defy your own odds.”

A change in plans

McCall, who earned a bachelor’s in fashion design and merchandising from WSU in 2018, was inspired to further her education after a car accident forced her to reassess her goals and priorities. She completed 10 years of rehabilitation and is a self-described “surthrivor.” Prior to the accident, McCall had earned an associate degree from Oakland Community College and was working at General Motors as a project coordinator and business planner.

“The accident was a blessing in disguise,” McCall said. “I came back as a different person, and a different student than I had ever been before. I got to learn things relevant to today's climate and it's unlikely I would have pursued education at this season of my life otherwise.  I struggled with the detour my life took and finding myself again, so I looked ahead to where I wanted to go - the 'what' was to use my experience as an opportunity to edify others, and the degree was the 'how.’ There’s value in our voice, and the exchange with others has wealth that surpasses definition,” McCall said.

She knew that a bachelor’s would be crucial to furthering her career and opted to pursue fashion design and merchandising because art therapy had been instrumental to her personal healing process. After completing her undergraduate education, McCall chose to pursue her interest in the more “science” side of the industry — product development, sales, operations and logistics — with a business degree.

A sustainable future

Blending her creative and humanistic passions with more technical skills, McCall plans to focus her career on business sustainability and social impact. Most recently, she completed an internship with the Fred A. and Barbara M. Erb Family Foundation focused on regional business sustainability. That opportunity led to her current role as an administrator for Sustainable Business Network of Detroit, a group focused on building infrastructure and engagement to establish Southeast Michigan as a global leader in sustainable business. 

“Small businesses are the backbone of a community, and if we can help them become more efficient, more creative, more nimble, the entire city will benefit,” McCall said. “In many ways, Wayne State is like a small business – we serve as a backbone of Detroit and Michigan. Like a loom, with different functions, benefits, and hazards – all parts of the university work together to create something durable. This grit helps WSU, the city, and all its surrounding communities become stronger.”  

Making connections, finding support

McCall leaned on her siblings Zachary and Jessica for support.

As a student, McCall took interest in organizations that emphasized service and experiential learning opportunities. She participated in WSU’s popular Alternative Spring Break Detroit and was president of WSU’s chapter of MBA Response, a Harvard Business School-founded group to match M.B.A. students with under-resourced, mission-driven organizations to offer pro bono solutions and servant leadership.

McCall has also been involved with the Graduate Business Student Association, Beta Gamma Sigma international business honor society, Fashion Design Merchandising Organization, Graduate Queer Alliance, Wayne Women in Business, and Net Impact, among others.

She credits various faculty and staff “change-makers” at the Ilitch School as sources of mentorship support and positive impact, including Kiantee Rupert-Jones, Tammy Quinn Grzebyk, Amanuel Tekleab, Mark Sockness, MJ Upshaw, Attila Yaprak, Cassandra Davis, Basma Bekdache, Hugo DeCampos, Gary Shields, Christine Jackson and Matt Roling. McCall said the theme of strong women are among the people that enrich the village of her life.

“One of the best things about Wayne State is its diversity. And it’s not just diversity of people; it’s the diversity of thought,” McCall said. “My teachers, advisors and the administration — they all approached teaching differently but  that helped me to blend academic and professional interests.”

While balancing a family as a single mother in college wasn’t always easy, McCall said that her friends and family — especially, her daughter, two siblings, and parents— offered the motivation needed for her resolve.

McCall's parents have cheered her on and helped keep perspective.

“Others have had it harder and made it, and that signals to me that I can, too,” McCall said. “My loved ones have provided support I didn't know I needed. I wanted to finish what I started and prove to myself I could, even though so much changed with myself and the world around me. They understood and respected the boundaries necessary for my success, and gave me space and encouragement.”

Although her journey wasn’t something she had expected, it guides what she is here for, McCall believes that her story, like Detroit, has grit and glory and she’s able to step into the intersectionality to be exactly where she’s meant to be, and that wherever she’s headed is the right direction.

“Everything serves a purpose; I hope I’ve proven you can turn hardship into harmony,” she said. “Today is the tomorrow you worried about yesterday.”


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