Interviewing Ashland Leaders

By Alaina Reed

July 19, 2022

Growing up in Ashland, moving away for college, and coming home for the summer has made me realize how much I have yet to learn from the community that raised me. In Ashland, I am surrounded by leaders who care about the people they live near and exemplify the quality neighborliness. Before I returned to college, I wanted to sit down and have a conversation with some of the prominent people in our community about what drew them to Ashland, why they stayed, and what wisdom they were able to pass on to me. 

A common thread amongst young people, I’ve noticed, is our confusion about the future. Deciding college majors, deciding trade school paths, deciding internships, the list goes on. I have seen how my peers in Ashland want to make a difference, but the question, “How?” rings consistently in our ears. I was able to talk with these community leaders, many of which careers are not linear, about their career discernment. 

This is a compilation of the interviews of Sandra Tunnell, Executive Director at Ashland Main Street, James Cutright, President and CEO of the Ashland County Community Foundation, Stacy Schiemann, Executive Director at the United Way of Ashland County, and Matt Miller, Mayor of Ashland. I selected these people because of their strong commitment to making Ashland better for generations to come. 

Sandra Tunnell has been living in Ashland for nineteen years, and never left because of the unique opportunities within the county “I don’t think we would go anywhere else (than Ashland) given the opportunity”. I asked Mrs. Tunnell about her career path, and she shared about how in her younger years, she always thought she would be an attorney and enter the federal government. “When you get out of college, no matter what the economy is doing, that perfect job isn’t there”. She describes how your degree is a bedrock, but the skills you acquire make you hirable. She uses the skills she gained in college to run a nonprofit, “the whole Main Street thing dropped into my lap at a meeting”. Her advice is, “Don’t freak out about things not coming together the way you planned. Nothing is written in stone.” She concluded with, “Where you’re going is probably going to be better than what you planned”. 

James Cutright, “Cutty” to most, has been working in Ashland since 1980, and moved to town in 1986. He describes how the “quality of life” is Ashland superior. People genuinely care about their community, “it’s not hard to fall in love with a community like that”. I asked Mr. Cutright about his advice for young people who are determining their future career path, as someone who has worked in different positions throughout their career. He worked at Guenther Mechanical for thirty-two years, from project management to Chief Operating Officer before moving to the community foundation. I asked what his advice was to young people discerning their career path, he says, “don’t be afraid to bet on yourself…take calculated risks and have confidence in your own abilities”. 

Stacy Schiemann moved to Ashland as a junior in high school, attended Ashland University, then relocated to Cleveland before coming back to Ashland in 2017. She left because she wanted to be in a bigger city, “do more things, see more things”, she felt, however, that Ashland was calling her back and would be a great place to raise her three children alongside her family. She was looking for, “more sense of connection”. She has a background in social work and nonprofit management. She worked in various roles in those fields, including chief program officer at a crisis nursery in Cleveland. Her advice to young people figuring out their career path is to get into a career path you are interested in now, because opportunities will arise that you never expect. She says, “your passions will develop overtime and change overtime”. She says to “explore as much as you can” in terms of career. Her parting wisdom is, “things will always be different than what you think they will be”. 

Matt Miller was born and raised in Ashland and chose to attend Ashland University. It gave him the opportunity to stay involved in the community while reaping the benefits of the Ashbrook Center’s connections and ability to bring world-class speakers to Ashland. He served two terms as Ashland County Commissioner, then worked for the Salvation Army Kroc Center on the leadership team, then the Ohio Department of Transportation. I asked about his journey with career discernment, and he said, “there is a difference between taking a job and pursuing your calling. We have each been created for a specific purpose by our Creator”. He emphasized that pursuing your calling will lead to the highest satisfaction rate professionally and personally. The final life lesson Mr. Miller shared with me is, “God is in control. We were created by him for a purpose. He knows where we need to be to be the most fulfilled”. 

I was lucky to be able to have these meaningful conversations with these driving forces in our community, and I sincerely thank them for their time and vision.

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