How one common starting point—Drake University—led to four impressive life paths for four Drake alumni.
Rebecca (RJ) Bishop, JO’96, LW’99, GR’99
Organization/Title:Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day, National Sales Manager
Location: Racine, Wis.
Finding Courage to Pivot
Rebecca (RJ) Bishop landed at Drake because of the 3+3 Program where students can earn an undergraduate and a law degree in just six years. For Bishop, that meant knocking out a year of tuition, but more importantly, fostering an interest in life-long learning. “Because of the innovative programing, I was able to study multiple disciplines together in unique and different ways,” said Bishop. “It’s really what unlocked my way of thinking and willingness to step off a predictable path and out of my comfort zone.” She started her career in Minneapolis at a large general practice law firm, but soon moved to a boutique intellectual property firm, and spent the next decade becoming an expert in the field. During the long nights and weekends that come with being a litigation attorney, she also realized it might not be the lifestyle she wanted for the years to come.
Inspired by her dad who changed careers later in life, Bishop decided to take a chance. Leaning on her love for learning, she decided to go back to school and earn an MBA degree. Without a business degree, she feared the world would see her only as a lawyer.
The rest quickly fell into place when Target Corp. offered her a job as a buyer. Because of her legal and business backgrounds, the company often tapped RJ for big and complex projects like the company’s venture into Canada. Yet, after nearly a decade in retail, she once again felt compelled to make a change. At this point, she was ready to use her skills to do good. And that brought her to Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day in Racine, Wis., a naturals brand that offers garden-inspired home and personal care products that grace the shelves of big-box retailers, grocery stores, and independent outlets. She spent three years leading the brand for North America and works today as the national sales manager for the company’s natural channels, including Whole Foods Market. And yes, Mrs. Meyer is a real person. Mrs. Meyer, an Iowan, is the mother of the company’s founder and its inspiration. The company started when the founder was struck with an idea: “Let’s make cleaners that smell nice, like my mom’s garden, but still work like the dickens on daily dirt and grime.”
“I’ve never cared more about what I’m doing,” said Bishop. “It’s a brand you really want to grow and protect.” Since she started with the company, the brand has experienced significant growth. Her current responsibilities allow her to continue moving the brand forward among customers who care about it most.
On Charting Your Own Path
“If you’re willing to put in the time and be so humble as to start over, you can pivot and achieve things you may have never imagined possible.” —Rebecca (RJ) Bishop, JO’96, LW’99, JO’99
Ken-Matt Martin, AS’12, JO’12
Organization/Title: Williamstown Theatre Festival, Producing Director, and Pyramid Theatre, Co-Founder
Location: New York, NY
From Des Moines to Broadway
This past summer, Ken-Matt Martin packed up and temporarily left his New York home for Williamstown, Mass. where he produced an astounding seven plays in three months as part of the Williamstown Theatre Festival. Think of it like the Sundance Film Festival, but for theatre.
A typical day for Martin might include talking with playwrights, staffing the production office, and overseeing a media interview with Uma Thurman. It doesn’t stop once the season wraps up either. Since many of the shows end up on Broadway, he continues to negotiate contracts, ensuring the festival gets its deserved recognition. It may seem like a big job for someone early in their career, but it’s actually just the latest in a long list of acting, directing, and producing credits. One of his biggest accomplishments to date began during his time at Drake. It all started when the Des Moines Social Club hired Martin to produce and direct August Wilson’s Fences. The following year the Social Club once again asked him to produce. This time it was Charles Fuller’s A Soldier’s Play. After overwhelming success of both productions, it became clear the Des Moines community needed a theatre company committed to bringing this kind of work to the area.
On Aug. 24, 2015 Pyramid Theatre Company was formed under the leadership of Martin and artistic director, Jiréh Breon Holder. Drake alumni Freddie Fulton, AS’13, Alexis Davis, JO’13, JO’17, and Nana Colman, BN’13, (see profile below) were also part of the founding team. The company gives voice to Black artists and tells the stories of Black people in a way that had not been done before in Des Moines.
Today, the professional summer repertory theatre is entering its fifth year. “Having true and genuine access to faculty and staff allowed me to explore my interests and shaped my ability to connect with different kinds of people,” said Martin. “I really believe this is the beauty of Drake and part of what allowed us to create Pyramid.”
Although Martin transitioned out of his official role with Pyramid earlier this year, he stays involved. Recently, he had a chance to bring these two worlds together, using his Broadway connections to bring stars to Des Moines for a fundraiser.
On How Drake Shaped My Path
“Without a doubt, I could not do this job today without the experiences and connections I gained from my time at Drake.” —Ken-Matt Martin, AS’12, JO’12
Nanabayin (Nana) Coleman, BN’13
Organization/Title: Principal Financial Group, financial analyst, and Pyramid Theatre Company, founding managing director and current board member
Location: Des Moines
Uncovering Hidden Talents
During the day, Nanabayin (Nana) Coleman works with complex financial models. By night, he’s often near the stage as a founding member of the Pyramid Theatre Company. But it didn’t start that way. Coleman came to Drake for one thing—to become an actuary. While at Drake, Coleman made connections with a variety of students who had talents in many different disciplines. One of those individuals, Ken-Matt Martin, played a pivotal role in making sure Black students were connected to each other and the larger community.
Staying in touch after graduation, led to Martin seeking out Coleman for a role in the production of A Soldier’s Play. It was an instant hit and the group involved decided it was time to put an organization in place to create an impact on the community.
Coleman currently serves on Pyramid Theatre’s board, ensuring the organization thinks and runs like a business.
“Pyramid has developed a reputation for producing high-quality art, making it a bit of a launching pad and also an artistic home for Black artists,” notes Coleman. “The work we’re doing creates and encourages conversation and has become something people around town really look forward to.”
Given the intensity of his day job as a financial analyst for Principal, one might assume there’s little time for much else. But not for Coleman. He’s been involved in projects focused on education, youth development, community building, art and financial inclusion, and looks forward to taking on more in the future.
“Much of my time and energy is spent doing work where I can make a significant impact in people’s lives,” said Coleman. “For me it goes beyond a passion project or something cool to get into. It’s who I am and part of my life’s work.”
On Stretching Your Vision
“Drake was a real turning point my life. It’s where I learned I don’t need to be defined by what I study or how I make a living. Faculty, staff, and mentors helped me realize I had more skills to share with the world than just a decent mind for mathematics.” —Nanabayin (Nana) Coleman, BN’13
Martha Chaput, JO’04
Organization/Title: Red Table Talk, Executive in Charge
Location: Los Angeles, Calif.
Making an Impact Through Conversation
Shortly after graduation, Martha Chaput moved to Los Angeles to start her first job at a talent management company she found through Craigslist. Her first two years at the company inspired her to take on more responsibility until she eventually found her way into production management.
Fast forward 15 years and Chaput now holds the title of managing producer (or, executive in charge) for Red Table Talk, a show featuring actress Jada Pinkett Smith along with her daughter, Willow, and mother, Adrienne.
Spanning three generations, these women open their home for a series of candid conversations with family and friends. The show, with 6.4 million followers, airs on Facebook. In her role, Chaput oversees logistics and budget, but also spends time getting to know the audience in a fairly new medium. Because the show airs online only on Facebook Watch, Chaput has the chance to monitor viewers and their comments in real-time. It takes producing in a new direction, making it much more interactive.
“When we hear from audience members, we get to see just how much Red Table Talk encourages hard conversations among generations and loved ones,” said Chaput. “It makes me realize we can all learn so much and make a true impact on society when we take the time to communicate.”
Her passion for making connections may stem from her experience as a player on the Drake women’s basketball team. She credits her time on the court as one of her greatest life experiences because bonding with teammates led to life-long friendships.
Campus life off the court had a lasting impact, too. “All of my professors at Drake were very knowledgeable about the industry and that really prepared me for what I might find in the real world,” said Chaput. “My career has given me the chance to meet so many interesting people and travel to places I never would have otherwise.”
On Taking Chances
“Dive right in! Move to Los Angeles or New York or any other city that has a lot of [media] opportunities. Don’t give up—work hard and it will pay off.” —Martha Chaput, JO’04