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Kooienga Joins Communication, Marketing
September 26, 2006

As a first-year Calvin College student in the fall of 1983, Nancy Kooienga (nee Zwagerman) planned to major in engineering. She stuck with the rigorous program for three semesters, before an off-hand comment from an English professor gave her pause.

The comment was jotted in the margins of a paper she had done for an intro English class. And it simply encouraged her to consider a career with writing at its heart.

"Deep down," she says, "I think I already was wondering about engineering. That comment certainly got me thinking about my future."

Eventually she took the professor's advice and switched from engineering to English (with a minor in business). It was a decision she has never regretted as she steadily progressed through a series of posts in advertising agencies before landing at Target Corporation in Minneapolis as a senior manager in marketing.

Now the farmer's daughter from South Olive, Michigan, just north of Holland, has returned to her roots, coming back to her alma mater to serve as the college's first-ever director of communications and marketing.

In that capacity she heads up a team of writers, project managers, designers and web experts, a team charged with the task of helping Calvin manage the college's overall communication and marketing strategy.

It's a role Kooienga, a 1983 Holland Christian graduate, feels more than ready for.

"It was important to me and my husband to come back to West Michigan," she says. "We have young children and we wanted to be closer to family - close to their grandparents, their cousins, their aunts and uncles. Having this job appear at Calvin was a huge affirmation of our decision. When my husband and I looked at the job description he said to me 'You have to go for it.' I'm glad I did."

Kooienga says that while her previous work over the last two decades was fulfilling, what she is doing at Calvin has a deeper purpose.

"This, Calvin, is the important stuff," she says. "To be able to do communications and marketing for a place I really believe in is very fulfilling. And I'm working with a great team, an amazing team, really. That makes the move even more worthwhile."

After graduating from Calvin in 1987, Kooienga began applying for jobs in public relations, having done a PR internship second semester of her senior year in Chicago through a Calvin-sponsored program in that city.

Instead of PR, however, she landed a job with Johnson & Dean advertising in Grand Rapids and eventually parlayed that into a steady stream of ad agency related jobs, culminating with a seven-year stint at Campbell Mithun Advertising in Minneapolis where she rose to vice president, account supervisor, while also earning an MBA from the University of Minnesota Carlson School of Management.

In 2003 she switched sides when she moved to Target Corporation to work as a senior manager in marketing planning, a slot that saw her spend a considerable amount of time working with ad agencies. Among her many responsibilities at Target was managing a five-person staff and $30 million budget to support the corporate food strategy for Target.

"It was fun," she says, "and exciting, but also sometimes it felt pretty superficial. I feel like I've become part of something more substantial at Calvin."