Business grad has strong ties to servant leadership
By Rick Vacek
GCU News Bureau
When Andrea Northup looks back at the winding road that led her to Grand Canyon University and then a new major and then a totally unexpected career path and then an ambitious entrepreneurial adventure, she can map out only one conclusion:
“It all started by being at GCU, and when I think about it, if I had gone anywhere else, I don’t think that would have happened,” she says.
“That” is her role as Sponsor Relations Coordinator for Habitat for Humanity Central Arizona, a job she started right after receiving her Business Management degree from GCU in April. But it also refers to her plan to create a business that would employ residents of one of the most economically depressed areas in the United States.
The two are intertwined. So are her feelings about how it happened. Put it all together and no wonder she often finds herself saying, “OK, God, it’s funny how You work.”
The story begins with Northup in high school, thinking she would go to an engineering school in her native Colorado and get a degree in architecture. By the end of her senior year, that plan had changed to youth ministry.
But after going to Northeastern Junior College in Sterling, Colo., she wound up at GCU through a series of events that God, she’s convinced, masqueraded as coincidences.
“It really was a leap of faith because I don’t have any family here,” she says.
Northup is anything but shy, and it didn’t take long for the newcomer to feel right at home. She helped organize Outdoors Club trips. She researched and presented companies for Canyon Angels investors. She worked on the process-development side when GCU staged its first TEDx event last March.
And she also made it a point to express her interest in Habitat for Humanity when Jason Barlow, the local chapter’s President and CEO, was a guest teacher at her Servant Leadership class in the Colangelo College of Business.
“Andrea came up after and mentioned that she admired the work Habitat was doing with GCU, that she had a passion and a real heart for the mission and wanted to know if we had any opportunities available,” he says.
All it took after that was a little nudge from CCOB Assistant Professor Tim Kelley, who a few months later heard that Habitat had an opening and shared it with Northup. Pretty soon she was interviewing to be an administrative assistant, but they liked her so much they decided to expand her role.
It helped that Barlow remembered her.
“Suffice it to say she really impressed everyone she talked to,” he says. “She is now a Habitat employee and doing great.
“God has really blessed Habitat. Our partnership with GCU is an excellent example of that, and He continues to bring us fantastic employees like Andrea. I only hope we can hang on to her for a few decades.”
She’s certainly on board with the mission: “The more I learn about it, the more I get to actually see the work they do and meet the people they serve and hear the stories of the people they’ve impacted in the neighborhood, the homeowners,” she says.
And that’s where the other half of this story comes in. Inspired by Habitat’s “it’s a hand up, not a handout” spirit, Northup wanted to start a business that would help people escape poverty and hopelessness.
She chose the Lakota American Indians on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, whose plight was detailed in this report. But it’s a plight that was fueled by the presence of four liquor stores in nearby Whiteclay, Neb., until they were closed in May.
Northup had witnessed GCU’s quest to provide jobs to residents of west Phoenix, and when she learned of the Lakotas she decided to try to help them by starting a company called Elroi & Men, which will market bowties produced entirely by members of the tribe. It’s Conscious Capitalism, the core of CCOB’s curriculum, at its best.
Why Elroi? It’s found only once in the Bible, in Genesis 16. A distressed woman named Hagar referred to God as “El Roi” after He guided her out of the desert and helped her find her purpose. It means “the God who sees.”
And why bowties? It’s an offshoot of Northup’s skill as a seamstress – a coat she made placed in the top 10 in the Make It with Wool national sewing competition – and is something that can be stitched together with a minimum of seam stress.
“I want to provide a place where these people can come and learn purpose and empowerment and value,” she says. “The way I felt when I made that coat was, I made this. People were giving me compliments.
“It’s more than just a skill and checking it off of your list. It’s having a vision and feeling such a large amount of satisfaction when it’s completed and completed well. You begin to think, ‘Hey, I can actually do this.’”
For now, thanks to the tutelage she’s receiving from Kelley and CCOB instructors Jon Ruybalid and Paul Waterman, she’s resisting the temptation to try to expand beyond bowties. As Waterman told her, “You don’t want to chase two rabbits at once.”
But you do want to find your path, and, looking back at it, Northup still can’t quite believe how she stumbled into all of this. When friends back in Colorado ask when she’s planning to return, she talks about how she has found a church she loves and has made tight-knit friendships here.
And it all started with that first leap of faith to GCU.
“I know this is GCU’s motto, to find your purpose, but that’s what happened to me here,” she says. “Prior to graduation from high school, if you had asked what I was going to do, the last thing I would have told you was that I was going to be a business management major, go to school in Phoenix and work at a nonprofit.”
Now, one of the first things off her tongue is, “I realize business has a higher purpose. I definitely didn’t know what it looked like to be a Christian and to be in business at the same time.”
It’s a classic example of what CCOB and GCU are teaching. It’s just a matter of taking the first step and then trusting God to help you find your way along that winding road.
Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or [email protected].