09 Feb Meet Andrew Koch, Our Newest Hire!
We recently welcomed a new team member to Rêve Academy: Andrew Koch is joining us as Director, Operational Excellence, leading Rêve Academy’s fundraising, internal operations and skill-based volunteer ventures. We sat down with Andrew to learn more about what brought him to Rêve Academy.
Please take us on a journey through your career. What’s your story?
I worked at a steakhouse to help pay the bills during my college years in Santa Barbara, CA. One night during my senior year an elderly man with a weathered face came and sat in my section. He was polite and kind with a twinkle of a younger man in his laugh. He and I enjoyed chatting but after his cup of soup he went on his way.
The next day I found out this same man was speaking at my school, Westmont College. This unassuming 76-year-old was on campus that day to encourage us soon-to-be-graduates to engage with the world—and its problems—in meaningful, lasting ways. His name was John Perkins, a fourth grade dropout and Mississippi sharecropper’s son. However, his past hadn’t dictated his future. He had spent the last fifty years of his life fighting for poor communities through civil rights, economic opportunity and racial equality.
He and I got to chat again after he spoke that day. He invited me to move to Mississippi and work at his local organization—an opportunity I did not immediately jump at. I was living the good life in Santa Barbara—the beach, summer concerts and all the burritos a guy could want.
But I looked around and noticed the 30 and 40 year-olds who had wasted decades living that life. I knew I didn’t want to go down the same path. So, once I graduated, I ended up packing up my little Honda and moving to Jackson, MS. It seemed crazy—maybe I was crazy—but it felt like the right thing to do.
During my time in Jackson I got to see what it meant to be poor in America. I got to see the mechanisms that pushed families—and generations—into poverty. I got to see how hard people had to work just to survive.
It made me realize how fortunate I had been in my life—my family, my education, the job opportunities I had—and how, just from the birth lottery, I had a leg up on so many people.
After two years in Mississippi, I went back to California and began working at Informa Research Services. At Informa I led a team that performed sales, service and compliance tests on financial institutions across the country. We saw loan officers push minorities into products with higher interest rates and discourage people from looking at homes in poor areas. Being a part of addressing these systemic issues was really interesting.
It seems like you went through a major turning point in your career when you transitioned from Informa to Lifetrack a couple of years into your career? How did you experience this moment?
With my family here in Minnesota, my wife and I left California and came back to the Twin Cities. From my experience in Mississippi I knew that I wanted to use my skills and be part of the economic development of the communities and people of the Twin Cities and I was excited to get into direct service.
I found my way to Lifetrack, a St. Paul-based non-profit that helps families overcome some of life’s biggest obstacles. Working in the Employment and Economic Opportunity division I helped connect with local employers who might be interested in hiring our job seekers. After about a year a position as an Employment Specialist in Lifetrack’s City of Minneapolis-funded Train-to-Career program opened up and I decided to take on that challenge.
Through the City we paid for people to attend a short-term training while providing soft skill training and industry connections. During my time Train-to-Career went from a failing program to an example of what a scholarship, employment services and government program really could do for someone. Clients got jobs, the City got tax-payers, people stayed out of jail, families were stronger, we had meaningful work—a win-win-win-win-win! Good stuff all around.
What were some of your most memorable moments at Lifetrack, and how would you say your work there prepared you for your new role at Rêve Academy?
I had so many clients take the opportunity and run with it. People’s lives were really changed. It was a blast to be a part of that. That work provided a really helpful perspective for me to share with Rêve Academy’s youth. We get to help them dream about the future in almost endless directions, and we get to do it when they still have their whole life ahead of them! I’m so excited to help kids think about where they fit in this world and how they can contribute in meaningful, lasting ways.
What are you most looking forward to in your new role?
There are two things I’m really excited about with this role. The first is getting local professionals engaged with our kids. Seeing the kids soak up the knowledge and perspectives of working digital developers and designers really excites me. With the kids’ curiosity and the professionals’ expertise these partnerships have some amazing potential.
The other thing is my team here at Rêve. It is so exciting to work with such remarkable, dedicated teammates. I wish everyone had the chance to be surrounded by this kind of energy. Everyone on the team brings a thoughtfulness and excellence to the work that is absolutely contagious. We’ve got big things ahead of us!
How do you spend your free time, and what is one thing most people don’t know about you?
I love hanging with my best friend and wife, Molly. She’s my California ray of sunshine. I also have two cats, Annie and Maggie Jo. Feel free to show me pictures of your pets—and human kids, too, of course.
At risk of blowing my cover, one thing many people don’t know about me is that I’m a mystery shopper in my spare time. I help companies rate their sales and customer service by rating their products, services and employees. I’ve completed “shops” for bowling alleys, amusement parks, lawncare companies, fast food, banks and even casinos! Our favorites are the restaurants though—free date nights!