When a person begins a meaningful journey, one of the most important things to have for success is support. It can come from family, friends, or even a stranger. In the case of Alissa (Simpson ’01) Preston and her academic and athletic career at University of Findlay, the support began with a check from her father. That financial boost and the ongoing support of her parents was just the help she needed, and whether intentionally or otherwise, the gesture set in motion a philanthropical drive in Preston toward the University, one that she celebrates as a successful community alumna.
A lifelong Findlay resident, aside from a few years in Columbus, Preston said that when she was a senior at Findlay High School, she really didn’t have any plans for after graduating. A classmate at FHS who was planning to attend UF and try out for the cheerleading squad came to school one day and told Preston, who was a high school cheerleader, that that very night, there was a tryout for UF cheerleading. “I needed to have my deposit in at UF to try out, though” Preston said, “so I went home and asked my dad for a check.” Her father was thrilled, she added, and the fact that she ended up making the squad was “what it took to direct [her] into a really great decision to attend UF.”
Preston studied and cheered her way through UF as a marketing major and quickly became a productive member of the campus community. What might be of most importance, however, is that, during her academic tenure, she both received the Business Affiliates Scholarship and had an internship with the UF Center for Career and Professional Development. As a result, she began building relationships on campus and within the community that she still cherishes today. “The Marketing Program was very influential in showing me the importance of our businesses and the wonderful amenities we all enjoy in our community because of those businesses,” she explained. “The internship is where I really connected with the community and what made me realize that I wanted to start my career in Findlay. I was offered a position with the Arts Partnership prior to the start of my senior year at UF. It was exactly where I saw myself so I jumped on that and worked full-time while finishing my degree.”
After marrying her husband J.J., however, a subsequent short stint as a resident of Columbus followed. While it was an experience that undoubtedly shaped her life, one of the most notable realizations that living away from Findlay led her to was that the Prestons’ hearts were really anchored here. “I do think that all roads led to Findlay,” she said. “I often had conversations with business contacts or new friends about their personal connection to Findlay, and, often times, even UF. Once we had our first daughter, Molly, we knew it was time to move back.” Upon returning, she eventually returned to work in the city, ending up where she once was at the Hancock County Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB).
Through all of her sojourns in life, one thing remained significant: Preston’s continued involvement with her alma mater. At different points as an alumna she coached the cheerleading squad; she became involved with the Business Affiliates Advisory Board; and, most recently, she began serving on the UF Alumni Board of Governors. Further cementing her relationship with and reverence toward both the local community and the University, she said, was her involvement through her career with CVB and its partnership with the UF Alumni Office in welcoming new families to Oiler Nation during move-in weekend. “It is one of my very favorite days,” she said. “Talking with parents and families that are leaving their child for the first time. From the day they visited campus the year prior to the helpful hands moving their student into the dorms to the friendly faces throughout campus, they love every part of their experience. The best is when they’ve told me about venturing out and the cool places they’ve found that will quickly become their local favorites. It ties together a University and a community I adore.”
That simple yet profound connection between our University and our community as the former sends graduates into the latter and beyond is why Preston said she gives back to UF. The Preston family, which also includes youngest daughter, Claire, shows their continued support to UF through everything from attending athletic events to contributing to the Findlay Fund. They believe that any small impact on students eases the financial burden that many feel through college. “It’s an investment,” she said, “but it’s one that we see making a good return and a positive impact. Someone did it for me and I want to return that favor to current students.”
To think that what truly started Preston’s formal relationship to Findlay was a check from her parents to secure her UF deposit really brings into focus for her that full circle of support. Watching her dad, she said, work 40-plus years in the industrial gas industry and loving his job stuck with her. Observing her mother as a confident and fully capable stay-at-home mom was equally amazing and influential. “Through their loyalty to their profession; to their community; and to their family, my parents have always been my biggest cheerleader and the most impactful people in my life. I married into a family with those same values, and those lessons and observations from a young age led me to a path of those same values and [dedication to] family, career, community, and UF,” she said.
As a resident and member of the workforce in Findlay, Preston knows how valuable UF is to the area, and she and her family will continue to do what they can to continue its success. She knows what it’s like to show up to college and not know exactly what to do or what to expect. At UF, however, Preston says that’s all right. Why? Well, according to her, helping to guide students is a big part of how the University shows its own support for its students. “I would never say I was shy or wouldn’t have figured it out, but doors were opened for me and the faculty and staff truly cared about my career path,” she said. “Still today I have great support from UF. I hope others can see what I see. Getting involved, donating money or personal resources, it’s all impactful and will help the University grow and continue to graduate a workforce that is definitely needed.”