Drury grad turns passion for design, business and travel into career

By Jessie Roller

A master’s degree in business, another master’s degree in architecture, plus a passion for travel led 2013 Drury graduate Danny Collins to become a successful entrepreneur, launching his new company, Project Latitude, at age 28.

While at Drury, the Springfield native earned his undergraduate degree and both master’s degrees all in six years – no easy task given the rigorous nature of the programs. He recently returned to Drury to speak to business and architecture students about his ever-changing career path.

After graduation, Collins landed a job at an architecture firm in New York City. After working there three years, he realized the corporate world of architecture just wasn’t for him and he began forming the idea of combining the two passions in his life, architecture and travel, into what became Project Latitude.

Collins in Guatemala with the Waxpi duffle bag.

Collins in Guatemala with the Waxpi duffle bag.

“I’ve always been a person that desired to be a larger part of something small rather than a small part of something large,” Collins says. “I am a firm believer in passion in the workplace and the concept of living to work not simply working to live.”

Collins founded Project Latitude with his partner and friend, Javier Roig. Its products fund needed improvements in small towns and communities within Latin America, and potentially around the world. Each unique product is solely created in these communities, with earnings going back into the communities funding needs such as infrastructure improvements. Volunteers who travel to the community do much of the physical work.

Project Latitude has seen initial success with its first project and product: the Chaski backpack made in Ecuador. It began as a crowd-funded project on Kickstarter. A second product, the Waxpi duffle bag, is also made in Ecuador.

Collins describes the brand identity as “the urban adventurer.”

Danny Collins

“These will be items for the person who has an office job from 9-to-5, but also likes to get out and do some exploring,” he says. The products will continue to be made and produce revenue for its community even after the Project Latitude team of volunteers complete their improvements.

Collins attributes much of his success to Drury. “The liberal arts program was very fitting for someone like me,” he says, “where I could learn what it was that I wanted to do, but I didn’t have to go straight in having no other choices than the degree I had chosen.”

In addition to tackling two master’s degrees while in school, Collins was also a member of the men’s soccer team and was involved in the vibrant everyday life Drury offers. He says that intense blend of opportunities led to his desire to combine many different concepts into one career — which was really the underlying idea of the company.

During his recent talk with Drury students, Collins encouraged them not to settle for just any job, but instead to go out and find what they truly love and then make it into a career.

He also advocated for all students, and people, to study business in some way.

“The world is a business and everything we do is a business, in some fashion or another,” he says.

The Chaski backpack

The Chaski backpack

Collins says his MBA has helped him immensely with his business, and in his personal life. His business knowledge has been helpful to him with issues such as mortgage agreements, for example, which is why he believes business education can benefit everyone, no matter their career.

Collins and Roig have big dreams for their company. They hope to one day have their own Project Latitude storefront, but for now they are working on placing products into existing retail stores, such as 5 Pound Apparel in Springfield (a boutique business started by another Drury graduate, Bryan Simpson). The goal is to sell about 50 percent of their products at retail and the other 50 percent on their own online platform.

But the true endgame is about more than sales.

“The goal for Project Latitude would never be to just sell products,” Collins says. “We want it to be a lifestyle brand and a lifestyle in a community of people who just want to do cool things and do some good while they’re doing it.”


Drury MBA students study business, culture in Greece

A recent study abroad trip to Greece drove home an emphasis on international business and cultural awareness for Drury MBA students.

Candida Deckard was one of about two dozen on the trip, which included interviewing business leaders face-to-face, meeting with locals and taking in cultural sights.

“Travel in general and seeing different cultures and ideas helps a person expand their views and become more well-rounded,” she says. “Having this as a part of the Drury MBA program added value for my career and my personal life.”

Deckard, human resources director at CNH Industrial Reman in Springfield, says she and her classmates couldn’t have asked for a more interesting setting as far as international business headlines go – they were in Greece as the country’s debt crisis continued to unfold. The crisis didn’t affect the trip, but it brought differences in business practices into sharp relief.

“It was definitely not the capitalist way of running a business,” Deckard says.

Dickered near the ruins of the Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounion.

Deckard near the ruins of the Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounion, one of many sights seen on the trip.

For example, they heard from the country’s largest power company that dozens of secretaries remained on the payroll despite not having defined jobs or a retraining program. In another example, a textile plant was denied permission by the government to reduce its workforce and cut costs – and the entire plant closed soon after.

They also heard about tax reform efforts from leaders of the American Hellenic Chamber of Commerce and spoke to a number of small business owners. Historic and cultural sights were on the itinerary as well. Part of the trip was spent at the Drury Center in Aegina.

Studying abroad is a requirement of the program and it offers an experience one can’t get from a book or lecture, says program director Angie Adamick, who also went on this trip along with management professor Dr. Janis Prewitt.

“We believe the only way to really accomplish that is for students to experience another culture and have that interaction with people on the ground,” Adamick says. “It just changes the way they look at international business.”


Story by Mike Brothers, Drury’s director of media relations. A version of this story originally appeared in the Springfield News-Leader.

Drury MBA students explore global connections in China

A group of Drury University MBA students recently returned from a study abroad experience they won’t soon forget.

Drury’s MBA program requires a trip abroad to China. Unlike many other study abroad opportunities, the China trip is built into the MBA curriculum, and it serves as a cultural and academic capstone for the program.

This year’s trip was more interesting than usual because it occurred in the days leading up to the 25th anniversary of the Chinese government’s crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.

But the Drury contingent wasn’t even aware of the upcoming date until the group of 24 students visited the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. No Chinese spoke of it.

“What I found out is we’re more similar than we are dissimilar – except in the area of the personal freedom,” says Sherry Coker, Director of Workforce Development at Ozarks Technical Community College. It was Coker’s first international trip.

Drury MBA China group

“For example, the ‘one child policy – I looked at it from a woman’s perspective,” Coker says. “To have a child in China means you go to your employer and say you want to have a child, and they tell you when you can have a child.”

For Andrea Gill, the trip brought the differences in language and culture into stark relief.

“To do business with (the Chinese) you really need to focus on understanding the importance of family, their overall culture and the complexity of the language,” Gill says.

The trip gives students a first-hand view of a market that is both essential and enigmatic, says Associate Professor of Management Dr. Janis Prewitt Auner, who went on this year’s trip. The tour included visits to companies such as online media company Sina[cq], tech giant iSoftStone and Beijing Hyundai.

“We visit various businesses and they tell us what the challenges are to doing business in China, and they are pretty honest about the difficulties,” Auner says. “I think this is part of what distinguishes our program from others in the state and the region.”


Story by Mike Brothers, Drury’s director of media relations. A version of this story first appeared in the Springfield News-Leader. 

MBA “poets” go through boot camp to prepare for classes with “quants”

Classes began on Monday evening, August 19 for Drury graduate students, but, for a handful of students, they’ve already had an intense summer.  Non-business undergraduate students spent five weeks this summer drinking from the fire hose of knowledge trying to become eligible for Drury’s Master of Business Administration (MBA).

In the slang vocabulary of Master of Business Administration education, there are two types of students. “Quants” are students who have undergraduate degrees in technical majors such as engineering or business. “Poets” are students who come to the MBA program from the social sciences and humanities. Even before they could take a graduate business class, the poets could be staring down nearly 24 hours of prerequisite courses in accounting, finance, economics, management and marketing to be admitted to an MBA program.

To help non-business undergraduates overcome that barrier and to increase the pool of potential applicants to the MBA program, a few years ago Drury introduced the “MBA Boot Camp.” Its official name is the Certificate in Business Essentials and it covers all of the prerequisites for Drury’s MBA program in just a few weeks every summer.

Angie Davis, director of Drury's MBA program

“It’s very intense and not easy. Students attend class four nights a week for five weeks,” said Angie Davis, director of Drury’s MBA. “But if you’re focused and determined enough, you can finish and meet all of the pre-requisites.”

Students who complete the program earn eight hours of undergraduate credit and hit the ground running when they begin the graduate classes. “After going through boot camp, I’m looking forward to the MBA classes,” said Courtney Mellinger, a first-year MBA student. “Taking one class is going to seem much easier than attending class four nights a week.”

Winter Skelton graduated from Drury in 2005 with a double major in writing and English. She put that degree to use immediately as a communications coordinator at Community Foundation of the Ozarks. It didn’t take long before she was promoted to Director of Donor Services. That promotion, combined with Skelton’s goals of earning a master’s degree and to one day become the executive director of a non-profit organization, compelled Skelton to consider several MBA programs, but she settled on Drury.

Winter Skelton, 2010 Drury MBA Graduate

“I took one business class in college, non-profit management, and one math class,” Skelton said. “I chose Drury because of the boot camp, otherwise, I was looking at a year or two of prerequisite classes before taking any MBA courses.”

Skelton, though, is the first to admit it was an intense five weeks, “I told my friends, ‘I’ll see you in five weeks.’ It was hard, all I did was work, go to school and do homework; but five weeks is better than two years.”

For students who complete the Certificate in Business Essentials, but don’t go on to pursue an MBA, the coursework provides eight undergraduate credit hours and a foundation for those who want to work in business or start a company.

The ability to become MBA-ready in just five weeks has also opened the degree up to a wider population of potential students, and that has elevated the quality of the program. “Non-business people have a different way of looking at the world,” said Davis. “Humanities people may be more focused on language and relationships, and science people see things logically. Those different worldviews make for a robust classroom discussion, which benefits all students pursuing a Drury MBA.”


Story by Mark Miller, associate director of marketing and communications at Drury.

Five Pound Apparel: “Everything we sell gives back.”

“I was in college and driving to coach soccer in Fair Grove and my friends and I saw a guy stranded on the side of the road. We helped the guy push his car out of danger and he used one of our cell phones to call for help. It was a good feeling to help that guy and my friends and I thought about how we could incorporate helping people into the rest of our lives,” said Bryan Simpson, who will earn a Master of Business Administration from Drury on Sunday.

That event, while Simpson was a college undergraduate, was the inspiration for Five Pound Apparel, a social business based in Springfield that donates five pounds of food for every one of the branded t-shirts it sells; but Simpson and his partners had a rocky start.

Simpson playing soccer during his Drury undergraduate days

A 2006 graduate of Kickapoo High School, Simpson came to Drury to play soccer. A broken foot in his sophomore year put an end to his soccer career and sent him to another local college where his father worked and Simpson could attend for practically nothing. After helping the man with the broken down car in the spring of 2010, Simpson and his housemates bought a screen-printing starter kit and began watching how-to videos. Simpson and his partners started a business called Global Tees, and they were taking orders and making t-shirts, but they didn’t have a business license and weren’t supposed to be manufacturing anything in a single-family home. Global Tees had a choice, shut down the t-shirt production or get fined for every day it continued to make t-shirts.

“We should have thought about quitting. One of the realities with screen-printing is that college kids can start it in their living room. Entry is easy, but profit margins are low,” Simpson said.

Simpson and his partners did not quit, and Simpson’s dad helped them out. He pushed back his retirement and bought a building, which Simpson and his partners lease, so the business could have a legal, appropriate location. When the company re-opened as Five Pound Apparel in December of 2010, it had a new vision.

Simpson in front of Five Pound Apparel with his girlfriend Bethany Forrester

“Our message is that everything we sell gives back. For every shirt we sell from our brand, we provide five pounds of food to Nepal nutrition,” Simpson said. Nepal Nutrition provides food for children in Nepal and was founded by a fellow Kickapoo graduate Mark Arnoldy.

Simpson is the first to admit, that he did not have a business plan and got lucky, “I’m actually glad I hadn’t gone to Drury for my MBA before I started Five Pound Apparel because I learned how stupid it was to start that business,” Simpson said. “If I had evaluated everything, I probably wouldn’t have done it.”

Now, Five Pound Apparel is profitable and Simpson and his partners are ready to expand to an additional location and a more robust online presence, and he’s prepared to succeed with the knowledge he’s earned from his Drury MBA.

Simpson has come back to Drury to speak to undergraduates about how to start a business, “I tell them to take a low risk first step. They’ll either be successful and can build on that idea or they’ll fail, but they won’t lose their life savings,” Simpson said. “But they should do it while they’re young. I don’t even have a dog, no one gets hurt if I fail.”


Story by Mark Miller, associate director of marketing and communications at Drury.

MBA students connect in China, remain connected professionally

Brian Williams and Max Buetow both recently graduated from Drury’s Master of Business Administration program. Despite being nearly 20 years apart in age, the connection they forged during their classes in the Breech School of Business has continued into their careers.

Max Buetow (left) and Brian Williams with fellow MBA student Cindy Jones in China.

Williams, 49, is a vice president and chief business development officer for CoxHealth. “Earning an MBA had always been a goal, but because of work and family, I’d never done it,” Williams said. “Many people said that I didn’t need to do it, but I wanted to be a lifelong learner, so I had that goal out there and I went to accomplish my goal.”

Buetow, 30, a former collegiate hockey goaltender at Canisius College in New York, married a Springfield native and was looking for a good MBA program. “I met with (then MBA director) Dawn Hiles and she introduced me to Todd (President Todd Parnell),” Buetow said. “I liked the feeling that Drury was a family atmosphere and the ‘we’ll stick by you for life’ idea.”

All students in Drury’s MBA program take a weeklong trip to China as part of the curriculum. Williams and Buetow knew each other from class, but were merely acquaintances in 2009 when they were planning for the China trip at the end of the spring semester. The younger Buetow reached out to the 40-something Williams about being roommates in China, “It’s a credit to Max, as a lot of young men wouldn’t see any value in having a mentor that’s 20 years older than you. We just cultivated a friendship,” Williams said.

“He (Williams) epitomizes the saying, ‘Trying to suck the marrow out of life’,” Buetow said. “He was up early running in Tiananmen Square and then we were out meeting people and doing all we possibly could to make it an amazing experience.”

Buetow graduated in 2009 while Williams had a few more classes to complete before graduating in 2010, but the two men kept in touch and worked on a small real estate investment project together.

Buetow eventually landed at Sara Lee in Kansas. When Williams had an opening for a Clinic Director at Springfield Neurological and Spine Institute, he called Buetow. Buetow was already looking at another manufacturing job in Kansas City, but, after an interview and meeting with the doctors, he accepted the job in March of 2012.

“Max is a very genuine person, he connects with people and he has strong analytical skills,” Williams said. “He’s just a genuine person that I remained connected with and he is extremely trustworthy.”

Buetow and Williams will join other alumni of the Drury MBA China trip for a gathering called “Great times on the Great Wall” on Thursday, Nov. 1 from 5:30 – 7 p.m. at  Parlor 88 – Southside. Any alumni of the Drury MBA program’s China trip are welcome. Please RSVP to


Story by Mark Miller, associate director of marketing and communications at Drury.