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On Jan. 3, 2011, Dale Kooyenga '00, was sworn into the Wisconsin State Assembly representing the 14th District, encompassing Wauwatosa, West Allis, Brookfield, Elm Grove and a bit of Milwaukee. His path from the south side of Chicago to the Wisconsin State Assembly involved various twists and turns, and reflects one tenet that has guided Dale throughout his life: be flexible.
Dale grew up the oldest of four children from a working class family on Chicago's south side. He began his college career at Moraine Valley Community College in the late 1990s where he happened to play basketball. He found himself at the right place at the right time when he was spotted by then-Lakeland basketball coach Paul Combs, who recruited Dale to transfer to Lakeland.
He graduated from Lakeland with a degree in accounting, and with the help of his faculty mentor, Rick Gaumer, he landed a job at the Milwaukee office of the prestigious accounting firm KPMG in the summer of 2001. "The Lakeland accounting program prepared me well for my work in a big firm. At first, I was intimidated by other new associates from the large schools. We used the same text books at Lakeland, but our advantage was professors who really cared and our small class sizes. The Lakeland curriculum and great faculty put me in a position to be just as successful as anyone else."
Dale's arrival at his new job coincided with the events of Sept. 11, 2001, and within a couple years, Dale came to the conclusion that there was work for him to do in the military. Dale joined the Army as he was midway through his master of business administration degree at Marquette. KPMG and Marquette both gave him the freedom to pursue military service. Dale went into the US Army's basic training in the spring of 2005, he completed officer training and then attended military intelligence school. He served in Iraq for 11 months, from January-November of 2008, assigned to the 432nd Civil Affairs Battalion. "Our goal," says Dale, "was to build up the community. We did that through a variety of initiatives, and my focus was addressing the economic needs of Baghdad."
Armed with his accounting background, Dale was a significant contributor as the 4th Infantry Division's Officer in Charge of Economic Development in Baghdad. His team boosted economic development by creating thousands of jobs through the utilization of micro-grants, introducing foreign investors and providing business advice to small, medium and large businesses in Iraq. In addition, Dale worked to convince the Iraqi government to adopt $84 million in projects that were previously going to be funded by U.S. taxpayers. As a direct result of the military's focus on building the community, violent acts decreased 80 percent from 2007 to 2009. Dale received a Bronze Star for his service. "I am very proud of the work we did there."
In 2010, Dale knocked on enough doors in his district to win the Republican primary over five other hopefuls for the 14th District State Assembly post. He garnered 61 percent of the vote. There was no Democratic candidate, so he ran unopposed in the general election. Along with his work as a legislator, Dale is engaged in the business community practicing as a CPA in addition to his commitments in Madison. He is also still a member of the U.S. Army Reserves. Dale married a KPMG co-worker, Jennifer Smith, in 2006 and they have two small children, Grant (2) and Taylor (1). "I enjoy putting on the many different hats. Each career allows me to bring a fresh and different perspective to my other careers. Being a father makes me a better public servant; having served in the military makes me a better business man."
His advice to recent graduates is the same tenet that's guided his own success - be flexible. "We all have a tendency to simply do the next expected step. If you get on one track and never deviate, you rob yourself of new experiences. Get overseas if you can. Expand your network. Enjoy life. Life is going to throw curves; you just have to be ready to go with the flow." You can reach Dale by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.