TRI-CITY AREA — Joseph Pistrui graduated from Imlay City High School in 1979 and went onto earn a Bachelor of Science in Business-Marketing from Ferris State University in 1983.
Today, nearly 40 years later, Pistrui is doing what he can to help those from his hometown and the surrounding communities get a college education too with financial assistance through the Thumb 11 Scholarship Fund.
Recently, Tri-City Times editor Maria Brown had the chance to interview Pistrui and find about more about his journey to today and his motivation for helping others.
•Describe the thought process behind designating the 11 communities from the Thumb for the new scholarship fund at Ferris State University.
Intuitively, I wanted to focus on helping make connections between my home town—Imlay City—and Ferris. I knew many ICHS classmates who attended Ferris and so I knew there was a foundation to build upon. I also knew many Ferris alumni from the surrounding Thumb communities, people I met while studying at Ferris, so I had a sense for the potential if the horizons were expanded.
After doing some research with the help of Ferris, I got a better sense of the potential scope and impact of casting a wider net. When we looked at the number of student applications to Ferris each year from the Thumb we settled on the current size and shape with an eye to balancing impact with opportunity. If you are too inclusive the scholarship award`s impact could get diluted, and if you’re too small, say just one community, perhaps you miss an opportunity to help a wider set of students go to the next step. With that in mind it becomes an exercise in affinity among the communities, and the Thumb 11 Scholarship was born.
•You describe attending Ferris as being a pivotal moment in your life. How did it impact you?
Like any high schools senior from the Thumb interested in attending college, I had many great choices. Ferris came on to my own radar screen somewhat late in the process, mostly because I just did not know as much about Ferris at the time. Yet when I looked closer I liked what I saw, and when I visited Big Rapids for the first time Ferris just felt right for me.
Once I started school I found the balance between size—big enough, yet not overwhelming—and opportunity to be compelling. I had the chance to participate in intercollegiate athletics, form lasting relationships, and get a fantastic education. And of course the personal growth I experienced while at Ferris was indeed pivotal to setting the stage for my transition to professional life.
•What do you hope can be accomplished by strengthening the alumni network in the Thumb 11 area?
One thing Ferris alumni share is an fondness for their experience while studying at the university. And many of us want to share that with others – call it Bulldog pride if you wish. There is a sense that Ferris is a well kept secret and we simply want others to know about the opportunities Ferris has to offer. It is my hope that the Thumb 11 Scholarship will serve as a catalyst for making those local experiences more visible, and encourage many more soon-to-be high school graduates from the Thumb to put Ferris on their list of options as they prepare to attend college.
•Was living and working abroad something you aspired to? Can you tell me more about the work you do now?
The way my life has unfolded is certainly beyond how I imagined it growing up in Imlay City. I was so fortunate to have a loving family and a warm and supporting community. I always had an abundance of curiosity—still do really—and I think that combination of things made many things possible.
Perhaps the first big step was moving to Chicago after I graduated from Ferris. That exposed me to another dimension of life and work, and things kind of grew out of that. The company I worked for then afforded me several opportunities to move, and I started this tour of sorts that took me to places like Milwaukee, Cincinnati, Denver, Boston and ultimately back to Michigan where I lived and worked in Detroit. Once you develop a taste for adventure it can become addictive in a way, and moving around became a lifestyle of sorts.
When I left my corporate career and went back to school, that set in motion a series of international adventures and put me on a career trajectory toward university teaching. Nearly 25 years later I am still teaching at a university in Madrid, and have had the chance to live and work in places like London, Budapest, Milano, and Barcelona. So in a sense I repeated the wave of adventures, this time in Europe and as a professor.
•What memories do you have from growing up in Imlay City?
It’s hard to put into words the impact growing up in Imlay City had on my life. And it would be impossible to name everyone that impacted my development. I was so fortunate to have a loving and extended family, a community that looked after one another in good times and bad, and a circle of close friends that helped shape my character. I miss those times a lot and I draw upon those formative experiences every day even when I am thousands of miles away.
The Imlay City of my childhood was a place where you were accountable to everyone all of the time. If you stepped out of line, your neighbor would kindly bring it to your attention. And the care afforded to you, and the role models accessible to you, were boundless. We had fantastic teachers in school, a close knit community at church, and the opportunity to take our knocks on the playground yet always getting a helping hand to get back on your feet.
My childhood growing up in Imlay City gave me the confidence to act upon my curiosity and the character to explore the world. The Thumb 11 Scholarship is one small way for me to embrace that understanding of my childhood, and pay forward my gratitude to forthcoming generations of young people.