Named one of Dayton, Ohio’s brightest young professionals, Andrew “AJ” Kessler, Wittenberg class of 2006, is working hard to make the world a better place for others.
A manager for CareSource JobConnect™, supporter of the theatre arts, and an advocate for the LGBTQIA+ community, Kessler was selected from more than 200 nominees – including CEOs, real estate experts, technology executives, health care leaders, small business owners, and entrepreneurs – by the Dayton Business Journal for inclusion on its 2020 Forty Under 40 list.
Currently supervising a staff of life coaches as the South Ohio Region Manager for CareSource JobConnect™, Kessler previously worked in a variety of positions for Assurant in Springfield.
Having “fallen in love with the Dayton community,” Kessler volunteers with a number of organizations and serves as a member of the leadership team for the Wittenberg Dayton Alumni Chapter. He lives in Dayton with his husband, Kevin, two cats and two dogs, and recently took some time out of his busy schedule to answer some questions about what the Forty Under 40 award means to him and the ways in which he is trying to improve his community.
Wittenberg: What was your major at Wittenberg? What activities were you involved with?
Kessler: I majored in theatre while at Wittenberg, and I credit a large portion of my professional success to the training I received at Chakeres [Memorial Theatre]. I learned the importance of preparation and repetition. I learned that there is no such thing as a one-man show, and helping others to be successful is the best way to find success for yourself. I learned how to be authentic while catering my message and presentation to my audience.
Additionally, I worked in the Writing Center, where I was able to use my talents and education to help others. I was also involved in two service trips to Nicaragua and traveled to China with fellow Honors Program students. These were phenomenal experiences, my first tastes of international travel, and the beginning of my exploration of my privilege and place in the world.
Wittenberg: What led you to your current position? What do you enjoy and/or find meaningful about your work?
Kessler: A combination of life experiences, careful networking, and luck brought me to my current role. Everyone should have the same access to opportunity and success, but that is not our current reality. I supervise life coaches who work one-on-one with CareSource members to help them find their own power, connect with resources, and work through systemic and personal barriers that have prevented them from achieving their goals in the past.
It is inspiring to witness people making positive changes and finding success that had previously eluded them. I also enjoy being a leader of people; assisting my team members’ development and watching them take on new challenges is incredibly satisfying.
Wittenberg: How did Wittenberg prepare you for life after college?
Kessler: I view myself as a generalist more than a specialist, and the well-rounded education Wittenberg provides prepared me to remain flexible and to work in various fields, with people from different backgrounds and experiences. Wittenberg’s focus on service helped fuel my love for humanity and my desire to change the world for the better.
Wittenberg: In what ways are you involved in your community?
Kessler: I serve as the chair of the CareSource Equity Council. Through this role, I hope to elevate and amplify historically marginalized voices. Outside of work, I split my time among multiple organizations. I serve as the chair of the Board for The Human Race Theatre Company (HRTC). I believe the performing arts are a vital part of the human experience, and HRTC has provided quality theatre to the Dayton region for over 30 years. I also serve on the Equitas Health Dayton Associate Board because I believe in its history of advocacy for the LGBTQIA+ community and its mission to provide a welcoming health care home to anyone who needs one.
I served as Clothes That Work’s Ambassador of the Year in 2018 by winning their Men at Work competition/campaign, and I continue to serve on the planning committee for this event. I fell in love with Clothes That Work as soon as I learned about its mission; the organization provides interview and work clothes, as well as professional image workshops, to people who have not had access to these resources historically. I also am a member of the LGBTQ Health Alliance overseen by Montgomery County Public Health, which works to combat health disparities in the LGBTQIA+ community.
Wittenberg: How did you feel when you found out you had been selected for the Dayton Business Journal’s Forty Under 40 award?
Kessler: It is extremely gratifying, moving, and humbling to have my work recognized in this way, in a community that I love, especially in a tumultuous year such as this one. To be included with such a diverse group of talented individuals is an honor I do not take lightly.
Wittenberg: What inspires you to continue to be connected to Wittenberg through the Dayton Alumni Chapter?
Kessler: I crave connection, and interacting with fellow Tigers is always a joy. Additionally, I am passionate about building a stronger community for new alumni so that we do not lose talent to larger metropolitan areas. Young, driven individuals can accomplish so much in Dayton with nothing more than grit and determination.