‘Helping others’ is driving force for alumna’s life and career

Written by Megan Hinderman on |
Rita Davenport

Originally from Des Moines, Iowa, Rita Davenport’s career in education spans over 30 years and has taken her to colleges and universities throughout the region, including working at and earning her master’s degree in counseling education from UW-Platteville in 1993. From there, she worked at a private university and a technical college until finding opportunity closer to home with Des Moines Area Community College, where she’d spend 18 years as a professional counselor at the Boone Campus before retiring in January 2021.

While each institution had its own unique needs, Davenport always put serving the students first. This led her to a variety of roles, covering everything from admissions and academic support to advising and career counseling.

“I have worked extensively with traditional and non-traditional students which I equally enjoy," Davenport said. "I’ve helped students from ages 14-70. A special focus throughout my career has been working with diverse student populations. Some students need very little assistance and other students need a great deal of assistance. Those ‘repeat customers’ with whom I had more contact and developed relationships with are the reason I stayed in the profession. It’s rewarding to help people.”

One of the areas in higher education that Davenport is most passionate about is working with international students and English language learners. At two of the schools where she worked, Davenport was a Designated School Official who assisted students with student visas. She also advised students with various other immigration statuses, including refugees. The job was far more than paperwork, however, as Davenport found many of these students to be among the most hard-working and dedicated students she advised. She said it was always a special honor to see a student like that reach graduation day. 

“Over the years, I helped with producing 32 graduation ceremonies,” Davenport said. “I took pride in pronouncing all of the students’ names correctly. The students and families with ‘challenging’ names would often remark about my attention to detail and ability to correctly pronounce their student’s name.  My usual response was that since it is their student’s ‘big day’ we all worked hard to ensure that everything would be perfect for them.” 

Davenport’s drive to help others extends beyond her work in higher education. When living in Dubuque, Iowa she was instrumental in connecting the community and bringing light to social justice issues through radio and newspapers. She also served on the Dubuque Community School District multicultural non-sexist advisory committee and advised on similar support projects throughout the region. In 2018, Rita completed a four-year appointment on the Commission on the Status of African Americans within the Iowa Department of Human Rights.  

Now, at a time when race and social justice issues are at the forefront, Davenport is encouraging people to not just talk, but to get involved in ways that are meaningful to them. She is heavily involved with both the National Alliance on Mental Illness and Optimist International, being drawn to each, respectively, for their ability to “give a voice to the voiceless” and their particularly active youth and community programs.  Davenport and her family are also proud to support the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs (NACWC), the oldest national Black organization, founded in 1896.  

“My mother is a club member of the Tawasi Club, an affiliate of the NACWC. I was raised around club activities, meetings and attending local, regional and national conventions of this great organization.”  Davenport said.

“I am very proud of what the NACWC members of the past and today have achieved.  This is an organization that has been a stalwart part of many communities across the nation. These women and this organization are still following their mission and their motto: ‘Lifting as we Climb.’ And more importantly, through the connection of my mother, the association helped me to learn and appreciate Black American history and the struggles that previous generations endured.”