Trulaske graduate makes name for herself in HR, earns Ingram’s Forty Under 40 selection
By Stephen Schmidt
One could call it a precursor to a baptism by fire.
In 2007, Rashel (Kelly) Hughley, BS BA ’04, MBA ’06, had an uncle show up at her home in Kansas City, Missouri, with a CD with one song on it — “Here I Am to Worship” — and a request that she, a first soprano, sing it two days later during the Sunday service at their local church, where he served as the pastor.
“He said, ‘I want you to sing this as a lead on Sunday,’ so I'm literally shaking in my boots. But I always like to share that fact because, as I always say, if you can sing in front of 200 people, you can surely talk in front of 200 people.”
Fast forward 13 years to March 2020. Hughley is on one of her first days in her current human resources senior director role for the Kansas City offices of the international marketing agency VMLY&R.
The agency's employees began working from home in unison for an indefinite period of time due to the pandemic, so plans to come into the office for an in-person orientation on her first day on March 18 were put on hold.
Hughley found herself on a morning call, walking around the cul-de-sac of her current Kansas City neighborhood, with the Kansas City office lead, and another request of considerable immediacy: Prepare a virtual presentation about the importance of taking care of one’s mental and physical health while working from home, and share it on an all-agency call with approximately 500 people tuning in the next day.
And so she did, being sure to include some slides about herself. One of her slides included — what else? — a picture of her singing in that same church where she did her first solo.
"At least I didn't have to sing to a bunch of people... I just had to talk and speak from my heart and from my expertise,” Hughley said.
It was Hughley’s intrepid nature toward a task such as this one that helped her recently be selected for Ingram’s 2021 class of its 40 Under Forty. She said the news was something that was very unexpected, given both how new she was to the firm and the fact that she was only off of maternity leave for a couple of weeks when she heard word about the nomination.
"Sometimes you can doubt your own value or worth, but this was really encouraging to me,” Hughley said, “because coming back from maternity leave, I realized ‘OK, I can do this.’ They saw enough value in me, even during a time that I was clearly not at 100%.”
Earning her stripes
Hughley arrived at Trulaske in 2000 as an undergraduate student with no intention of going into human resources — but fate had other ideas. As the oldest of four siblings, Hughley had assumed the profile of one who could both naturally lead and connect with others.
During her sophomore year at Trulaske, she became a community advisor in Johnston Hall, assisting the “Women in Leadership” learning community, which she would continue for three years.
Sylvia Jauregui served as Hughley’s former supervisor in Johnston. She said it never occurred to her at the time that HR would be a great fit for Hughley, but she could foresee how such a career could unfurl itself.
“She always displayed a very natural, likable personality,” said Jauregui, who currently works as the residence hall coordinator for North and Center halls. “She always wanted to help people as best as she could with processes and procedures — and help keep them informed.”
Said Hughley of Jauregui: “She gave me a lot of confidence and mentorship as a female leader."
After earning her bachelor’s degree from Trulaske, Hughley decided to pursue her MBA at the college as well, largely as a result of being inspired by the Vasey Academy — and in particular its former director, the late Clarence Wine — to do so.
In the Crosby MBA, from which she graduated summa cum laude, she focused on management information systems. She interned at Cerner Corp., a large health information technology services company based in Kansas City, for three semesters from 2003-05 in various capacities. Her initial plan was to be an IT consultant, but that trajectory all changed with a conversation with her mentor at Cerner, Julie Wilson.
“She actually pulled me aside and said, ‘I have a job for you. If you're willing to try it, I'm willing to teach you,’” said Hughley, who would go on to accept the role of HR partner in 2006 after finishing her MBA at Trulaske. “It was a really a stretch position for me, because that's typically not a job you get right out of college."
Before she knew it, she had been on the HR team at Cerner’s main Kansas City office for five years. From 2008 to 2011, she worked in a campus recruiting role that would bring her back to Columbia to work with several familiar faces, including Matthew Reiske, the executive director at Business Career Services.
"It was one of those encounters where you walk away knowing this student is going to make an impact wherever she goes,” Reiske said about the first time he met Hughley when she was a student.
In November 2011, she accepted more of a project management role to try something a little bit different — and to make sure that her path was an intentional one.
Shortly after her time in that role, her colleagues would come to her with questions that made her realize that HR was indeed her calling.
“People were still coming to me, even in my new role, with similar questions,” Hughley said. “‘Can you help me think about my career? Can you help me with this tough conversation?’”
‘Add something else’
These days, Hughley still works remotely from her home that she shares with her husband, Sean, and their two young children. She shares a workspace in her dining room not far from the living room home office setup of her husband, who is fairly new to a position with a company that sells its software to HR companies.
"He's about 15 feet from me, so he gets an education in HR just by sitting 15 feet from me, working in HR during a pandemic,” she says with a laugh. “He has a whole different appreciation for HR.”
In spite of the many hours it takes to do her full-time job, Hughley always finds time to volunteer and assist with nonprofits, including serving as a board member for the Kansas City chapter for INROADS, an organization devoted to addressing the lack of ethnic diversity in corporate America.
"There were so many people who poured time into me and my development and my career,” she said. “I feel like it's important to do the same for others.”
In addition, Hughley has recently accepted the request to be a Girl Scout leader of her 6-year-old daughter’s troop — finding inspiration in a piece of advice that was given to her several years ago by former Trulaske faculty member Gregg Martin: “When you find yourself overwhelmed with the things on your plate, add something else."
“When you add more things that are important to you,” she said. “Not just arbitrary things, but add more things that are actually important to you, to your community, to your family… it helps you get perspective over the things that are stressing you out."