In high school, one of the biggest decisions teens have to think about is where they’ll attend college. This wasn’t the case for EC alumnus Ray Crook ‘03.
“I never thought about college,” Ray said. “I did well in school and was in the top 5 of my class, but I never thought I would go to college because I didn’t necessarily grow up in a family that went to college.”
It took an English teacher’s guidance to show Ray that it was an option for him.
“I had no idea where to go or even how to apply,” Ray remembered. “I didn’t go my first semester because I just didn’t know what I wanted to do. ”
A few of Ray’s friends from high school attended Emmanuel and encouraged him to visit during Preview Weekend, and he quickly realized he found his new home.
“I loved the fact that it was a Christian school,” Ray said. “It was aligned with how I was raised and it was a small campus, which made me feel comfortable.”
Ray came to Emmanuel as a Music major but decided to switch his major to Business Administration after taking a few elective classes in the Business Department.
“I’ve always been a math nerd,” he said. “So I fell in love with the classes I was taking like accounting. I felt like it would be something I could apply to a broad range of careers when I decided what I ultimately wanted to do.”
While at Emmanuel, several professors and staff members made an impact on Ray’s life.
“Dr. (Leslie) Boucher loved me like I was her own,” he remembered. “Even when I decided to leave the music program, she encouraged me to do whatever I felt like I was being called to do.”
Dr. Boucher, along with others like Dr. (John) Henzel, Dr. Ed Weldon, and Mr. Jim Bare helped prepare Ray for life after Emmanuel.
“They didn’t teach just what was in the book,” he said. “That was important, but they took an interest in teaching us what we needed to learn to be prepared for the real world.”
After graduating from Emmanuel in 2003, Ray went on work at Regions Bank in Loan Review and has been working in the field ever since
How did his classes prepare Ray for a career in banking?
“A lot of what we learned in class was directly applicable,” he said. “You always think you’re never going to use it, but you do. Even Accounting 101, being able to understand how financial statements work is extremely important to being in banking. Everything from the statistics class I took to business ethics, these classes directly impacted everything I do. I use it every day.”
In May, Ray was hired by Heritage Southeast Bank as their Vice President and Senior Credit Officer at their Hinesville, GA branch where he is responsible for Southeast Georgia and Florida.
In his role, Ray works with lenders to underwrite and approve credit requests to be sure they are good risks for the bank take and also helps write loan policy.
How has his experience in the banking industry helped so far in his current role?
“Everything builds on itself,” he said. “A lot of what you do in banking ends up being a trial by fire. You don’t know what you don’t know until you find out. You also learn what kind of organization you want to work in.”
Ray has had experience working in large regional banks and smaller community banks, which is where he believes he fits best.
“I’ve learned it’s great to work for a community bank like this one where you’ll directly impact the people in your local community,” he said. “That’s the goal. In a smaller community bank, there’s a strong desire to help the community you’re in and not just for the publicity it gets you.”
What advice would Ray give to students looking to go into the banking field?
“Make sure you have a broad understanding of how business works,” Ray said. “And make sure you’re not studying to pass the test but that you know the material. You’re not in school to try and graduate – learn. Especially at Emmanuel, when you have direct access to your professors – talk to them, ask questions.”
In high school, Ray Crook didn’t think about college. Even though he was at the top of his class, it took an English teacher’s guidance for him to realize it was an option for him. While at Emmanuel, Ray discovered his passion for numbers and business, but he was prepared for the next chapter by professors and mentors who genuinely cared about him. It was here where he also met his wife, Michelle ’01. They were married in 2000 and have four children, Jacob (11), McKayla (10), McKenzie (8), and Callie Beth (8).