She has more than a decade of experience driving growth for global software companies, but if you were to ask Kristen Rachels (’05, LD ’16) where she got her start, she would emphatically say Darlington.
“I talk about boarding school before I talk about what I did in college,” she said. “Darlington was so fundamental in framing my personal outlook on life. Darlington is 100% the reason I am where I am in my career and personal life.”
Rachels is ever-thankful to former Head of House James Milford for seeing her potential during the admission process.
“To know that someone saw something in me and believed in me at that time in my life was foundational,” she said. “The Head of House role is so critical to the life of a boarding student, and James was like a father, mentor, and cheerleader. “
As a four-year boarding student, Rachels thrived. She was a house leader, played volleyball, cheered, worked on the Inkslinger literary magazine, was active in the Environmental Awareness Club and even helped in admissions.
“My time at Darlington had an effect on my critical thinking skills and curiosity about life,” she said. “I also began to develop hard life skills like interglobal communication and how to function in society with varying viewpoints and ideas. “
One of Rachels’ mentors was visual art teacher Kathy O’Mara.
“Kathy really brought out something I didn’t know was there,” she said. “I thought differently about my art, and she helped me to explore my uniqueness as an artist. As an adult, I am now comfortable with challenging ways of thinking, trying new things, going out of my comfort zone.”
O’Mara still uses samples of Rachels’ artwork with her current students.
“Every project that I give to my students, I try to get them to explore the possibilities; for many, that is difficult because they haven’t yet found their artistic voice,” said O’Mara. “For Kristen, it was immediately different. She is one of my favorites, a treasure. When creating art, she would look at other artists for inspiration, but she always took it and made it her own. You could always see the wheels turning. She was fearless. I’m super proud of her.”
After Darlington, Rachels went on to graduate with a B.S. in Communications from the University of Georgia and, since then, has developed a reputation as one of the most respected women in technology.
After nearly a decade with leading enterprise mobility software companies PowWow Mobile and StarMobile, she now serves as vice president of marketing for Itential, a software company developing intelligent automation for multi-domain networks. Itential was recently named to Inc. Magazine’s 5000 list of America’s Fastest Growing Companies, and Rachels is responsible for all go-to-market strategy and execution, sales and channel partner enablement, field and event marketing, corporate communications and analyst relations, as well as design and creative strategy.
When COVID-19 hit, she began managing her international marketing team remotely.
“Thankfully, we were already optimized as a digital-first organization with all the necessary tools and protocols to work from anywhere and collaborate from afar,” she said. “With over 40% of our workforce remote and spread throughout the globe, the transition was actually pretty seamless for us with little disruption. As a manager of a distributed team that are all now working virtually, it's been really awesome to see how we are more efficient and streamlined, and more connected as humans and friends than we were pre-pandemic.”
Ever-busy in her career, Rachels always makes time to give back to the school that shaped her.
“Kids today are really the future of the world, and it is rapidly changing,” she said. “There is a huge opportunity for Darlington to compete in this next generation, and I want to help Darlington to continue on into the future while retaining its character and traditions.”
She serves on Darlington’s Alumni Council, has been a Fairy DarMother to female boarding students, presented at Career Day, and participated in Leadership Darlington. Her husband, Thomas Gatliff, also donated a state-of-the-art 3D printer to the Upper School MakerSpace, and they are contributors to The Darlington Fund.
Rachels is especially proud that her brother, Boyd (’23), and her cousin, Alden Baker (’23), enrolled as boarding students at Darlington this year.
“Darlington taught me to challenge everything, to never be satisfied with the status quo, to crave learning, to be curious, to push boundaries, and to never stop seeking,” she said. “Resiliency, grit, perseverance, strategic and critical thinking, compassion, and empathy are all skills that became rooted in me during my time at Darlington.”