Real World Gives Hope To Hundreds of Jobless Seniors

Traester, Kay

The Real World. For some, this phrase pertains to the seven eccentric – and often ridiculously melodramatic – young adults living together in chaotic situations in Philadelphia regularly featured on MTV. For current Colgate seniors, these three words mean absolutely everything as post-Colgate life quickly comes into full view. For me, this phrase – scarily enough – represents my entire life in a few short months. And no, I am not one of the lucky seniors with a job offer on the table or the chance to escape immediately to graduate school. I am among the masses of seniors unsure of – and quite anxious to see – what the real world has in store for me. With this background and mindset, I entered a crash course in alumni networking, learning about a range of career fields, and investigating issues about transition to life after Colgate. Along with over fellow 300-plus seniors, I arrived back on campus early, eager to participate in the Class of 2005’s Real World from January 13 to 15. We came armed with all of the essentials – a professional Class of 2005 black portfolio, business casual attire, and, luckily, the support of over 80 alumni who graciously traveled back to their alma matter for the weekend’s festivities. Started in 1996, the two-day program aims to help seniors find their destination after Colgate through luncheons, alumni panels, and various social networking events on campus. The Center for Student and Leadership Involvement, Career Services and Alumni Affairs sponsored the event. Following registration at Donovan’s Pub and a senior New Year’s Party at the Palace Theater Thursday night, us seniors enjoyed a welcome luncheon and keynote speaker in the Hall of Presidents on Friday afternoon. Class of 2005 Co-President Carrie Guay and University President Rebecca Chopp welcomed the class, with Ronald Joyce ’73 offering his words of wisdom. “It was a great event,” Chopp said following the weekend’s events. “I and others have been working hard to make sure students have lots of opportunities to explore career options and connect with alumni. We are thrilled with how [the senior] class got so engaged in this event and with career services throughout the year. [The Class of 2005 is] all terrific!” Joyce urged seniors to utilize this Real World experience to determine what one is passionate about and how to use current alumni to aid in the search for that infamous and highly coveted first job. As a 1973 Colgate graduate and member of the Alumni Corporation Board of Directors, Joyce is a Senior Vice President and Chief Development Office for The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. The question that continued to loom in many seniors’ minds involved eight words Joyce articulated, “So, what are your plans after you graduate?” With these words, dozens of heads nodded in agreement over the angst and inner agony this simple question causes. I can’t say I was surprised in the least. Many seniors opted to attend one or two of several hour-long alumni panels offered in Little Hall throughout the afternoon. Topics discussed ranged from “Creative Job Search Tips and Techniques” to “First Year Success on the Job,” “I Still Don’t Know What To Do,” and “Beyond the Colgate Bubble.” I decided to attend “Living and Working Abroad,” which featured four alumni eager to discuss what to expect and how to make the most of one’s abroad experience. As an English major attaining certification in Secondary English Education, I applied for a Fulbright Teaching Assistantship to teach conversational English in South Korea and am very interested in international travel and living. Even though the panel originally focused on opportunities for advancement in the corporate world abroad, I did begin making a mental list of goals I should have if I end up teaching abroad:

* Be flexible and persistent.* Get local contacts in host countries, and become a part of the local culture.* Acquire a language skill and develop cultural sensitivity.* Get links back to United States to avoid complete “out of sight, out of mind” mentality.* Be proactive, bold, and reach out to the ex-Patriot community to become their “friend” and not just an American. * Show my employer that I’m tough, ready to take on a challenge, and that I won’t complain.

Quite the “to-do” list, if you ask me. With the opportunity to work abroad, the panel informed me that my rate of advancement could be twice as fast with overseas experience. As one panel member said, “Working abroad for your company will give you a 25 percent better chance in anything.” Moreover, the salaries are usually competitive, and I would have the opportunity to meet fascinating people and see the world. Sounds like a plan, huh? Unfortunately, many companies can’t offer abroad opportunities for several years. The emergence of local student talent, high cost of employing Americans, and the two-working-spouses’ phenomenon has limited many overseas employment opportunities.One fellow senior in attendance, Chrissy Hart, found the panel to be very informative and felt that it provided a helpful array of experiences. Having already decided to serve in the Peace Corps and live in Asia, Africa, or the Caribbean after graduation, she appreciated the insight the alumni on the panel offered regarding the numerous challenges and benefits of living abroad.”I talked [with them] about my concern in regard to feeling disconnected from American life and culture upon returning to the United States,” Hart said, “and the alumni on the panel were very positive in regard to their experiences, which helped to dispel some of my own anxiety.”Personally, all challenges and anxieties aside, I left the panel all the more eager to pursue opportunities to teach English abroad outside of Europe.Additional panels focused on a variety of issues related to living and working in the Real World. Other featured topics included tips on interviewing, networking, graduate school admission, and benefits and budgets, with a series of concurrent panels offered in two timeslots. By the time the evening Networking Reception in the O’Connor Campus Center arrived, I not only had a craving for gourmet catered cuisine but was already genuinely impressed with the amount of first-hand advice and guidance I had received that day. Like many seniors, I took this opportunity to schmooze, mingle, and get to know as many alumni as possible in a short period of time. Stressful and overwhelming, yes, but worthwhile and ultimately very rewarding. I even left the evening with three business cards of alumni involved in both media and education. Woohoo!During the informal reception, which featured a stand-up buffet and cocktails for students and alumni, seniors Justin Spencer and Carla Hickman were recognized as recipients of the 2005 Alumni Corporation Scholarship. Alumni volunteers continued to be on hand to answer students’ questions about living in various cities and staying involved with Colgate after graduation. To celebrate a very busy and successful day, many seniors opted to reunite at Nichols and Beal Friday night, which offered drink specials and karaoke night!When Saturday morning rolled around, I couldn’t have been more excited about my first gourmet Frank Dining Hall brunch since freshman year. I forgot how much I enjoyed the all-you-can-eat French toast, fruit, meat, OJ, and, of course, Fro-yo. Once my stomach was more than satisfied, I traveled down to Little Hall, the home of the afternoon panels. Today, 15 alumni-run panels addressed careers in science, arts and entertainment, business, law, education, non-profit sectors, media and communications, and informational technologies, among other professions. Mock interviews were also offered.At the Education Panel, not only did I gain the names of five helpful alumni currently in the field, but I also discovered just how “hot” the profession is for recent Colgate graduates. There are 28,000 total alumni in education and about 3,500 currently in the profession. Wow! Since the turnover rate in education is about 50 percent, you really need to think carefully about whether teaching is something you’re passionate about. I think I am and am already enjoying my Student Teaching experience at Sherburne-Earlville Middle School this semester. As alum Bob Smaller ’79, who is a career switcher to education and currently attaining teaching certification in Connecticut, said, “Teaching provides the joy of working with children and gives you lots of opportunities to work in your community and be with your family.” Perhaps I am attracted to education because I’ve had such a satisfying experience in school and have been relatively successful in academic situations, as the panel suggested. Even more of an influence for me has been my many effective teachers over the years, whom have all been a major influence in my life. Still, as alum Gary Ripple ’64 suggested, it is all too easy to enter profession with a lot of idealism.”By far, the hardest job I ever had was teaching in a school,” he said. “The exhausting aspects of the profession can translate to high turnover rates.” Ripple served as – get this – an admissions dean, head of an independent school, college counselor, and high school teacher, who now advises colleges, schools, and families with the college admissions process. Quite a good mind to pick, that’s for sure!In addition to the alumni serving on the Public Relations and Publishing & Broadcast Media panels I attended later that afternoon, I would also like to thank Tammy Tonucci McConnell ’91, Scott Meiklejohn ’77, and Kelly Roos ’02 for generously imparting their wisdom in the field to me. Many seniors attending the panels found the alumni’s advice to be extremely helpful and important to hear at this point of their Colgate careers.While the weekend turned out to be a bit more intense for senior Mary Drescher than she originally anticipated, the sessions helped alleviate some of her stress about the future. “The alumni helped me realize that it’s OK to relax,” she explained. “There’s plenty of time to change jobs if you end up disliking something. I learned that I have a lot to offer employers with my liberal arts background and my (future) Colgate degree.”Drescher was also fortunate enough to have a career epiphany of sorts. Having always known what she enjoys doing but never being able to put it all together, she has decided to definitely pursue some of the career fields that were presented and explained to her. “Every alum I spoke with was extremely helpful,” she said. “They were eager to hear about my interests and shed some light onto areas I should explore. I enjoyed all of the career field panels, and all the alums I encountered were very approachable and friendly.”Like many of her peers, Drescher sometimes found it difficult to speak with some of the alumni who shared her professional interests.”Perhaps dividing up a lunch or a dinner by interest would make it much easier,” she suggested. “I felt like I was in a sea of students unable to find specific people with whom I wanted to speak with.”To unwind and continue mingling with various alumni, hundreds of seniors enjoyed nachos, and passed hors d’oeuvres, chips, cheese, and bread ‘n dips at the Senior Class Dinner at the Palace Theater later that night. I even came away winning a Palm Pilot! As the evening ended and final business cards were distributed, numerous seniors had the chance to reflect on what they learned from the entire weekend sampling of the “Real World.” Luckily, I had the opportunity to speak with several of my classmates about the experience. As an Environmental Biology and Geography double major, senior Chris Ross plans to get a series of three-month internships with the National Park Service or similar organizations, doing field research and/or environmental education. “The alumni present at the Real World really didn’t have any experiences that would help me get jobs like that,” he said. “However, the parts that I found helpful were the panel on ‘Taking the Road Less Traveled’ on Saturday, where they reassured us that we don’t have to be finance majors who have already secured jobs on Wall Street to be successful in life.” Ross also spoke with three alumni who had experiences in environmental consulting. Through these discussions, he is now seriously considering going that route sometime in the next few years.Even with a job offer in hand, senior Uli Riebe still found the Real World to be helpful not just for the practice he received networking with alums but also for its focus on living and working beyond the “Colgate bubble.” “The breadth of roundtable discussions was varied enough to range from law and business all the way to creative job search techniques, but remained focused on the current seniors’ interest areas,” he said. “It was great to be able to meet so many friendly alums in such a short amount of time, all ready to help us in any way they could. Building and maintaining a network of colleagues is of prime importance after graduation, and I think the Real World was a successful first step for us all in starting the process.”Senior Charlene Chan agreed, seeing the weekend as an effective way to meet people who have practical and original post-graduation success ideas. “Any concerns that I had or plans to work on applying for jobs were reaffirmed by their suggestions,” she said. “All the alums were really excited and eager to help, so I felt comfortable talking to each of them.” As aforementioned, Hart plans on joining the Peace Corps after graduation and had the opportunity to speak with Glenn Ivers ’73, who served in Liberia and has had several jobs in the non-profit sector. “He shared aspects of his Peace Corps experience with me, which reaffirmed my enthusiasm about joining,” she said. “We also discussed a lot of the challenges involved, which was even more meaningful. It was nice to have the opportunity to talk to someone whose experiences have been so similar to my aspirations.”Hart appreciated hearing from alumni who were so enthusiastic about being flexible and pursuing your passion as opposed to a long term, salary-oriented career track. However, she would have liked more opportunities for one-on-one face time with alumni. “Although we had the breaks between panels to talk,” she said, “they were only 15 minutes long, and it was hard to identify particular alums at the evening events if you hadn’t met them during the day.”Currently in the middle of the job interviewing process, senior Katie Finnegan also found her eyes opened throughout the weekend.”It was like an awakening to the inevitable,” she said. “We are graduating! I found the alumni to be very helpful – willing to answer any and all questions. They helped me make contacts and also offered real advice. They weren’t worried to tell the truth.”For Finnegan, the weekend helped to reaffirm her plans for life after Colgate. She only wishes there were more mock interviews offered. A big “Real World” lesson learned by most seniors in attendance? Your first job probably won’t be your dream job!”[I learned that] you need to work hard, but always know that you can change things and move around as you need to,” senior Christine Naclerio said. “The most important thing I learned is that there is no one way to survive, but many different paths you can take.”Similarly, senior Kelly McKallagat appreciated the advice given to her by Paul Lobo ’89 – that there is really no wrong decision about what to do after graduation. “[Lobo said that] anything you choose to do next year will put you no worse off than you are this year, so just do something you would like to do,” she explained. “I have a job offer, but I am unsure if it is the job I want. Luckily, I was able to discuss the options I have open with an alumnae who has lived what I want to do. It was great.”McKallagat, along with other seniors, wished that the networking events could have been organized a little differently, so that it would be more apparent which alumni were involved in which fields. Almost all attendees agreed that the senior dinner would have been better with an actual sit-down meal.Like McKallagat, senior Lacey Singleton found that the best part about Real World was realizing how much the alumni are willing to help Colgate students make connections in any and all fields of the workforce. “Sometimes in the job search, it’s easy to lose sight of what’s really important,” she said, “and the alums on ‘Taking the Road less Traveled’ panel reassured us that it was normal for your career path to take many twists and turns along the way. As long as you’re doing something you want to be doing, you will succeed.”Prior to this weekend, like many current seniors, senior Ashley Schneider was scared about what was in store for her next year. Luckily, this weekend changed that former fear to excitement for her. “One of my concerns about next year was what I should do in order to get to that ‘dream job’ in the future,” she said. “During one seminar with a very diverse group of panelists, they offered a very insightful piece of information: even though every choice you make closes off some alternative options, it also opens just as many new options.” How, then, do you effectively market a liberal arts education when you are competing against people who have gone to college solely for that position? Seniors like Schneider quickly discovered alumni who told them how they can make connections to other important fields. After all, at Colgate, we are used to thinking outside the box. “Although they offered a few other tips, they concluded by saying to be careful,” she continued, “because you don’t know if the person you are interviewing with is from an institution other than liberal arts. In one of my panels, one of the speakers said you are already a great group, because Colgate is very selective. Well, they forgot to mention how great they were. When you have 80-plus alumni come back to help out fellow Colgate soon to be alum, you know you have great alums.” Senior Trisha Hutchins walked away from the experience with similar knowledge – understanding that she should not be worried about doing something that is directly related to her major. “Many alumni helped me realize that a lot of students go into fields that are not directly related and that having a Colgate degree is sometimes an upper hand in itself in the work world,” she explained. “I also realized that people do and it is possible to go back to school some time down the road, even if it is 5 to 10 years later.”Still very early in my job search, Hutchins also realized that many job openings in the science field are on an as-needed basis, so many of those positions will come out later in the Spring. “This made me feel better because I haven’t seen many job opportunities that are recruiting now for people in the sciences,” she said. “I also learned that it is OK to change your career throughout your life, if not five or six times. This is common and can be very enjoyable to keep a person in a job that they enjoy.”As another pursuer of the sciences, senior Anne Cybenko, felt that the Real World was extremely good for people outside of the science field. “The alums that came were extremely friendly, approachable, and accomplished,” she said. “They were very eager to help any student who came to them. The thing that really frustrated me about Real World was its lack of people in the sciences. Every single psychology major went on to business school; there was not a single person who had completed a PhD in any of the sciences. I’m at the point in my search where I’m applying to PhD programs in the sciences and wondering what you can do with one besides teach. So, in that respect, I was disappointed with the program.”Having helped organize the event, Guay’s experience was very different from the rest of her classmates. She has been networking with alumni since June and therefore did not need to continue making contacts. She already has more than enough to keep track of! “Since I am not continuing my education immediately upon graduation, I will not be on my parent’s insurance plan,” she stressed. “This further emphasized the importance of locating a job as quickly as possible.”Guay found the “Benefits and Budgets: Avoiding Common Mistakes” panel to be most helpful. “Although my father has underscored the importance of putting money away early in my career – for retirement,” she said, “hearing another person say it was more helpful. The alumni on this panel each had a hand-out, including one that described all of the benefits available (except retirement) and another that tracked spending each month.” What other beneficial pieces of advice did seniors obtain from the knowledgeable alumni? “Be persistent,” senior Lauren Healy said. “Keep reminding people of who you are and your interests because you can never be sure when something can open up. Also, be polite and be yourself. I think many Colgate students do so well in the world after Colgate partly because they have established great reading/writing and personal skills while here.” Fellow senior Eric Koleda agreed, enjoying the professional organization and good focus of the weekend. “I learned a lot of small lessons,” he said, “but most important was that these days, your first job is not the most important thing, and there are plenty of chances to reinvent yourself and change jobs or careers. The weekend helped confirm my choice to further my education, but it also showed me that I can change my mind in the future and that won’t necessarily be a bad thing.” The best advice senior Dave Roman received during the weekend was to do what you love, start a business, sell it, and have fun. “Always have fun,” he said.The most important thing to remember for post-Colgate life?Find a passion and pursue it. As Hutchins said, “It is very important to be happy in your job or career. You should be happy to go to work everyday.”I could not agree more.