You’ve heard the nays when higher education is brought up: The cost of college is rising. The job market is shrinking.
Many commentators pose questions about the worth of college, its importance and how it supports students to reach their real-world goals and get what they strive for: a job.
But making the transition from education to the workplace isn’t like crossing a gaping chasm. It’s a natural progression to a job from experiences, job placement resources and networking that West Virginia University graduates say they found in Morgantown.
Three 2009 Mountaineer graduates offer their stories of how WVU made the difference when it came to obtaining jobs and living their dreams.
Becky Lovell spent much of her time at WVU away from it.
She studied abroad for separate semesters in Hong Kong and Hungary and went on a faculty-led trip in Israel. Her travel launched the Martinsburg, W.Va., native into the beginnings of a career helping other students learn about themselves and their world through study abroad.
But before she took off, she found a home at the university. At WVU, she met people from all over the state, became active in the Student Government Association, and worked as a campus tour guide and resident assistant.
“It first gives you grounding,” she said of her time at WVU in Morgantown. “You know your roots, but you know that you can fly.”
Along the way through her time in clubs and student jobs, she learned important skills such as using good financial management, following up with colleagues, navigating Microsoft Excel and keeping a level head.
“West Virginia University really challenged me,” she said. “It gave me some accountability of working very hard to do what I want to do.”
She graduated with a degree in multidisciplinary studies, and after working as a substitute teacher in Georgia, she found her dream job through one of WVU’s strongest assets, its network of alumni, faculty, staff and students. Her study abroad coordinator at WVU had moved on to Central Washington University and had a short-term position for a promoter of the study abroad program there.
Lovell and other grads point to the value of networking that WVU can provide through their peers who, she says, are “going to be changing the world,” and talented employees who provide wise advice.
“I wouldn’t have gotten my job if I hadn’t met Ray Bates, my adviser,” she said.
Now that she has more experience with study abroad programs, she is applying to graduate school to continue to build her resume so that she can one day be a study abroad coordinator for a university. After all, our global society needs people who are well acquainted with the world, she says.
“I think in the world today, it’s so easy to up and go to another country especially with business,” she said. “If you’re going to be in these departments, you’re going to be interacting with people all over the world.”
She still finds ways to satisfy the travel bug. When her time in Washington was up, she helped a colleague move back to Ecuador by driving six weeks from Washington to South America.
“I wouldn’t have had the confidence to do that had I not had the experience at West Virginia University,” she said.
Angela Durham learned practical skills as a civil engineering major at WVU and used university resources to take a direct pathway to a job she loves with a construction firm out of Pennsylvania.
As a senior, the Morgantown native planned a real-life project for a real company and followed it through, prepping herself for the tasks she faces as a subcontract manager for Aker Construction, of Canonsburg, Pa., and her work on the Longview Power plant.
As a freshman adviser and mentor, she led other students to succeed as engineering majors, and she organized visits by successful graduates of WVU’s engineering program, as well as EngineerFEST, a gathering of the college’s student organizations. Her work on these and other projects through her sorority Kappa Kappa Gamma gave her social and leadership experience to balance her academics.
Volunteering as a coach for a middle school softball team during college helped her to balance her time between all of the responsibilities competing for her time, something that’s helped her work life.
“I am very glad I was able to learn those time management skills,” she said. “With working in a deadline-based atmosphere, knowing time management is very important to my day-to-day tasks.”
Through the career fair at the College of Engineering and Mineral Resources, Durham met a representative of Aker Construction, one of approximately 200 employers at the three-day fair in the fall.
She took a part-time job with the company while she was a student doing clerical work and upon graduation was offered a full-time job.
Durham also received a few interviews from posting her resume on MountaineerTRAK, a job posting site for WVU students and alumni, and has a membership through the university on CareerShift, an external job posting site.
Though she has a family connection to career services, she knows the office can really make the difference for students in chasing the job they want.
“My dad [David Durham] is the director of career services, so obviously he was a huge help to me,” she said. “I think a lot of students don’t actually know how much you can get out of that office.”
Kristen Thomaselli, a public relations graduate from WVU, went on to intern at the Washington, D.C., office of a major public affairs firm, GolinHarris, before working as a staff assistant to Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va.
WVU gave her a strong academic experience with inspiring professors, she says, and political experience as a member of the Board of Governors of the Student Government Association. But what has helped her to go the farthest has been the tight network of staff and alumni starting from her time as an intern with the WVU Alumni Association.
“Your grades from the classroom and experiences from outside internships both are important in building a solid foundation,” Thomaselli said. “But I think that networking and forming valuable relationships with those you meet during your undergraduate career are the key to finding success upon pursuing your postgraduate dreams.”
And Mountaineers support their own with genuine care for their dreams, she said. From the CEO of the Alumni Association to her professors at the Perley Isaac Reed School of Journalism, she can easily think of 50 alumni and staff whom she could call on for assistance.
Her interest in becoming involved and using the resources available at WVU lead her into the Student Government Association, the Public Relations Student Society of America and the judicial board of the National Society of Collegiate Scholars. She interned at the law office of former WVU Board of Governors’ chairman Steve Goodwin and served as a mentor for the Boys and Girls Club.
It was the engagement opportunities at WVU as well as her decision to take advantage of what the university offered that lead her to acquire a collection of skills that employers look for.
“Your education, especially at a school with vast opportunities like WVU, is what you make of it,” Thomaselli said. “As a student, you have the option of getting involved and creating meaningful relationships and significant experiences to carry with you or sitting back and letting all of the great chances offered to you pass you by.”
The New Cumberland, W.Va., native now gets to work with and for those from her home state and alma mater, something she finds rewarding, and something she attained with the help of the university.
“I left WVU feeling really confident,” she said. “I think that my education there really gave me that confidence.”
By Diana Mazzella
WVU News and Information
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