There was a network television actress, a State Bureau of Investigation chemist, a university golf coach, a foreign language teacher and even a dancer from a cruise ship among alumni visiting Catawba College's campus on April 2nd.
The occasion was Career Exploration Day, a new event hosted by the Offices of Alumni Relations and Career Services. The collaboration brought close to 50 alumni from a variety of academic disciplines back to campus to share their insights on life after college. The alumni, segregated by academic major, spent an hour with students pursuing their same discipline, conversing, answering questions and providing information about graduate school, law school, hunting a job, landing a job, and changing jobs.
"Your first year out will be your hardest," explained 2005 theatre arts alumnus David Loudermilk who is employed as a dancer by Norwegian and Holland America Cruise Lines. "Keep looking and moving forward. Use all your resources and don't forget how old you are. You will be competing sometimes with others in this field who have years of experience on you. Instead of feeling incompetent, learn from them."
"You take the jobs you have to to survive and capitalize on any opportunity you have to use the environment you are in to create the environment you want," explained Jasika Pruitt, a 2002 alumna who majored in theatre arts at Catawba. She is now employed as an actress on the network television series "Fringe."
"Go to events, network and mingle and make sure your resumes stand out," admonished 2006 alumna Starla Allen who majored in political science with a concentration in public administration and minored in business administration at Catawba. She is now employed as planner for the City of Concord, North Carolina and credits her resume with helping her land her job.
Echoing Allen's admonition was 2003 alumnus Colan Potemra who majored in business at Catawba and now works as the southeast regional manager for Covidien. "If you paid for college yourself, mention it on a resume," he told students. "Self-discipline can be reflected on a resume." Potemra even suggested keeping a brag book of successes that a prospective hire could use during an interview to illustrate "just who you are and what you would bring to the company."
1999 alumnus Brad Nance, a political science major at Catawba, shared some insights about the LSAT, law school and the bar exam with students gathered for his session. Nance, who earned his law degree at Ohio Northern University and currently is a partner in Nance & Overbey, PLLC in Salisbury, said he took a year off to study for the LSAT and explained why. "That test is just so very important. Your LSAT score equals your odds of passing the bar exam and that is a hard test. The year I took the bar exam, only 66% of the people taking it passed. It's a tough test.
"Once you get out of law school, you have to take additional courses to pass the bar exam and those courses are expensive, so save up $2,000-3,000 to pay for them," Nance concluded.
Another member of Catawba's graduating class of 1999, alumna Leslie Thomas Grab, is also now a practicing patent attorney with Kilpatrick Stockton in Winston-Salem. She majored in chemistry at Catawba, earned her Ph.D. in biochemistry and molecular biology at Wake Forest University, and then completed her law degree at UNC Chapel Hill. She explained that she too had to pass a bar exam to become an attorney – the patent bar – and to qualify for it, one has to have a science background.
With his own graduation fast approaching, Catawba junior Mason Jewett of Arlington, Texas, a religion major, attended a section of Career Exploration Day so he can "figure out what he really wants to do." He heard from two alumni in whose footsteps he is following -- Will Van Wieren '03, an associate pastor at Midway United Methodist Church in Kannapolis, and the Rev. Kristen Gerner Vaughn '99, an interim pastor at Brick Reformed United Church of Christ in Whitsett.
Van Wieren, Jewett learned, is now pursuing his master's of divinity degree at Hood Theological Seminary with an expected graduation in 2010, while Vaughn completed her master's of divinity degree from Wake Forest Divinity School in 2002 and a Clinical Pastoral Care Education Residency at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center in 2003. Van Wieren shared that attending seminary has "confirmed my call from college," while for Vaughn seminary allowed her to learn "what her own filter was for a good life."
College internships were critical in helping them decide what career path to pursue, several returning alumni said. 2004 alumna Vivian Koontz credited her college internship with leading her down her career path; a physical education major at Catawba, she is now employed as a recreation programmer for the City of Salisbury's Parks and Recreation Department. 2006 alumna Terri Boyd Gilbeau also emphasized the importance of internships, noting that through internships and fieldwork, students get out there and gain some experience in the workplace before they graduate. Gilbeau is a certified therapeutic recreation therapist in the geriatrics and extended care department at the W.G. "Bill" Hefner Veterans Administration Medical Center in Salisbury.
"Don't turn any opportunity down because at some point in your lifetime you will use the skills that you have acquired from this opportunity," 1981 alumna Vickie Hardy said. Hardy, a physical education major at Catawba, is employed as operations manager at Wake Forest University Health Sciences.
Most of the returning alumni told students in their sessions to make the most of those college classes and experiences. 2001 alumna Allison Dupree is now a National Board Certified physical education/health teacher at C.C. Erwin Middle School in Salisbury where she also serves as that school's athletic director and head girls basketball coach. She said playing golf and running cross country at Catawba improved her work ethic and her leadership skills, assets that can be used "in whatever career you wind up in."
Classes that two 1999 alumni took while majoring in English at Catawba have continued to serve them well in their professional careers. Andrea Smith Miller of Greensboro and Ty Stumpf of Sanford emphasized the importance of communicating clearly, both orally and in writing, and thinking creatively in their current positions. Miller is the director of marketing and communications at The Greensboro Partnership, while Stumpf is the interim chair of the Humanities Department at Central Carolina Community College.
Catawba College junior Andrew Tamer of Winston-Salem is majoring in political science and hopes to attend law school. He said attending the career exploration section with alumni Brad Nance and Starla Allen was "very beneficial" to him. "It helped me understand what I can expect and what steps I need to take to make sure I'm admitted to law school," Tamer said.
Another Catawba College junior, Caleb Terry of Bahama, N.C., left the career exploration section he attended feeling good about his academic major, history. "I learned that history is a good track to take. It opens you up to a lot of possibilities – everything from teaching to government jobs to graduate school. I also was reminded that I need to take in as much of my college experience as I can and take advantage of the opportunities that Catawba has to offer."
Catawba's first Career Exploration Day was born of an idea from Alumni Board of Director Tameka Lundy, a 2002 alumna and biology major. After earning her master's of science degree in biotechnology and her MBA from Johns Hopkins University, she is now employed as a sales consultant for Novartis Pharmaceuticals.
Margaret Faust, Catawba's Alumni Director, summed up the day as "an opportunity for our very talented alumni to come back and help guide our current students along their chosen career paths. That our alumni would use their time and resources to help our students truly speaks volumes about them – what wonderful interaction and priceless guidance!"
In addition to those aforementioned, other alumni participating in Career Exploration Day according to academic undergraduate major included: athletic training, Dr. Jolene Miller Henning '96 and Gary Blabon '91; biology, Cybil Dyson Jones '00; business administration, Drew Allvine '93, Maurice Price '03 and Joey Boley '95; chemistry, Richard Waggoner '81; communication arts Thomas Giles '05 and Clarke Leichte '91; environmental sciences, Ben Prater '02; foreign languages, Nicole Hobson Thompson '05; history, Bianca Rhodes Stumpf '00 and Brian Moffitt '99; mathematics, Sarah Reeves '08 and Kristen Kobylus Abernathy '04; music, Andrew Howe '07 and Beth Yelvington; psychology, Stephanie Valentine Giles '05 and Alex Lopez '05; recreation, Amanda Smith Hesse '93; sociology, Shawn Godsey '04 and Julie Frock Crapster '87; sports management, Seth Johnson '05 and Paige Haverty Stalcup; teacher education, Meredith Knowles Abramson '96; and theatre arts, Kelly McKinley Kepley '87 and Meredith Fox '07.
PHOTOS: Career Exploration Day