Alumni advise students on how to transition to the professional world

by University Communications,

At the inaugural Careerapalooza, over caramel popcorn, gummy worms and iced tea, 10 alumni from the College of Liberal Arts and the Atkinson Graduate School of Management spoke with nearly 100 undergraduates about the transition from Willamette to the professional world.

The alumni represented a variety of fields, including law, fine arts, nonprofit and health care. While each told a unique story, they all emphasized the continued utility of the skills they learned at Willamette.

Rep. Tobias Read, D-Beaverton, who is in his fifth term with the Oregon Legislature, says his liberal arts education still helps him every day.

“In the legislature you need critical thinking, the ability to listen, and the resilience to be repeatedly wrong,” Read ’97 says. “You need to be able to hear what other people are saying, to adjust your position. You also need an interest in a variety of things.

“As a politics major and an economics minor, the two best classes I took at Willamette had nothing to do with those. They were Northwest Literature and Jazz in America.”

Sage Advice

Rick Gaupo ’90, CEO of Marion Polk Food Share, says the liberal arts helped shape his path by teaching him to think critically.

“The liberal arts degree did what it was supposed to do, which is help me be well-rounded, see the world, significantly change my perspective in life,” Gaupo says. “The nonprofit sector, which I didn’t know anything about in high school, became of an interest and then happened to become a lifelong pursuit.”

Melissa Wilmot ’03, who has worked as a legislative assistant, public relations consultant and director of communications for the Portland Japanese garden, now owns an online business called WedBrilliant. Throughout her career, she says she’s learned the importance of networking, trial and error and taking risks.

“I’m a huge proponent for changing things up. I think it’s always good in life, in professions, to just have a change,” she says. “It puts you in a different place to see what you might want to do differently, and what might be good for you.”

New Perspectives

Willamette students in attendance say they appreciated learning about the variety of fields the alumni represent.

“They covered pretty much every industry,” says Maisie Blaufuss ’18. “There were people from government, people who work in the private sector, people from finance, and people from the art industry, so it was really interesting to see their different perspectives and how they apply the education they got at Willamette to their career.”

Others say they found the alumni’s stories encouraging and empowering.

“It helped reassure me that my path will take its course, and it helped me refocus what my top priorities and what my next step are,” Becca Harper ’15 says.

Students also learned about the ubiquity of Willamette-based professional connections.

“Willamette connections are everywhere, especially in the state of Oregon with Nike, big companies, nonprofits, private sector and government. They’re all here, they all have connections with other careers,” Taylor Mutch ’15 says.

Jamie Johnson ’18 agrees, adding that the event taught her the importance of ambition.

“One thing that I heard at least twice was that you have to ask for opportunities. You can’t let things come to you,” she says. “If there’s something you want, then you have to go out and get it.”

• Article by Emma Jonas ’15, creative writing major