Alumni offer advice on how to make the most out of a post-college career
From the moment a student arrives at Central Michigan University to the final minutes of their last class during senior year, students are working to earn a degree.
On graduation day, as they sit among a sea of maroon robes and mortar boards, many students are contemplating the same thing: What comes next?
Seven alumni took the time to share stories with Central Michigan Life about their journey into the “real world.” The alumni offer guidelines for how to make the most out of a graduate’s post-college transition, from those who graduated in 2010 to those who walked in commencement less than six months ago.
As this chapter comes to a close in the life of more than 3,000 seniors, we hope the advice and observations imparted to them is taken to heart for not just current graduates, but future ones as well.
2010: Just outside of home
While his years at college were enjoyable, Jeff Stoutenburg said his 2010 commencement ceremony was “horrible.”
“When I graduated, (McGuirk Arena) hadn’t been built yet, so we (graduated) outside and it rained, snowed and hailed all within the two-hour ceremony,” he said. “It was absolutely terrible.”
The Cass City native has had a much better experience with his post-college life. He said it’s important for recent graduates to make themselves marketable through means “other than their degrees.”
“If you’re a graduating senior with debt, you’re one of (more than) 100,000 people coming out of school with a degree,” Stoutenburg said. “A degree is no longer the gold standard. There has to be something which distinguishes you from everyone else. Students have to take it upon themselves to figure out what (differentiates) them, because a college degree is no longer it. That’s the least unique thing about you.”
Stoutenburg now lives in Midland, working as a public policy manager at Dow Chemical Company. After interning in Lansing throughout his senior year, working on political campaigns, he said he changed career paths because of “personal and professional” reasons.
Fellow 2010 alumna Danielle Leone said students shouldn’t feel nailed down to a job because of their majors.
Leone coached the cheerleading team for six years at Henry Ford II High School in Sterling Heights before starting work as the marketing and event specialist at the Kresge Eye Institute in Detroit.
When she needed to focus on beginning to repay nearly $70,000 worth of student loans, Leone started to panic.
“When I first looked at my finances after graduation, I had a panic attack. It freaked me out,” she said. “It seemed like such a big number —and it is — but I think if you plan yourself correctly you’ll be fine.”
Leone said with the help of a financial adviser, she learned how to budget herself to more efficiently pay back loans — something she said she wouldn’t have learned otherwise.
Once she put herself on a “self-imposed salary,” Leone said, bill payments became something routine rather than something dreaded.
“I really had to buckle myself down and say ‘I don’t want to be in debt forever,’” she said. “Every graduate should get control of their finances and understand what they have to pay back and how they’re going to do it.”
2011: In a courthouse
Brittany Mouzourakis admits she initially got into her law career for the wrong reasons.
The Garden City native graduated CMU in 2011 with a major in international business, paired with Japanese, and a double minor in legal studies and environmental studies. Originally wanting to be a politician — hoping to one day become a U.S. Senator — Mouzourakis set her sights on being a lawyer so she would have the ability to rise through the ranks.
Once she got to CMU however, she said many of her professors influenced her to “look at the bigger picture,” which caused her to change her ambitions to becoming an attorney.
During her time on-campus, Mouzourakis admitted to being over-involved, and said if she could tell her freshman self anything, it would be to relax.
One of Mouzourakis’ goals while attending CMU was to study abroad in Greece, something she never did.
“I wish I would have seized all opportunities before me and not made decisions based on the fear of missing out,” she said. “I was so serious about my education, graduating in four years, and going to law school that I thought (studying abroad) would set me back.”
Immediately after graduating from CMU, Mouzourakis attended Pennsylvania State University - Dickinson Law and graduated in 2014.
She knows there are other students on campus with the same feeling, Mouzourakis said, and she hopes they’ll set aside time for themselves.
“This is the time to go out into the world,” she said. “It’s really the only time that you have — these four years — to get into the things you would like to do. Once you enter into your career, it’s very difficult to take time off to travel and it’s difficult to pursue new passions.”
Now she is a judicial law clerk for the Honorable Judge Bernard Friedman in the Theodore Levin U.S. Courthouse in Detroit, Mouzourakis also volunteers at a Haven shelter for domestic violence and works with animal rights groups.
2012: Going to California
Competing against business graduates from Stanford University and University of California, Berkeley, Ryan Pimlott wasn’t nervous. The 2010 graduate was determined.
The Farmington Hills native graduated from CMU in fall 2012 with a major in international business. He moved to Silicon Valley after throwing himself into several different careers post-graduation, from an automotive safety company to landing a job at the sales readiness company MindTickle.
“I literally just wanted to get experience and find a role where I had a lot of accountability, mixed with travel,” Pimlott said. “You can’t always get the dream job right out of college, so for me, it was all about getting the really good experience. I didn’t really have a focus on what or where, just ‘let’s get going.’”
For students in a similar position, Pimlott said the importance of interning prior to graduation makes “a world of difference.” Internships can help build connections with people in a career they might be interested in.
“Experience on your resume is gold,” he said. “The best thing you can do right away is to get into a job (out of college) and gain experience. Networking is the icing on the cake.”
Out in the valley, Pimlott said he works closely with other business graduates from schools more than double CMU’s size. The one thing he has which those alumni don’t, he said, is the social skills CMU has provided him with. The ability to network and communicate articulately, isn’t always something seen in business graduates from other universities.
The ability to interact with international students as both a resident assistant in Herrig Hall and in his classes helped to lay a foundation for interaction with coworkers and clients.
“CMU allowed me to develop the social skills I may not have developed at some of these top schools,” Pimlott said. “You can study from a book, you can get the foundations and all that, but if you can’t interact with (other businessmen) and hold conversations, it’ll hold you back.”
2013: With your best friend
It wasn’t long after Pimlott moved to California that his old roommate and high school friend Matt Sanders joined him.
Sanders, who majored in management information systems, graduated from CMU in 2013 and landed a job at AppDynamics, a company which evaluates performance and availability of applications across computing platforms.
As one of Pimlott’s clients, Sanders gets the unique experience of not just working in a job he enjoys, but with one of his best friends.
"My plan (after graduation) was just to get out an explore,” he said. “In my first three years in the (working world) I held three different roles. I think a majority of it was about finding what I was passionate about.”
Instead of encouraging students to take any job upon graduation, Sanders said students should also build up a resume that features different accomplishments and involvements.
By having diverse interests, he said, a graduate looks more interesting to a potential employer.
Students should also be prepared to change jobs several times during their work lives, Sanders said. If a student or a graduate uses those miscellaneous jobs to network, time spent in an undesirable career can be beneficial.
“As much as you think at 22 years old you think you know what you want to do for the rest of your life, you probably don’t,” Sanders said. “Every new grad finds that out pretty fast. Use that time to just talk to people across the company. Figure out what people are doing and what interests you or fuels your passion.”
2014: In a flower shop and a hospital
On any given week, Trenton native Mike Nowak could both screen you for cancer and make you a bouquet.
The 2014 graduate works three days a week at a Beaumont Hospital in Dearborn as a genetic counseling assistant. The rest of the week, Nowak “wears many hats” at Olds’ Flower Shop where he might arrange flowers, work a cash register or deliver floral arrangements.
At 24 years old, Nowak said moving back in with his parents and working two part-time jobs is his reality.
“Sometimes, you get caught up in the idea that once you graduate college, everything will fall into place. You think you’ll immediately get your own (house) and start making great money,” he said. “In my experience, and looking at a lot of my friends, (we’re) in a very similar boat. They’re scraping by, not really in a career or in a job that pertains to their major.”
Nowak graduated CMU with a 3.4 GPA and a biology degree. He said despite good grades in both college and high school, students should understand they might not land their “dream careers” immediately after graduation.
This shouldn’t deter graduates, he said. It should motivate them.
“It’s OK for (graduates) to take a year or two off between school and their job, so long as they have a plan (for life) and know they’re going to stick with it,” he said.
2015: In the White House
Less than six months ago, Comstock Park alumni Taylor Gehrcke was graduating with a bachelor’s of science in political science. Now, he lives full time in Washington D.C., reviewing internship applications submitted to the White House.
“I’m really responsible for supporting any events which the White House puts on,” he said. “No day looks the same just because there are so many different things happening. You just never know what’s going to pop up or what deadline you’ll have to meet next.”
Gehrcke started working in Washington D.C. as an advance intern for the Office of the Vice President his senior year at CMU. This, Gehrcke said, put him at an advantage compared to other CMU students who didn’t leave college with an internship.
Gehrcke said the importance of internships for both graduating and non-graduating students “could not be stressed enough.”
If a student can’t land an internship, however, Gehrcke said even the “down time” could be used to further a graduate’s career.
For students who still view graduation as far away, Gehrcke said undergraduates should focus more on what they want to do with their degree and career, and less on “who they want to be.”
“If you focus on who you want to be, you’re just going to be a position who goes to work every day and does the same thing,” he said. “But if you focus on what you want to do, you’ll recognize what your passion is and you’ll be working towards that passion every day, no matter what your (career) is. If you do (this), you’ll be a lot more satisfied.”