Alumni discuss careers at thought-provoking event for students

Willamette's University's Career Services and Alumni Relations offices recently co-hosted an event called "You're Doing What With Your Major?" inviting undergraduates to mingle and converse with alumni in potential careers of interest.

The event featured nine panels of alumni working in varying fields: green jobs, nonprofits, government, marketing and communications, science and health, business, sports, technology and art. Students had the opportunity to attend three of the half-hour presentations and spent the majority of the time interacting and asking questions of the alumni.

Nike, the Portland Veterans Affairs Research Foundation, the Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, Intel, EcoTrust, the Oregon Department of Energy and the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Oregon were just some of the companies and nonprofits where the alumni were now working.

Listeners sat in intimate groups of four to ten while the speakers opened up about their career paths, their regrets, their triumphs and most importantly, their advice. No matter what their academic major or career, the alumni stressed the importance of their liberal arts education in their journey through job searching, career development and life in general.

Reflecting on the Liberal Arts

Kris Gates '91, MAT'92, a chemistry and English major, discussed the winding path she took to becoming a forensic chemist for the Oregon State Police, specializing in trace evidence. After earning both her bachelor's degree and her master's in teaching from Willamette, and went on to teach physics and chemistry.

Some years later, she found that her passion for teaching was exhausted, and her liberal arts background allowed her switch seamlessly to being a chemist.

"At Willamette, you get that background," she said. "In real life, things aren't divided into majors. Everything cross-correlates."

Biology and studio art major Rachael Warren-Allen '04 said that she has been able to balance her two passions partly because of the opportunities she had to develop in both fields during her time at Willamette. The unlikely combination of her majors doesn't impede her success — she works both in a cell biology lab and as an artist.

"You have to ignore the ‘what-are-you-going-to-do-with-those-things-together?' comments, and focus on knowing yourself," she said. "You can't take it personally. Not everyone gets the full spectrum liberal arts background."

J.D. Roth '91, a psychology major, also attributed his success to his liberal arts background. Roth runs a personal finance blog called Get Rich Slowly that focuses on financial responsibility. He also is a freelance writer and was recently hailed by Money magazine as writer of the "most inspiring money blog."

"Being a blogger doesn't seem like a job," he said. "But my liberal arts background really allowed me to create a niche and make a profession out of it. I've learned that the liberal arts experience eventually ties together in ways you don't realize."

Inspiring the Alumni of Tomorrow

The event left students with a new set of perspectives on majors, finding jobs, pursuing dreams and what their Willamette education has in store for them for many years to come.

"This event was such a mind-opener," said Larissa DeHaas '13, an environmental science major. "Now I know better what I should be planning to do for the next two and a half years to keep pursuing what I want to be doing for the rest of my life.

"It made me really excited to graduate. I have a new angle on what is possible for me."