William and Mary

Careers

Mark Edmundson

March 21, 2014 by

Mark Edmundson’s essay, Who Are You and What Are You Doing Here, was one of the first things I read for my creative writing class this semester. It was interesting, mainly for its syntax—it was relatable, directed toward undergraduates, but still combined an interesting vocabulary with a personally relevant subject. And secondly, it was perhaps the first, if not the only, piece I have read in my college career that was entirely about college. In the essay, Edmundson described his own undergraduate experience, his experiences teaching, and what higher education meant to him; he combines humor with solemnity, memories from the past with hopes for the future. He raised existential questions, forced me to think seriously about who I am, and what exactly I’m doing in college. As a student with an interest in pursuing a career in higher education, this was the first time I could actually connect with a written work we studied in class—it was a beautifully written, personally relevant piece.

And so when Edmundson came to speak to the English Department yesterday, I was more than thrilled. Here was a man, a brilliant man, who advocated studying a subject purely out of interest, for pursuing a career based on long term personal and career goals rather than salary, and for exploring the meaning of the self—what it is to be a young adult on the precipice of a career. In his lecture, Edmundson divided career paths into three ideals: Compassion, Courage, and Contemplation, and stated that essentially every career path correlates with an ideal (save for the arts, which constitute a separate ideal.) And here he was, this man who inspired me and gave me hope through his words, standing ten feet away and telling me I could choose a job I loved, simply because I loved it.

This is one of those moments when I felt so incredibly fortunate to be an undergraduate at William & Mary—this speaker, whose fame could not perhaps compete with the likes of Maya Angelou and the Dalai Lama, could journey here and talk to students like me, students whose lives he has changed without knowing. I had thought I had chosen the wrong major—the classic works of Dickinson and Dickens and James simply don’t hold the allure they used to. I know now that I have not chosen the wrong subject to study—I simply just needed to be re-inspired, to see English as something relatable and pertinent, rather than dusty novels from centuries past. Seeing an author—one who was very much alive, and acquainted with modernity, put English in perspective. Words will always be relevant, ideas will always inspire, and I do have the power to choose a career simply on the basis of personal ideals. I just needed someone to reaffirm it.

The Power of Teamwork: How I Know I’m Heading Down the Right Career Path

March 7, 2014 by

When I was in high school (and up to this point in college) all my school work had been rather lonely. In high school, group projects were only in class. In college a group meets just to delegate work for the individual members to do at home, and then meets up again to fit everything together. Most work is done silently and alone. The flow of knowledge is from teacher to student, and rarely do other students get involved in that relationship.

For most people, that works. I always thought it worked for me; it’s how I’ve been learning for the past 19 years. But this semester I started participating in more activities in the business school, and I found a totally new way of learning that makes more sense to me than anything before.

In late January, I participated in a conference called 3 Day Start-up, where teams literally build a company in 3 days. We started Friday night with everyone throwing around ideas for start-ups. New businesses do not need to be unique or revolutionary – you just need to do whatever it is better than anyone else. The 3DS participants with the best ideas pitched to the group, and we voted on 3 of our favorite ideas to execute during the weekend. We then split into groups and got to work. I ended up on a team that was trying to design a new hotel management system in which customers could check in on iPads and bypass the long check-in process. The traditional system costs about $30,000; we would sell ours for $4,000. Hotel clerks and clients would both have less hassle.

The guys who proposed this idea had been working on it for a while and already had a prototype set up. The team split into a group who worked on coding the system and a group who worked on marketing and business pitches. I was on the business side. My team spent Saturday doing market research – actually going from hotel to hotel to ask clerks what they thought about the product and what kind of suggestions they had for us. Learning about our market opened our eyes to a lot of nuances we would have never known about. Great Wolf Lodge, for example, we thought would love the idea because they get so busy at certain times. However, since they value customer interaction, they weren’t as enthusiastic about it as we thought. Other hotels, like the Hilton, thought it would be great during peak seasons or for business people who would rather avoid interaction.

On Sunday we worked on pitching the idea to investors and fitting the last pieces together. Watching everything come together was amazing! The prototype that the coders were working on all weekend looked like a professional app on an iPad. The business team had all the details of the pitch worked out. It was absolutely flawless, and I was so proud of the team.

The second instance of true teamwork happened for my Social Entrepreneurship class. The big project for the class is creating our own social venture in groups of 4. This is essentially like the 3 Day Start-up, except the start-ups are non-profits that help alleviate some sort of social problem. My group of four met up on a snowy night to figure out what in the world we were going to do for this project. What big social problem were we going to attempt to solve? We sat around pitching ideas, until someone said something that clicked for all of us: a website that crowd-sources local suggestions to fix local problems. We figured the best people to solve social problems are the ones actually there witnessing them.

With a big whiteboard and a rush of inspiration, we hashed out the business plan right there, challenging each others ideas and encouraging innovation. It was here that I had what I would call my first “flow” moment.

“Flow is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does.”

I felt invigorated and unstoppable, and this, I realized, is why I’m a business major. I learn from my peers, not myself. Sure, studying for an economics test is rewarding and challenging, but my own efforts are not nearly as spectacular as the ending product through teamwork. Both these experiences showed me that the combined knowledge of multiple people who are committed to a goal is far more powerful than the singular knowledge of one person. A team is the convergence of multiple experiences, viewpoints, and educations. A well-functioning team can increase productivity exponentially.

I just got my acceptance letter to the business school a few weeks ago, and I’m already ecstatic by the possibilities ahead. In the first semester, called “the block”, administration puts together groups of 4 or 5 students that take all classes together and work on homework and projects together. I’m so excited to integrate teamwork into my everyday education. For the first time in college, I can really visualize transferring my classroom setting to a work environment. It’s thrilling and satisfying to know the path I’m choosing is leading to a career that I’m going to love.

What I want to be when I grow up.

March 5, 2014 by

There are three questions every college senior gets asked.

  1. You’re a senior?! How does it feel?
  2. Do you know what you’re doing in May?
  3. What do you want to be when you grow up?

#3 is my personal favorite, because it instigates a sense of inescapable panic while simultaneously making me feel like a six year old. Typically I fire a generic response (“I’d like to pursue a career in marine science blah blah blah”). But Spring Break is here, meaning graduation is closer than I’d like to admit, and I can’t rely on generic responses forever. What do I want to be when I grow up?

The last time I knew exactly what I wanted to be, I was 8 years old. I wanted to be a country music star. I grew up listening to greats like Martina McBride, Jo Dee Messina, Sara Evans, and Reba McEntire (let me clarify: this was pre-Taylor Swift), and I was convinced I would get discovered, move to Nashville, and pursue a lifelong career in country music. My friend Katie and I would camp out in my basement, taping “demos” on her sister’s cassette recorder and speculating what we would do once we made it big. The closest I got to Nashville was my 4th grade talent show, where I sang a Dixie Chicks song while decked out in a cowboy hat and boots.

In many ways I envy 8-year-old me. I have never been so certain of my life plan as I was in that basement. But I grew up and my plans changed, especially after I learned it took more than the ability to hold a tune to make it big in the country music business (plus, my parents refused to move from Baltimore to Nashville).

In college, I made a great breakthrough when I decided I wanted to study marine science. Although I’m unsure where my studies will take me, limiting job options to a single discipline is a big feat. I’m fortunate that I’ve been able to experiment with many fields within marine science, and have subsequently narrowed down what I don’t want to do (I loved marine ecology, but marine geology was the absolute bane of my existence). But that still leaves me with a generic answer to question #3.

But I came a little closer to answering the question last week. Over winter break, I decided to apply for a fellowship that would take me abroad for nine months next year. It was up to the applicant to design a proposal—the only restrictions were that the research had to employ a method of digital storytelling and apply to a wide audience. The rest was up to the applicant. Inspired by my work with The Lionfish Project, I chose to study community-based invasive species management on islands.

I worked on the proposal for six weeks. I spent many late nights researching topics, often pushing aside piles of homework I’d have to scramble to make up later. There were even a few nights I chose my research over going out with friends, opting instead to stay huddled at my desk, reviewing research papers and writing hurriedly in my notebook. Piece by piece, my proposal came together. I spent the week before the due date meeting with professors and analyzing every line of my proposal, writing and rewriting until it was perfect. The night before it was due, I was up until almost 5am reviewing every tiny detail (no typos, all margins 1”, 12 pt Times New Roman font, all biographical data correct, etc).

I submitted the document at 11:17 on Friday morning, February 28th. As soon as I clicked the “Submit” button, I was flooded with a mix of pride, panic, and relief. But there was another feeling too.

Excitement.

I hadn’t been so excited about something since I wrote the proposal for The Lionfish Project in 2012. Never once did I mind the research—I looked forward to crafting, writing, and editing the proposal, and I was truly passionate about the topic. As I stared at the submission confirmation screen, I realized it didn’t even matter if I got the grant (although let’s be real, it would be awesome if I did). What mattered was that I had pursued a topic that made me truly happy.

So maybe I haven’t figured out exactly what I want to be when I grow up (although a marine biologist studying invasive species is definitely on the list). But that’s ok. This experience has shown me that no matter what I do, I want to be so passionate about it that it keeps me up at night. That might be a stretch, but maybe not. I have the rest of my life to find exactly what it is that makes me that excited.

For now, at least I know how to answer Question #3.

When I grow up, I want to be happy.

 

Serendipity

March 4, 2014 by

I’m sitting behind the information desk at the Wren Building, one of the last students on campus as I prepare to head home tomorrow for Spring Break. Three prospective students were here a few minutes ago, and they asked me a question I hadn’t heard in a while—what made me choose William & Mary?

It’s something that has been on my mind often as I approach the end of my third year of college. For me, it was a gut feeling, mostly—one that is difficult to quantify. On tours, I make up an answer—I say it was the campus, the people, the small size, and all of these things are not wrong. But how to I quantify to a group of strangers that it was a combination of all these factors and something more, a sense that I belonged here, that I had been here before? In terms of higher education, William & Mary was The One, there was no other—I had other options, sure, but I felt like I was supposed to be here, it was serendipitous, and I was not wrong. Here, I have been challenged in ways I could not have anticipated, I have met inspiring and brilliant people I feel lucky to call my friends, I have walked in the same footprints as the greats who have come before me—Thomas Jefferson, Glen Close, Robert Gates. I am a small part of a vast legacy.

It was a feeling for me, subjective, ephemeral, but real all the same. It is the same look I see in the eyes of brides as they prepare to walk down the aisle of the Wren Chapel, the same happiness that radiates from friends who have just accepted offers from their dream jobs. It’s a certainty, a readiness for the next chapter.

I’m looking for the same feeling now as I prepare my resume for summer job searches, and later, my career search. I only wish that making these decisions was as easy as choosing William & Mary—how will I know what I’m supposed to do with my life? How will I know with whom, and where, I’m supposed to spend it? It’s a sobering realization—that I will leave, and others will take my place here, as I will find my own in the world beyond Williamsburg.

I think that I’ll know what I’m supposed to do, some day, but I remind myself that I still have some time. I have another year here, with the friends and the people I love best, and then perhaps I’ll spend a gap year working on a llama farm (or something.) I have time, and when I know where I’m heading after this, I’ll just know, the same way I knew I was meant to be here.

Humanities Majors Are People Too

January 31, 2014 by

I walked in to Wawa last week with the intention of buying a coffee, and left instead with a coffee and a quarter life crisis. For the second time that week, the cashier was decidedly unimpressed when he asked what I was majoring in and I informed him I was studying English and Studio Art.

This hasn’t just happened at Wawa—it has happened at the Trader Joe’s in New Town, at parties, with the tourists I interact with at work. It would appear that a major in the humanities is an invitation for criticism, inspiring such comments as “What are you going to do with that?” and, “Are you going to be a teacher?” Never mind that I wrote sixty pages worth of papers last semester and created a six foot tall landscape drawing—I am deemed less impressive because my talents aren’t quite as desirable in the job market.

W&M is a liberal arts college, and thank goodness for that—here, there are just as many anthropology and philosophy majors as there are pre-med students. Here, it is not frowned upon to specialize in creative fields and the soft sciences, despite society’s disdain for non-STEM fields. Within the college bubble, I feel equally qualified for employment as any computer science major.

I have no doubt that the market is harder for humanities majors—it is an unforgiving work force, one where qualitative talents are overlooked in favor of quantitative skills. Even with a prestigious, $200,000 dollar degree, I can be sure to look forward to a competitive job market and a significant chance of unemployment. Despite the fact that I have worked hard, we have all worked hard, for those of us graduating with liberal arts majors, the market will be all the more uncertain.

Despite these difficulties, however, I do not regret my choice to pursue my passion. I struggle with math and science, I positively hate numbers—I will write you a haiku in 30 seconds flat, but give me a math problem and I am rendered incoherent. There is so much pressure to major in a financially stable field, one with a guaranteed paycheck, but for those of us without those skills, that option is simply nonexistent. I could no more major in computer science than I could climb Mount Everest in a swimsuit, because my brain simply is not circuited for numbers. Tell me to draw a pear—sure, I’ll draw you a pear, and it will be a good pear—my skills lie in the creative realm, and that does not make me any less intelligent than a math major.

This is why universities like William & Mary are essential, because for those of us with skills in the humanities, liberal arts colleges provide a supportive environment to explore our passions. A W&M economics major once told me, “we need to incentive the arts”—and it’s true. In a world with no English majors, no art minors, no sociology students, there would be no beauty and no novelty. Humanities majors, despite the stigma we face, are just as instrumental to society as STEM majors—our journey is just a little bit harder.

Last Days of the William & Mary Washington Winter Program

January 13, 2014 by

I don’t know how it was possible, but the last two days of the William & Mary Winter Washington Program were even busier than the first five.

Wednesday was our “Capitol Hill Day,” and like anyone who has a job on the Hill we did not stop all day. We started at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Room where we met Virginia Senator Tim Kaine. We talked to him about everything from foreign policy to how his Catholic faith affects his decision making. The freshman Senator was incredibly personable and even spent an extra 15 minutes answering our questions.

Right after our meeting with Senator Kaine we ran to the House side to meet my congressman, Frank Wolf. We could immediately tell that Congressman Wolf’s persona was different than Senator Kaine’s when he proceeded to lecture us on why he thinks that the Obama administration has failed to protect human rights around the world. It was interesting to see the stark differences in the two fairly moderate elected officials. Frank Wolf, who has held that seat in congress since before my birth, just recently announced his retirement which may explain why he was far more aggressive about expressing his views than the recently elected Senator.

The next session was a Capitol Hill staffer panel with William & Mary alumni Logan Ferree ’07, Sarah Elkins ’06, Rob Bradley ’10 and Kelly Hastings ’03. They proceeded to be very honest about the difficult paths they took to get their jobs on the Hill. After the panel we were given a tour of the Capitol Building where we were lucky enough to randomly meet an alumnus of the class of 1972 who gives tours of the Capitol. When he found out we were William & Mary students he challenged our foreign language skills by proceeding to speak in French, Turkish, Portuguese, Mandarin and many others. He told us he spoke 59 languages and that he was “the ultimate TWAMP.” We also got the opportunity to sit in the House Gallery which was especially exciting because they were voting on extending unemployment benefits that day.

Isabella Liou, Allie Rosenbluth, President Taylor Reveley, Diana Winter at the 7th Annual William & Mary Capitol Hill Reception

Isabella Liou, Allie Rosenbluth, President Taylor Reveley, Diana Winter at the 7th Annual William & Mary Capitol Hill Reception

Later that night we went to the 7th Annual William & Mary Alumni Capitol Hill banquet which turned out to be a pretty high profile event. Not only did President Taylor Reveley grace us with his always delightful presence, but also Senator Mark Warner, Senator Tim Kaine, law school alumna Representative Michelle Bachmann, Representative Steve Chabot ’75, Representative Dina Titus ’70, and the William & Mary Rector Todd Stottlemyer ’85. The event was a great way to meet all types of William & Mary alumni and catch up with old friends who recently graduated.

The next day started with a visit to the British Embassy. Originally I didn’t make the connection of what the British Embassy had to do with our class because I thought their primary role was working on British immigration and visas. At the embassy I found out this is very far from the truth. We talked to Jane Ansell and Matt Mazonkey who do policy and economic work for the embassy. I even found out that the British embassy has a group that works on climate change that especially sparked my interest since the UK is proudly one of the few developed nations to be on track to reach its 2015 emissions goals.

After going to the embassy, we had lunch with William & Mary’s Rector, Todd Stottlemyer. During lunch we were lucky enough to talk to him about issues on campus that really mattered to us such as tuition and financial aid, while he got the opportunity to explain some of the details of the William & Mary Promise the board just passed.

When lunch was over we were visited by three government contractors who filled us in on what they do. While I am not especially interested in contracting at the moment, I know it was a fantastic session for some of the seniors in my class who are looking to find work in that field. Next, we had a discussion with Thomas Whitehead ’06 who works for the USTR. He defends the United States in trade disagreements at the World Trade Organization. This was a great capstone for our class because it was a perfect illustration of how domestic and foreign policy influence each other.

I honestly cannot believe how much I have done in the last week during the William & Mary Washington Winter Seminar. It’s hard to imagine that in one week I’ve gained so much insight into the many different jobs in DC and I’ve only scratched the surface. This program has been a real wake up call for me, specifically that the plans I thought I had for the next three years may not be as concrete as I anticipated. I may actually have to let hard work and serendipity take me to where I belong, just like former ambassador Sanderson told us Monday night.

If you are considering doing the William & Mary Washington Winter Program I would strongly suggest it. Not only is it a great class, but it opens your mind to so many opportunities in DC. The William & Mary DC Office is absolutely fantastic. They are so supportive of all of their students, and I really do feel like I am part of the William & Mary DC family. I think that this program is best suited for seniors and juniors who are closer to entering the job market, but it is still a great opportunity for serious freshmen and sophomores. Honestly, I really wish I had more time at the William & Mary DC office, but because I have so many obligations on campus and in the summer I cannot extend my time with the office. If you have the opportunity to take a semester or a summer term with the DC office I would strongly recommend it. The William & Mary Washington Winter Seminar was a fantastic program, even for this DC girl.

William & Mary Winter Washington Seminar: Day 3 and 4 Overviews

January 8, 2014 by

Monday was a fantastic day for the William & Mary Washington Winter Program. Not only did I go home with ten frozen fingers and a bag full of EPA booklets, but also with a new confidence in my journey discovering my own career path.

We started our day by visiting the USAID office where we met alumni and USAID bureaucrats Sarah Glass ’01, Sarah Lane ’01, and Ana Luisa Pinto ’01 who sat down with our class to talk about their careers and the international development field in general. All three worked with private sector involvement in USAID but had different roles including economist, portfolio manager, and senior alliance advisor. I have to say, these were three vibrant ladies. You could tell that each woman had an incredible amount of passion for what they were doing for USAID which was inspiring to see.

After USAID and a long lunch, we went next door to the EPA where we met John Frece ’69 and Matt Dalbey ’87 who work in the EPA’s Smart Growth office. This office helps communities grow in ways that focus on the economic, public health, and environmental factors that are often overlooked during development. Sustainable land use has been an interest of mine since taking a seminar on the topic last school year, and this meeting was a great opportunity to see examples of the public sector’s involvement in the area. I think the Smart Growth program is something that every American city could benefit from if the program was given more resources to pursue more projects. Although this meeting was interesting, I think there was a general consensus in our group that a meeting with regulatory parts of the EPA would have been more relevant to the topic of this class.

Next, we went to the US State Department where we took a tour of the lavish diplomatic relations rooms and met with a panel of Foreign Service William & Mary alumni. During the tour we saw numerous antiques, some that were even owned by former presidents. Although the tour was interesting, I felt like I was back in Colonial Williamsburg. The alumni at the State Department panel really seemed to enjoy their jobs. They gave us advice about pursuing jobs in the Foreign Service which many of my peers found especially helpful. But, Ambassador Janet Sanderson ’77 gave us a more candid look into the pros and cons of working in the State Department at an intimate dinner she joined us for. The ambassador’s stories were remarkable and completely un-sugar-coated, which was refreshing after our previous trip to the State Department.

I believe that Monday was extremely beneficial for every student in the William & Mary Winter Washington Program because we were given career advice that could be applied to any interest. I would say that the most important lesson I learned Monday was that I will never be in complete control of my career path so I must accept that serendipity will take me to the job I am meant to be in if I continue to work hard.

Today was a much different experience. Evans started the day by priming our class with a presentation on financial disparity and the US deficit. Then the Tea Party arrived. I don’t want to get too political on this blog so I will try my best. Sitting on the Tea Party panel was alumnus Jason Torchinsky ’98, a lawyer, and his Tea Party counterparts Phil Kerpen and Ned Ryun. Kerpen is a free-market policy analyst and a frequent guest on Fox News. He was especially interesting to talk to. Although I do not agree with most of his politics, I do respect that he had passionate answers to all of our questions, but my classmates who continued to ask hard questions after witnessing his fire. It was definitely interesting to get an inside look at the Tea Party because it has become such a huge force in today’s politics. After listening to the Tea Party panel, we spoke with two more traditional republicans from the Bipartisan Policy Center. Bill Hoagland gave us an especially informative look into the history of the federal budget and the current state of the American deficit. In his presentation we saw more evidence that most federal spending is in healthcare and welfare for senior citizens, programs that are not losing funds at the expense of programs that invest in our country’s future.

Finally, a Politico defense reporter Austin Wright ’09 came to talk about his job as a journalist. Austin led a conversation about defense spending and the current problems congress has making cuts in military spending. We also discussed the Murray-Ryan deal that will probably be overturned in Congress soon. It seems to me that because of our large military-industrial complex and the large degree of localism in American politics, it is hard for congressmen to cut programs that bring jobs to their districts even if they are economically unsustainable.

I don’t think that these two days could have been more different. Both days were beneficial to my government education but I almost felt a little helpless after today’s focus on what’s so wrong with Washington, which is a stark difference from how I felt after visiting USAID, the EPA and the State Department on Monday. It is clear that this is a really bad time in Washington, but it is also clear that the situation is far from hopeless. Tomorrow we hit Capitol Hill to see where all of the mayhem takes place.

Whirlwind to the End

December 4, 2013 by

I can’t believe this is the last week of classes. Together, the students in our program have grown into young professionals and learned things that can never be taught in a classroom. I’ll give a recap of what we’ve been up to.

A few weekends ago, most of the program went down to campus for Homecoming. It was great to be surrounded by Tribe Pride instead of the concrete jungle of DC. The tailgates this year were awesome! A whole pig was being roasted on a grill and a bunch of student groups were rallying. Best of all, we won our game against JMU. Saturday night, a group of friends and I went to see Freelance Whales perform in Sadler. They were fantastic live – I’m always so impressed by the great bands W&M and AMP can book.

Ted Cruz

Ted Cruz

One of my highlights of the past few weeks was going to meet my Texas senators, John Cornyn and Ted Cruz. I tagged along with one of my fellow Cato interns from Texas who was invited to “Texas Tuesday” where the senators meet with their constituents in town. There’s an inexplicable comfort that comes from being in a room of all Texans. Ted Cruz has made such a stink up here in Washington, and although I don’t always agree with his politics, I respect him as a Texan representative. And it was cool to meet the guy who shutdown the government.

We had our last Slice of Advice from Adam, and he told us how to wrap up our internship and leave a lasting impression. He said to hold onto projects that can be put into a portfolio. Write a letter of thanks to your supervisor, and write a letter of advice to be given to the next person in your position. I would have loved to have a bit of guidance coming into my internship, so I’m definitely willing to give some hints to the next person.

During the Slice of Advice, the W&M in DC office staff were decorating the room for a baby shower to surprise Roxane. She was so surprised when she walked in! We played games like unscrambling baby words and Nursery Rhyme Jeopardy. She got some baby outfits and baby necessities. Of course, she needed those things a lot sooner than she thought because 4 days later, she went into labor a month early, and now we have Piper Quinn Adler Hickey.

Roxane's Baby Shower

Roxane’s Baby Shower

Upon realizing that we only had a few weeks left in DC, I spent a few weekends checking things off my DC “to-do” list. A friend from campus came one weekend and we went to the Smithsonian Museum of American History. It wasn’t the best Smithsonian I’d been to – it was a bit sparse in exhibits – but seeing the Star Spangled Banner was amazing. So much history in just that piece of fabric! After the Smithsonian, we went to Hill Country BBQ, which is apparently the best BBQ in DC. “Hill Country” refers to where I live – the hills in and around Austin. As an Austinite who has the real thing at home, this restaurant was impressively like the real thing. They even had Bluebell Ice Cream! Little did we know when we went, there was a Longhorn football game on. The entire restaurant was dressed in burnt orange. One guy had a Longhorn cape and a burnt orange suit! When UT scored, the restaurant erupted in cheers and chants. Eating BBQ with a bunch of Austinites, I rarely feel so at home even at home!

Also on my to-do list was a trip to Alexandria. The shops in Old Town were all really cute, and the trip was perfect for a fall day. We ended up stopping to eat in Killer ESP (espresso, sorbetto, pie). When it said pie, I thought that meant fruit pie, but turns out “pie” is quiche-like meat pies that were delicious. Also, we tried their home-made sorbet, and it was fantastic! I see why people love Alexandria – it’s a great escape from the city.

DC Program Thanksgiving Dinner

DC Program Thanksgiving Dinner

The next weekend I got up early on Saturday to go to the Holocaust Museum when it opened. It’s an interesting set-up: on the first floor, you pick up a little booklet that tells about someone in the Holocaust. Then you get in an elevator that takes you straight up to the fourth floor. In the elevator ride, you are shown a video introducing you to the museum, then you work your way through the exhibits. The fourth floor gave an explanation about the conditions in Germany that made the Holocaust manifest. The third floor gave detailed stories about the Jewish ghettos and the concentration camps. The second floor showed the rescue efforts and the aftermath. As you reached the next floor, you turned the page in your booklet to follow the journey of your person, and in the end you learn their fate. My girl “perished”. The most moving part was when the exhibit lead you through a train car that the victims had been shoved into for transport to the concentration camps. Standing in the car, you could smell the mildew and sweat, see hand prints on the floor, and feel the ghost of previous human presence. It was creepy. The museum was definitely one of my favorite things in DC – it gave me a much better understanding of the Holocaust.

Later I met up with other students in the program for Andrew’s birthday. He wanted to go to District Taco (yum!) and then to the Smithsonians. We started out at the Air and Space Museum, and then we were about to go to the American Indian Museum, when someone decided to jump off the fourth floor balcony and they evacuated the building…

On Sunday night, the program had our own little Thanksgiving. Everyone brought something, and we had a feast. Chris cooked a turkey, and Megan made fantastic sweet potatoes. There was mac-n-cheese and cranberry sauce and lots of desserts – it was perfect, and it got our tummies ready for the actual Thanksgiving!

For the next few days, we will be finishing up our essays and our internships and moving out. On Monday instead of class, Professor Abegaz invited a panel from the Millennium Challenge Corporation to speak to us and a handful of DC alumni. Tonight we have our farewell dinner with our bosses and mentors. It’s winding down, and I can’t believe this semester has gone by so fast!

What I wanted to be when I was grown up

December 2, 2013 by

A fireman, a lawyer, an astronaut, a scientist, a professional lottery winner, a philanthropist, even a male model were all on my list of future careers as I was growing up.

Birthday party as a kid.

Fire Engine Birthday Cake!!

Being homeless for three years certainly wasn’t on the list. Nor was the hereditary health problem that caused me to become homeless, be discharged from the U.S. Army reserve, and withdraw from Indiana University – where I used to study on academic scholarship.  No, that sure wasn’t how I envisioned my future as I stared blissfully at that fire engine birthday cake. Those events stunted my academic career to the point where I am now an undergraduate student 10 years older than my peers.

The basis for my idea of what I wanted to do when I grew up matured as I matured. When I was in a foster home (the picture above is from one that was initially good), I wanted to be a fireman because that fire truck was just so cool. It had a ladder and could spray a ton of water everywhere.  I could ride that truck on my way to rescue kittens in trees and save people. Then, when I was adopted into a family, Miles, the lawyer who arranged it, became my hero. I wanted to be like him – making things right, saving kids from bad people.

In elementary school, I started learning about science. What’s cooler than firetrucks? Being an astronaut in outer space, of course. It would be the grandest adventure ever. Exploring the stars, visiting all the planets, exploring the unknown, leaving the familiar behind. My mind seemed suited for science as I learned about Newton’s & Einstein’s work. There was so much depth and knowledge to uncover in our own world too.

Self-Taken High School Senior Photo

Self-Taken High School Senior Photo

As I got older, I became more aware of the need for money. My adoptive father worked a low-paying job at a bakery an hour away trying to provide for five children. Times could be tough back then. It showed in the disparity between us and the middle class kids in school. I knew the perfect solution:  to become a professional lottery winner! In my late high school years, I became selfish in my career ambitions and thought of becoming a male model. They made a lot of money, looked good, and were smooth with the ladies.

Then, while I was in my second year of university, I began to experience the health problems that ultimately led to my homelessness. That journey is long enough to fill a whole book, but if you’re interested, you can check out an old blog I started in the twilight of my life on the streets. Being homeless opened my eyes to a part of the American population that most people disregard as self-made poverty cases. I didn’t find that to be true. Eventually I was connected with a homeless support organization where a social worker helped me get back into college and find a job. At my new job a co-worker discovered I was homeless. She let me live with her, and I found a new, “adoptive” family.

This exposure to a sometimes overlooked socioeconomic problem and the kindheartedness that strangers showed to help someone in need truly inspired me. It inspired me to my newest aspiration of what I want to be when I grow up. I want to use my new passion and experience with the homeless community and current alleviation solutions to help the homeless people throughout our country. I plan to repudiate negative stereotypes by telling people about my experiences and to utilize the kindness of others in intelligent ways.

Sullivan Foundation Retreat Weekend

Sullivan Foundation Retreat Weekend

The College of William & Mary recently helped me explore my passion by paying for me to attend a social entrepreneurship convention in North Carolina run by the Sullivan Foundation. During this “retreat” weekend, students discussed and contemplated big questions such as what are you truly passionate about and what would you do if money wasn’t a concern. Those who had an idea that they wanted to manifest into a positive change in the world got to sit down in a small group and exchange ideas with each other and a facilitator who works for a non-profit. We also had a crash course in design thinking and formed some mock business plans for socially-conscious firms. Through this exploration I came to the realization that while helping people was my passion, I was not willing to make sacrifices to my personal financial security.

I don’t want to have to worry about paying my bills just because I choose to make a career out of helping others. Starting my own venture would be too risky, and I don’t want to grind years of experience to get a decision-maker/change-maker job helping people. Thus, I plan on attending graduate school and then either working full-time in a professional law or business career while manifesting my philanthropic aspirations on my own time OR earning an MBA then working full-time in management for a large, well-funded organization that helps Americans in need.

It’s tough knowing what you want to do with your life at such a young age. Some people are fortunate enough to find their passion as a kid with college just serving as credential development to get their dream job. Other times, you have to learn about different subjects or explore different jobs to find your passion, and that’s perfectly fine. A retiree turned business professor told me recently that sometimes you even find that what you’re passionate about changes every decade. Unexpectedly, I figured out what I wanted to do through a painful experience.

Whatever you want to be when you’re grown up and out of William & Mary, make sure it’s something you’re passionate about and don’t forget to take some time to help the community in which you live and work. And if you haven’t figured out your passion, it’s okay. Try a class that sounds interesting; talk to our wonderful faculty advisors or the Career Center; and don’t forget about your professors. They are fountains of knowledge and experience, eager to pass that on to you.

This could change your life.

November 18, 2013 by

Have you ever faced a moment that might change your life?

Do you remember the feeling? It’s a lot of nervous anticipation combined with excitement and cautious optimism. There’s also a lot of, “how did I get here?”

I know the feeling, because it’s exactly how I feel right now.

As I write this, I’m sitting in a coffee shop just one block away from the National Geographic headquarters. In one hour, I’ll pack my bag and walk into the lobby, where I’ll be met by a stranger. She will lead me through the building into a conference room where there will be more people I’ve never met. I then have ten minutes to present my research from the summer and try to convince this group of strangers that they made a good investment when they decided to give me a grant. Oh, yea, and this group of strangers consists of some of the top leaders in the field—they are archaeologists, zoologists, writers, photographers, conservationists and anthropologists.

No pressure, right?

So as I sit here, between obsessively practicing my presentation and downing cups of coffee (but let’s be real – it’s not like I need more caffeine), my mind wanders to all of my senior friends who have experienced this exact feeling. That feeling your life is about to change.

When I was a freshman, seniors seemed in a league of their own—the three-year age difference felt like an unbreakable barrier. Although I had senior friends, our friendship was relatively superficial, as there were few that I found I could really relate to. It didn’t bother me much, I had plenty of underclassman friends to occupy my time, but I never quite understood the difference between the seniors and myself. Yea, they’re about to graduate, but we’re all college students, right?

Now that I’m a senior, I see things differently. As underclassmen, you may not know what you’re doing for the summer, but you know that ultimately you’re coming back to W&M. For the immediate future, you’re set. As seniors, we’re staring down a path with a “Road Ends Here” sign, and a great, empty void beyond it. Some view this void with great anxiety, but I find it unbelievably exciting (although ask me again in March and see what happens).

Our last year at school is dedicated to filling that void. Weeks consist of information sessions, job applications, Career Center appointments, and stressed conversations with friends to commiserate about it all. And within that are dozens of tiny moments where you get that feeling. You feel it in that moment right before you hit the “Send” button for that cold email to your dream employer. You feel it right before you drop the application for that fellowship you’ve been dreaming about for months into the mailbox. You feel it as you’re straightening your tie in the waiting area, right before the interviewer calls you in. And although you know there were hundreds of moments that led you to this point, this is the big one. Could this be the moment that changes my life?

Of course, there will be our fair share of rejections and dead ends. But we have no way of knowing, and that uncertainty keeps us pushing forward with each application and interview.

This presentation could be nothing more than a chance for me to practice my public speaking. They could be uninterested or preoccupied. They could be perfectly pleasant, but forget me as soon as I leave the room.

Or, not. I’ll have no way of knowing. I can only focus on putting my best foot forward and hope for the best. Isn’t that what we’re all trying to do anyway?

For now, it’s time to go! Fingers crossed!