The Daily Illini

UI staff show career path not always traditional

By Natalie Stewart

The general formula for college students is to go to school, get a degree and eventually land a job in their field. But sometimes the path to that cookie-cutter career is not a straight and narrow one.

Some of the advisors and staff at the University can attest to the fact that their current careers are not what they initially set out to do.

Terry Cole, an advisor in Media, earned his bachelor’s degree in recreation sports and tourism with a concentration in sports management at the University. He said uncertainty sparked his early career endeavors.

“(I) really didn’t know what I wanted to do. I was searching. And I think that’s part of why I wasn’t so successful because I didn’t know what I wanted to do,” Cole said.

It was after spending some time working in “the real world” that Cole said he discovered his true passion.

“I thought it was coaching, but it really was helping mentor young students and helping them find their ways through middle school, high school, through their family problems,”Cole said. “And that really just led to when I finally got back into school, that passion just kind of continued to wanting to work with students. Wanting to improve the student experience on campus.”

According to Jennifer Neef, associate director of the Career Center, acquiring a position as an academic advisor requires a range of skills that don’t necessarily have to stem from the traditional route.

“Sometimes in academic advising roles, the hiring unit highly values candidates that may have a degree in that discipline,” she said. “And so sometimes it’s advantageous if someone is wanting to be an academic advisor in the department of math to have had a degree in math.”

However, Neef noted that it takes more than just a degree in math to be a good math academic advisor. She said they have to have the right skill set and interest of working in higher education.

Micah Heumann, an advisor in DGS, earned his bachelor’s degree in psychology at the University. After spending some time working as a psychological counselor, he said he wanted to return to the university as a faculty member.

Despite his background in psychology, Heumann said he felt he was still well-equipped for the advising position because of the type of skills he gleaned working with patients. For instance, he said his counseling skills help him read the body language of students when they come in.

Just like Heumann, Cole said experiences working outside the field made his passion and direction even more apparent. As a graduate mentor, he worked at the Office of Minority Student Affairs, which helped him realize his true career path.

“It wasn’t so much that I knew that I wanted to be an academic advisor as much as I knew that I wanted to advocate for students,” he said. “So that experience with Minority Student Affairs was what was convincing for me for sure.”

Neef said there is no one-size-fits-all career path for college students majoring in different types of vocations.

“For students that are in majors that are more broad and are not tied to one specific vocation or they’re tied to many occupations or vocations, it’s hard to even determine what is considered pursuing a job in someone’s field,” Neef said.

In 2013, only 27.3% of individuals with bachelor’s degrees had jobs closely related to their college major, according to a study called “Do Big Cities Help College Graduates Find Better Jobs?”, conducted by economists Jaison R. Abel and Richard Deitz of the New York Fed’s Research and Statistics Group. Neef said she can personally attest to the fact that though some college graduates don’t directly work in the fields in which they majored, the skills they learn can be transferable.

Neef’s bachelor’s degree is in animal science and her master’s is in animal nutrition. Though she did not become a nutritionist, she said that she still achieved many of her original career goals.

“I knew I wanted to work in an educational setting and I wanted to work on a big campus. I thought that I wanted to be sort of working at the intersection of animal science and what that means for educating people related to animal agriculture, but life happened and I took a different path to end up here,” she said. “There are some things that I knew early on in my college career that I was looking for, it’s just in a completely different setting now.”

When it comes to finding a specific path and career goal to pursue, Neef said there is no specific answer.

“It’s a winding path that I took and that many people take as well, particularly as people progress through their careers,” she said. “It’s a career web, it’s not a linear path , its not a ladder anymore, it’s a whole web of opportunities.”

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