Major Stories: Barbara

This week, for our final interview post of the semester, we’ll be spotlighting one last EU grad—Barbara Burger, class of ’71. Barbara graduated from Eastern Baptist College with degrees in Anthropology and Sociology, as well as a minor in psychology, having barbarabergertransferred to Eastern her second year at college.  Barbara is now retired and living in scenic Santa Barbara, CA, sandwiched between sweeping mountains on one side and the roaring Pacific Ocean on the other.  The journey from Eastern undergrad to Santa Barbara retiree was one great adventure.


Barbara came to Eastern excited for classes with renowned grad Tony Campolo, having previously heard him speak and been enraptured. Once a part of his classes, Barbara was not let down and was deeply influenced by her courses with Tony. After soaking up as much wisdom as she could from him and her other professors and graduating in May, Barbara joined the workforce.

She was hired by Executive Director of the Department of Adult Services in Bucks County, Pennsylvania shortly after graduation. Barbara worked there, in the county administration offices of Doylestown as the Coordinator of New Information Referral Services for Bucks County, hired to create a county-wide information and referral service. When Barbara wasn’t working, she was busy pursuing an additional degree in horticultural studies, which has been a lifelong interest. At her home in Santa Barbara, she has terrariums, does flower arranging, and keeps gardens.

However, before Barbara was able to finish her horticulture degree, she decided to leave her job of four years and move to Minnesota with some friends in the winter of 1975. There, she spent a year working in retail, but found that the job held no allure as a career and ultimately decided to re-uproot herself and move to her dream home, Santa Barbara, in the spring of 1976. Barbara reminisces on this move, saying “I can still remember the scent of orange blossoms as I drove across the California state border and thinking I had arrived in utopia…when I drove up Santa Barbara Street, seeing the palm trees, the crimson bougainvillea, and people sitting out on the grass reading the paper, I knew I had come home.”

Once in Santa Barbara, one of Barbara’s first positions was as a dispatcher for the Montecito Fire Department. She worked there for two years while she studied for her Master’s Degree in Public Service Administration at the University of Redlands, Alfred North Whitehead Extension.

Following the position with the fire department, Barbara worked at St. Francis Hospital in Santa Barbara as the Community Relations Coordinator, writing newsletters and serving as a public liaison while also running the Pro-Celebrity Golf Tournament (I guess you could now say she was a fundraiser, too) for over three years.

In the winter of 1984, Barbara was offered the opportunity to study abroad in Cambridge, England with a class from Santa Barbara City College. There (unrelated to her degree), she studied British history, literature, Shakespeare, and politics. She and her class traveled throughout the UK to Stratford on Avon, York, Edinburgh, and of course, London. During breaks in the semester and after its end, Barbara also took advantage of the opportunity to do some traveling on her own, visiting Holland, as well as other countries throughout Europe.

When Barbara returned to California in June having completed her coursework, she was not returning to any particular job or commitment and took advantage of the opportunity to spend the summer going on the adventures she had always wanted to. She visited Hawaii and camped in Yosemite—a thrilling continuation of the adventures of the past five months as she continued the search for the right job. She found it, she says, when Peter Garnick asked her to join the Santa Barbara Symphony’s team as Marketing Director. This, says Barbara, is when she found her niche.

Although the first year was incredibly demanding in how much needed to be done so quickly (e.g. finding a new Music Director and creating new graphics), Barbara found her interaction with musicians, volunteers, subscribers, and staff to be life-giving, making the

Santa Barbara Symphony - Barbara Burger Farewell  4/21/12 Granada Theatre

Santa Barbara Symphony, Barbara’s Farewell, 4/21/12, Granada Theatre

craziness worthwhile.  After 28 years at the Santa Barbara Symphony, Barbara is officially retired, but says that she has never stopped growing.

She remains on five Arts Boards and committees and has also joined her fiancé, Paul, in a business renovating apartments and houses. It’s a huge undertaking, and a different kind of work, but is also enormously fulfilling as Barbara works with contractors and other professionals to complete projects and provide homes for people in a town where there is barely 1% vacancy.

In addition to these undertakings, Barbara works as the publicist for State Street Ballet, the resident professional company in Santa Barbara. She’s currently working to promote their annual Nutcracker performance and is also striving to find new and challenging ways to market the ballet.

All Barbara’s life, she says, “working with community, making situations better for others, [has been] a real passion.”  This is plain to see, from her courses of study to the jobs she has undertaken, to the committees she works with, to the time she spends volunteering at the local church. Barbara has embraced Christ’s call to love and serve others and the world, and has made it uniquely her own, carrying it out distinctly over the course of her career and life.

For those just starting out after graduation, Barbara encourages them to look into the field they studied in college, as well as any related field (and what they’re most qualified for) and then begin knocking on doors. Barbara says that she’s “a big advocate of trying a lot of doors—they don’t open if they’re not supposed to! You have keep trying, because the right one will open, and each door will eventually lead you to where you’re meant to be. It’s being in the hallway and waiting for the door to open that’s the hard part.”

Barbara also describes herself as “a real believer in being guided.” She notes how important it is to really pay attention for the ways the Lord might be directing our paths. We have to be sensitive to that, and trust that we’re going to end up where we’re meant to be, even if it takes a pretty circuitous route to get there. Looking back, Barbara likes to quote a poem she once heard.  It says: “I am the Poem I would have written.”  And this, Barbara says, is how she sums up her journey. She cannot conceive of having lived a more beautiful life.


Major Stories: Jason

This week we’ll be spotlighting another proud EU grad, Jason McConachy! Originally from New Jersey, Jason graduated from Eastern in May of 2000 with degrees in Political Science and History.

From a young age, Jason has followed institutions like Congress and politics; they’ve always been on his radar, and so it only made sense for him to go to college with political science in mind. He added his second major, in history, somewhere along the way, saying that it just kind of made sense to study history alongside political science.

After completing his undergraduate studies, Jason then pursued a Master of Public Policy at American University in Washington D.C., and completed the program in May of 2002. While Jason worked towards his masters, he was also working through a student work program called the Student Career Experience Program, where he interned with the Federal Highway Administration. A lot of Jason’s undergraduate studies in political science came into play here, enabling him to better understand how legislation is done, as well as how Congress and public agencies they worked with functioned.

Upon graduating from American, Jason began working as a PMI (or Presidential Management Intern). In this role, he served as a Budget Analyst for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Jason’s work at NOAA was much like that of a Budget Analyst anywhere in federal government: he looked at the resources they had and helped prepare the justification that goes to congress for funding.  After a year and a half, he transitioned to work for the Health and Human Services Department in the Administration on Aging, working with IT services and budget management.  Today, Jason still works as a part of the Department of Health and Human Services, but now as a part of the Office of Inspector General.  Jason served 5 years as the OIG’s Budget Director and is now a special assistant to the CFO.

Jason’s current role includes advising on matters of budget, management, and operations and  coordinating with folks to make sure OIG has the mission support activities for an organization of over 1,600 people in over 70 locations.

He says that the best part of his job is when he is able to see the impact he has made by the work he does, and told a story illustrating this that took place within the past few years. HHS OIG was involved in investigations that led to a doctor having to stop practicing and being sent to jail, as the doctor had been telling healthy patients that they had cancer and then giving them chemotherapy so that he could bill the government for the federal financial support involved in the medical processes. The patients then had to suffer all of the side effects of unnecessary treatment while the doctor made off with the fees. (You can read more about this here or watch an American Greed episode about it here!). OIG was involved in the investigation that put a stop to this, and this demonstrates the impact of public service, which continues to drive his work.

Looking back, Jason says that his college self might be surprised to see him where he is now—after all, his current self is sometimes still surprised!—but would recognize the way that it fits, and makes sense. He points out that although we don’t always take the time to look back and appreciate it, there is so much that goes into where we end up after college.  Looking at all of the opportunities he’s had that have gotten him where he is, Jason says that he’s really got to appreciate them, he has to be grateful—and we all should.

Jason points to his time at the highway administration and the mentorship he received there as particularly defining in his career path. Due to his studies at Eastern, which led to his Master’s program at American, he had access to practical experiences that had great impact on his career path. At Eastern, his involvement with student government, Waltonian, the Leadership Fellows Program (LFP), and all the extracurriculars he was involved in were critical.  He says those kinds of experience are great to have on a resume, especially if you haven’t held many jobs. Jason looked even further back, pointing to an experience in high school as enabling him to get into LFP and be able to attend Eastern. The chain just seems to go on and on. Yes, academics were foundationally important, they honed his critical thinking and prepared him technically, but for Jason, it was the extracurricular pieces that really led him to where he is today.

When asked what advice he might offer to current undergraduates, Jason points out that most folks don’t know what they want to do until they have a real experience of it—so you need to get out there and get the experience! He might have gone elsewhere given different opportunities, but this is where he is now, and he loves it. Not only do experiences like internships play a key role in helping us to figure out what we want to do, but they are also crucial to figuring out how to create the way there. They offer us experience and knowledge, helping us to become marketable in that field. They often offer mentorship and guidance, in short, all of the things that Jason is most grateful for as he looks back, all of the things that played the biggest roles in his career journey.

Major Stories: Nathan

This week, we’ll be continuing our Major Stories series, this time spotlighting one of our own graduates: Nathan Farris!  Nathan, originally from Kansas, is a proud graduate of the Eastern University class of 2013.  He studied as a part of the Templeton Honors College and majored in Economics and Philosophy.

Nathan entered college intending to major in economic development.  He was interested in the practical development aspects and economics, but soon found that the major wasn’t quite what he had in mind.  At that point, he worked alongside staff to design his own major, in Economics and Philosophy.  Rather than taking up any minors with his extra course space, Nathan chose instead to use that opportunity to take a variety of different course offerings spanning his diverse academic interests.

After completing his studies at Eastern, Nathan then pursued further studies at the University of Pennsylvania Law School—one of the top rated law schools in the U.S.  This program entailed three years of intensive study, at the end of which Nathan was ready to enter the work force.  The first year was a series of strictly required courses preparing him for a law career, and the second and third years allowed a little more room for law electives, seminars, clinics, and externships.  All of this worked together to prepare Nathan for the career ahead.  He graduated his law program in May 2016, passed the bar exam, and began working at his first job.

Nathan went directly into Real Estate law, as an Associate with Ballard Spahr, a national law firm headquartered in Philadelphia As a real estate attorney, Nathan works on a variety land use issues, including zoning, historical preservation, and real estate tax appeals. He also works on all aspects of real estate transactions. To use Nathan’s words, he deals with “all the stuff no one thinks of until they want to build something.”

Nathan says that, for now at least, the hardest part of the job is all the learning it involves.  Even after three years of intensive law study, there is so much that you don’t know, so much that can only be learned on the job.  And that’s what a lot of this first year in the work force has entailed for Nathan.  It’s a lot of work and a lot of time; it’s hard, but for Nathan, it is worthwhile and enjoyable nonetheless.  What Nathan loves most is that the things he works on affect the physical built environment of the city.  He’s very interested in New Urbanism and the way that the built environment affects our lives as human persons; it’s incredible for him to get to be a part of how that plays out in Philadelphia.

Despite Nathan’s working in a very specific and highly technical field, his undergraduate studies play a role nonetheless.  Studying philosophy, Nathan learned to read well and to be able to analyze a lot of [often dense] material and then write about it—he uses those skills every single day.  Not only that, but it was as in his undergraduate classes—like Philosophy of Art and Culture—that  Nathan developed his passion for what he does.  It was there that he came to understand and love the philosophy of design, new urbanism, and the impact of the built environment—those things that drive his passion for his career and led him into it.

Even though Nathan is passionate about what he does now, he says that his freshman self would have been very surprised to see him end up where he did.  He points to a few defining experiences and people in his life, along the road to this career.  For one thing, both his father and brother are real estate lawyers as well, and Nathan has been told he should become a lawyer almost his entire life.  He also considers Dr. R.J. Snell and the various courses taken under his tutelage (including the aforementioned Philosophy of Art and Culture) to have been instrumental.

Nathan says that he now feels at home in this career; even as he learns more each day, he knows that this is the right path for him.  When asked the best advice he could offer to students as they try to discern a career path and the direction of their life, Nathan replied that he thinks it’s important to know that “the whole career thing is going to come in fits and starts, and that’s okay—you don’t have to be doing the exact thing you want to do right when you start out.”

Almost no one gets their dream job right out of college, and that doesn’t mean they’re failing!  Getting that right job takes concerted effort, a lot of hard work, and a lot of ground work.  It means developing transferable skills, gaining industry experience, and building a network.  It’s enough to start out doing something you love and build up from there.  In the meantime, we can do something we care about, and we should try not to be anxious as we go because we’ll only do ourselves a disservice.  Everything we do along the way is a part of a bigger picture that we’ll be able to see when we finally reach that career point we’ve dreamed of.

Major Stories: Meggin

This week we are excited to introduce a series of posts we’ll be doing on the blog: Major Stories! In this series, we’ll be spotlighting some college graduates and their journeys from college to their current career. There’s a lot to be learned from those who have already walked the path you’re on.  First up in our Major Stories series: Meggin Capers!

Meggin is a graduate of Lafayette College, in northern Pennsylvania. Since graduation in ‘97, she’s traversed a number of jobs and explored several careers, before landing here at our very own Eastern University.


As an undergrad, Meggin majored in Government and Law, with a culture cluster in Eastern European Culture, a declared minor in Religion, and an unofficial minor in Business. Now that is a diverse education! It wasn’t always the case, though. Meggin began her undergraduate career as a Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering major before switching to Government & Law. Beginning school at Lafayette, Meggin believed that her Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering major would allow her the space to take extra classes outside of the major.  She quickly learned that this wasn’t the case. Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering demanded all of her time and class space, and so she switched to Government and Law, which would allow her to have a broader educational experience.

Figuring it Out

Immediately after graduating, Meggin decided to join the workforce, without any set career trajectory in mind. She spent the first six months of that time working any sort of job you can imagine, from ice cream shops to office work, to get some money in the bank.  At the end of those six months, she began the work they had been leading up to, with a nonprofit organization called Up With People.  Up with People is ‘a global education organization which aims to bring the world together through service and music. The unique combination of international travel, service learning, leadership development and performing arts offers students an unparalleled experience and a pathway to make a difference in the world, one community at a time.’

After spending a year working with Up With People, Meggin returned back home Stateside, not quite sure of what to do next.  Her father was quick to encourage her to get a ‘real job’, no matter what it was. Meggin’s dream was to work as a lobbyist for NASA or as some part of the science world. She wanted to be a part of making government-level political change happen. While many lobbyists of this sort go through law school, this isn’t a path that set in stone, and Meggin wasn’t sure that it was the one she wanted to take. In the meantime, she followed her dad’s advice, and got a ‘real job’, working for the Xerox Company.

During the time that she was working for Xerox, Meggin did some informational interviewing with a few real-life lobbyists (click here for our post on informational interviewing!) and came to the realization that working as a lobbyist was not the career for her.  She wasn’t a fan of many of their practices and the way they went about their jobs.  Around the same time, Xerox picked up some practices that Meggin didn’t want to be a part of, so she left the company after two years, in favor of the small business world and began working for an applied video technologies company, but financial struggles in the company resulted in a layoff.

The Career

As she pondered what would come next, her father suggested the nonprofit education world to her, pointing out a nonprofit university, just around the corner from their home—Eastern University.  And with that, Meggin interviewed and was hired as the Director of Auxiliary Services at Palmer Seminary.  After only three months in this position, she was invited to work at the university and became the Assistant Director of the Conferences department, even as she continued on working her job at the seminary, for about half a year. She was able to juggle the two full time jobs because of a combination of her workaholic ethic and the fact that loving what she was doing so much kept her from noticing (too much, at least) how very much work it was.

Finally, she gave up her position at the seminary and was able to devote all of her time to her position in the Conferences Office. After about two years, her boss left, and Meggin was promoted to Director of Conferences and Special Event Scheduling and Event Logistics.  As Meggin put it, she started with a “real grown up” in charge, and next thing she knew, she was the oldest one in the office and in charge of the rest. Taking a team perspective and working closely with the rest of her department has helped her get past some of the strangeness of that shift which, she says, will happen to all of us at some point.

Meggin says that one of the beauties of her liberal arts education is that all of the different things that she learned, all of the critical thinking and processing skills, led her to be able to do what she does here at Eastern. Her religion minor taught her the background she needed to be able to have intelligent conversation with students. Her government and law studies taught her to analyze the systems that are in place and find better ways, a keystone of her work in the Conferences department. The business minor comes in handy every time budgets are due, and her Eastern European culture cluster helped her to understand levels of diversity in such a way that she is better able to connect with students. All of it matters.

Her Advice for Students

Knowing that many students get anxious about how they can know if they’re on the right path, if a career is right for them, or even God’s will for them, I asked Meggin the following: “Would you say there was ever a moment when ‘the shoe fit’ and you really felt at home in your career, or were you ever certain that this was the path the Lord had laid out for you?”

She responded, saying that she did have a kind of ‘AHA’ moment, that this is where she belongs and where the Lord wills her to be. But this is continuous for her. She hears that affirmation in the small parts of her work, in the rewarding things. She hears it on the 9PM Friday nights, when the computer’s not working, everything is going wrong, the bills are due, and she gets a call that they need chairs. She hears it when she runs over to get them, and finds herself in the middle of a worship service made up of teens from across the entire country, who came here to serve and take care of her city (Philly). A worship service full of these kids just being kids, dancing, and having fun, and praising the Lord. Those are the moments, Meggin says, when God is like, “Yeah, the computer sucks, but because you do the work on that, these kids have the opportunity to do this!”  And those are the moments when she knows she is on the right path, and exactly where the Lord wants her to be.

When asked what the best advice she could offer to students as they try to discern a career path and the direction of their life, Meggin responded by saying that the most important thing is to just don’t stop moving! People can get so overwhelmed with what’s in front of them that it’s easy to become paralyzed or to settle, but you’ve got to just keep putting one foot in front of the other. You need to ask yourself what you can do that’s in front of you?  You don’t have to know what’s ahead, she says, you only need to focus on now. She showed me a favorite quote of hers, one that she feels captured this sentiment, and which helped her to focus her sights as she went through the journey the rest of us are on now:

“I beg you…to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without ever even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”  -R.M. Rilke

Informational Interviewing: Knowing if it’s the Job for You!

So you think you might-kinda-potentially know what you want to do career-wise…maybe. Or at least, you have a general idea. Or a few things in mind. So how do you decide which of those incredible-sounding careers is the one for you—or even which one isn’t for you? While there are a lot of different ways to go about figuring it out, one of the ways career researchers have found to be quick and most effective is to do some informational interviewing.

Informational interviewing is something that not a lot of students think to do, because it’s not something they’ve ever really heard much about, despite the fact that the term has been around for years. In her article Informational Interviewing: Get the Inside Scoop on Careers, Olivia Crosby defines informational interviewing simply as “talking to people about their jobs and asking them for advice” (22). It just means sitting down with someone working in a career you’re interested in to learn more about what it’s really like, and to seek their advice. That’s not too intimidating, right?

Helping you better determine a career path isn’t the only benefit of informational interviewing either! Not only will informational interviewing help do that, but it polishes your interviewing and communication skills, better equipping you for the real interview down the road—the one for that job you end up deciding on! It can foster connections with people in the field and teaches you more about the realities of working in a given occupation. Informational interviewing can help to focus your career goals, or even to uncover careers you hadn’t known existed. It uncovers your professional strengths and weaknesses, helps you gather ideas of different ways to prepare for a particular career, and suggests different volunteer, internship, and part time jobs related to the field you’re interested in (23). There’s a lot to be gained.

The benefits are clear, so the only question left is how, exactly, you do this whole informational-interview-thing. There’s no need to worry because it’s actually more straightforward than you could dare to hope. The first step is deciding who to interview (23). You want to find someone who is currently working in the field you’re interested in. It could be helpful if they’re someone who is working at the entry level, as they’re closest to having been where you are now, but you can always interview a higher-up as well for an idea of what the career will look like after you’ve been pursuing it for a while.

One way to find people who fit these criteria is to reach out to people you already know. Your family, friends, professors, or coworkers from other jobs can be an incredible resource here!  You’ll be surprised how many people seem to know somebody. Some other great resource to try are Eastern’s Office for Talent and Career Development, the alumni office, professional associations involved with the type of career you’re interested in, and businesses and organizations that hire the types of employees you’re hoping to talk to. The resources are limitless, and where there’s a will, there’s a way!

Once you’ve found a few potential interviewees, the next step is getting in contact with them. If a friend or family member knows them, they can make the introduction (24). Another great way to do this is by sending them a professional email, introducing yourself and why you’re hoping to speak with them. Always make clear that you’re not trying to get a position working for them, just information. Be courteous and professional. This can be done with a phone call, too, and that often serves as a great follow up to either an email, or an introduction in person, wherein you can set up a time and place to meet.

Having set up the interview, you’ll need to prepare so that you’re ready when the day comes. Spend some time researching both the organization your interviewee works for and the occupation itself (26). The more you know ahead, the better you’ll be able to formulate questions, and the more you’ll get from the interview. Additionally, create a resume to bring along. It should be professional and tailored to the career you are learning about. Finally, and most importantly, develop your interview questions.

It is best to come prepared with several questions (10 is a good number to aim for), to ensure that you are best learning about the career at hand and are able to direct the interview. Keep in mind as you develop these that the interview’s purpose is to get a feel for what the job is really like (27). Helpful questions can include things like particulars about the job itself (e.g. on a day to day basis), questions about the working conditions, the training and preparation necessary for the job, and even other careers and contacts. These are flexible, but remember that this interview is for you, so you should be asking the questions most important to your interest in a job. Crosby suggests always ending by asking 2 questions: “Can you suggest anyone else I could ask for information?” and “May I tell them that you have referred me?” (28).

All this in mind, you should be ready come interview day! Remember to dress well and be professional and gracious (28). Dress like the person you’re interviewing would on a big work day. You never know who you’ll run into again later, or even end up interviewing with for a job! Smile and shake hands, and finish on time. Allow for casual conversation as you interview, but make sure to keep on track so that you’re finding out the pertinent information and making the most of the interview. When you’re done, always make sure to thank your interviewee for their time.

After the interview, make sure to send a thank you email or note, and then all that’s left is to consider what you learned, to evaluate. You might have found out that you hate the idea of working in a certain field. That’s useful. It keeps you from spending years pursuing something you’ll end up changing your mind about. You might end up reassured that this is the career for you. That’s useful too. It can give you direction as you look ahead and help you to better prepare for the career of your dreams. It might leave you somewhere in between those two feelings, still not quite sure. And that—you guessed it!—is useful too. It can still help give you direction, and even new connections and information, to investigate as you attempt to learn more about the job. Not only that, but your interviewing skills have been sharpened and you better prepared for the future. It’s plain to see that informational interviewing is win-win-win, so get out there and start interviewing!

Not all those who wander are lost.

College majors and midterms aren’t the only things giving students major anxiety today.  Perhaps the greatest stressor, especially as students draw nearer to commencement, is what they’re going to do with their life post-grad. The pressure to conform to familial expectations, follow the path of one’s major, or make the big bucks is enormous. We know new grads can find their way into amazing careers, but what does that process actually look like?

In her text, You Majored in What?, Brooks introduces a new mode of understanding our lives and choices, therein suggesting a method for reliving some of the anxieties of the process and helping students to stay true to themselves as they move forward in life. She calls this mode the “wandering method” and roots it in her understanding of chaos theory as it relates to a person’s life and career.

Put briefly, chaos theory suggests that there is not a set linear path to our lives, because there are a million seemingly miniscule occurrences that will end up impacting our choices and beliefs further down the road (12). Everything that happens to us effects everything else that is going to happen later and the choices we will make. This plays out particularly in our career choices—this is how we arrive at the wandering method.

The best way to understand this method is to try it yourself, and then to talk through it after.  So get out a big, blank sheet of paper and a writing utensil, because here’s the method:

  1. Commit to not trying to organize anything you put on this sheet of paper (25). My labelers and list-makers out there, take a deep breath—now let it out, because there will be no structure here. Don’t worry about grammar or spelling either (English teachers, cover your eyes!), because it won’t matter here (26).
  2. Let your mind wander. Think about all of the things that have happened over the course of your life, or that you’ve done, that have been interesting or felt significant (23). Include the recent stuff, but include that thing that happened when you were 5 too—the one you always think back on. Think of hobbies, honors you’ve received, knowledge you rely on—anything, really, that feels important. This isn’t just stuff you think might be career related!
  3. Write it all down—and remember, no organizing (23)! Put it anywhere on the paper, and include anything that pops into your head. You can make it as simple or as artsy as you like. Don’t worry about explaining, just write down the key words to knowing the experience. Dump your head out onto that sheet of paper.
  4. When you feel like you’ve got it all down, stop for a second and look it over—seems pretty chaotic, huh? Maybe even a little anxiety inducing? Not for long. The next step begins to find the method to the madness. Glance over your map for the really obvious connections—what experiences clearly fit into a category (27)? Draw lines to connect them. If you’re not feeling the lines, you could color-code instead (this is what I did). Just don’t be surprised if you end up with some multi-colored experiences!
  5. Look at your map again and squint a little harder this time. Try to find deeper connections than the simple categories we just identified (28).
  6. Ask yourself: what are the connections and themes within your map? Share it with a friend and ask if they see any you haven’t noticed. Spend time with your map, and take note of the themes you’ve picked up on.
  7. If this has been a little confusing, take a look at the examples below!

So you have your map. You have your connections. You have your themes. It still probably looks pretty chaotic, so what’s the deal, then? The significance, claims Brooks, is in the themes and connections you drew (36). These have effectively helped you to pinpoint the things that actually matter to you, enough to stick with you and impact your life. It can show what they ultimately mean for you. This might not point you to a particular career, but it can definitely give you direction. And it can give you a sense of rest, in the knowledge that despite the apparent chaos of life, there has been direction and it has been influenced not just by the pressures around you, but by you yourself. And can give the vision and understanding to help you remain true to yourself as you look ahead to post-grad life and begin investigating the vast field that makes up the world of careers today. As Tolkein once said: “not all those who wander are lost.”

Major Decisions and Career Questions

Applications in the fall, acceptances in spring, enrollment come autumn and a major declaration by the end of the first year, or even, the first semester, and finally, a career to match the major—the script is written, but is it right?

While tens of millions of new students enroll in college each fall, the NCES reports that only approximately 60% of these students end up graduating. Research has shown that a student’s probability of graduating is correlated to whether or not they changed majors during college. While students who stuck with their initial major post an average graduation rate of 78%, those who declared a new major anywhere from the second to the eighth term of enrollment reported average graduation rates of 82-84%. That means they were as much as 6% more likely to graduate—an increase significant enough to warrant attention.

How could this be the case, though? Parents have encouraged their children for years to figure out what they want to do, major in that, and stick with it. After all, that’s how you’ll get a good job and have a good life, isn’t it? However, some researchers speculate that this may actually be one of the reasons why the graduation rate of those who choose a major early and stick with it is lower—family pressure may often be what keeps a student in their major, or a feeling of obligation rather than a real and certain desire to pursue something. These are only speculations, and any other number of causes likely exist, but what the statistics have shown to be true is that switching majors is a positive experience and helps students to end up where they actually want to be, and to end up finishing school. A student doesn’t need to have life figured out by the end of their freshman year in order to be successful.

Not only is that the case, but, as Brooks demonstrates in her book You Majored in What?, it isn’t really necessary to put so much stress on choosing the ‘right’ major. In 21st century America, what a person studied at school often has no direct correlation to what they end up with for a career—that pattern of thought is left-over from the early twentieth-century, but is not necessarily applicable today (Brooks, 5). According to Brooks, the career path today is a little more complicated and a lot more chaotic—it’s less to do with one particular factor (like a major) that sets a person on a linear path to a career and more to do with all of the random and unexpected things that happen in a person’s life as they work towards developing a career (9).

College students today face enormous amounts of stress, particularly as they look forward to the unknown that is post-grad life. Over the next few months, we’ll be targeting some of the sources of that anxiety—like the importance of a major, and how it might not actually make or break a person’s career—and addressing the assumptions therein, challenging the norms we’ve come to accept. We’ll feature graduates, explain what some of the experts are saying, and offer the best advice we can as you consider all things major and post-grad life!

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