Campus / News / November 3, 2010

Life After Knox: Lessons beyond their majors

With several hundred of its students preparing to graduate in June, the effectiveness of the institution at preparing them for life after Knox is of interest to many seniors. This three-part series will examine how well Knox’s undergraduate program prepares students for life beyond the college world, whether that be in the workforce, in graduate school, as a performing artist or as a post-baccalaureate student.

The importance of an undergraduate institution was realized by Laura Miller ’10, when she found her first job.

“When I did my first phone interview, my boss looked up Knox,” Miller said. “He said it was a factor in me being hired.”

Miller, who majored in creative writing and minored in history, currently works for ASC Communications as a writer for one of their trade magazines, “Becker’s Orthopedic and Spine Review.”

“I talk to doctors about orthopedic surgery and write articles all day,” Miller said. “I learn stuff I never thought I would be learning about.”

Miller was involved in extracurricular activities at Knox as well. A member of Mortar Board, she also served as the Editor-in-chief for The Knox Student and as an editor for “Catch”. It was an undergraduate experience that left her surprised about where she ended up.

“I had no idea where I’d end up when I graduated Knox. I wanted to work on doing a professional job, where most of my responsibilities had to do with writing,” she said. Beyond that, however, Miller went into her job search without any ideas of what she’d being doing and had no healthcare background.

She considered herself lucky to have a job at all.

“Lots of people I’ve been talking to haven’t been able to find jobs they want,” she said. “It’s a real struggle.”

The in-between job

According to the New York Times, the unemployment rate in September remained around nine percent, leaving recent college graduates to face even more competition in the job market.

Many people Miller knew who did have jobs had been forced to take ones in fields other than what they studied in college.

Dan Dyrda, ’10, has found himself in such a position since graduation last June. A double major in political science and philosophy, Dyrda described himself as “working, but also still looking for a job.”

Dyrda has a part-time job just for the purpose of paying the bills.

“I want to work on political campaigns or getting involved in the political process at some level,” he said.

Even though he remains unemployed in his field of interest, Dyrda has had beneficial experiences because of Knox in the past. The summer after his sophomore year, he worked for a town in Illinois as part of a public information campaign, researching legal disputes and precedent.

“Courses I had taken at Knox up until that point helped to seal the deal,” he said, describing his successful efforts in obtaining the internship. As part of his constitutional law course, Dyrda had done projects that included elements such as presenting information to a judge.

“They were impressed I had done that as an undergraduate,” he said.

Utilizing Knox resources

Some graduates of Knox made a conscious choice to enter a field entirely separate from what they studied. Sarah Carlin* ’10, an elementary education major and French minor, ended up working as a dining attendant in Antarctica.

“I really wanted to work in Antarctica after visiting the continent last December,” said Carlin, who found the job online. Although it was a job she was incredibly enthused about, “It is in no way related to what I studied at Knox,” she said.

After she found the initial job posting, Carlin was able to land her job by utilizing the Career Center.

“I went to the career office, told them my idea and they helped me through everything—from writing my application to preparing for my interview. It was invaluable,” Carlin said.

The Knox College Career Center, which is available to students looking for anything from a summer internship to a job to a graduate school, attempts to offer resources such as the ones it was able to provide Carlin.

“It’s here to help students to develop skills— their marketing,” Terrie Saline, the director for the Center for Career & Pre-Professional Development, said. The Center provides assistance by helping people to assess where their interests lie and then helping students find internships and jobs that might be of interest to them. They can also help students write cover letters and put together resumes.

Saline noted that the job search was an area in which current students could benefit from alumni.

“It’s all about networking,” she said. “We use our alumni a lot.” Several companies have hired Knox students and then “come back and want more Knox students.”

Beyond the academics

Saline viewed the real strengths of Knox as something beyond alumni networking.

“Employers can train new hires in specialized skills on the job, but they can’t teach the critical thinking skills Knox teaches,” she said.

It was a point that all alumni, whether or not employed in their desired field, agreed on. They suggested that Knox best prepared them through the teaching of life skills rather than through an individual subject of specialization.

Although she felt her academic experiences at Knox didn’t prepare her for her current situation, “the life skills that I developed at Knox and the experiences I had there, especially studying abroad, were good preparation for the experiences I am having now,” said Carlin.

Likewise, Miller is not currently using any of the history she learned as an undergraduate, though she considered the skills learned in those classes— how to find the most interesting aspect of a story and how to think outside the box— were invaluable.

“The most important thing I learned at Knox to help me with my job was to problem solve creatively,” she said.

*Sarah Carlin is currently in Antarctica and was hence unavailable by phone. Her interview was conducted over e-mail.

Katy Sutcliffe


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