‘Just go for it’: Alums learn to carve new paths

Friday, May 24, 2013
This article is part of the series Commencement Magazine 2013

When Alex Keegan ’12 graduated from Brown last May, she found herself working three different jobs while trying to break into the directing world in New York City.

“I work all seven days of the week,” she said, noting that she usually spends most of the day at one of her two internships — one with Women’s Project and Production, an off-Broadway theater company, and one at New Dramatist, a play development center.

When work at the office wraps up, she heads over to the theater to rehearse a play she is directing or tutors a student in preparation for the SATs. In addition to her two internships, Keegan works for Stanley Kaplan SAT Test Prep — her most lucrative job.

“I get home usually around 9:30 or 10 and eat dinner and go to sleep and do the same thing the next day,” she said. “It’s busy.”

Close by, Sadie Kurzban ’12 is also trying to make it in New York. But for her, “making it” means growing the nightclub-inspired exercise class she started while at Brown with Brielle Friedman ’12. Called “305 Fitness” after her Miami area code, the class is set to pop and hip-hop music and incorporates dance and sports drills.

Kurzban’s days are packed with answering emails, planning events, training instructors and teaching classes. But she said she feels “really lucky to be doing something that I love and just going for it.”

Keegan and Kurzban’s immediate experiences in “the real world” reflect a larger fact: There is no typical post-graduate path for alums when they first leave Brown. The majority of the class of 2012 — 65 percent — indicated they planned to enter the workforce straight out of college, according to a survey administered by CareerLAB. About one quarter indicated they were continuing on to graduate school, and 11 percent reported “other endeavors,” including studying abroad through fellowships, volunteering or taking additional courses.

Ron Foreman, a CareerLAB adviser, said some students who meet with him say they have no idea what they want to do after graduation. But it’s rare that students actually have no direction, he said. “Their definition of having no idea is having four or five interests.”

Recent graduates from the classes of 2011 and 2012 are pursuing their interests in cities across the world. Their jobs range from working with Fortune 500 CEOs in Austin to launching a family-focused nonprofit here in Providence.

Still, some common factors tie students together. Many young alums said they were still in close contact with their core group of college friends, and many cited a specific Brown course or extracurricular group that gave them the skills and motivation to pursue their chosen path after graduation.


The unemployment line

Michael Weissman ’12 and Adam Maynard ’11 headed for two cities further away: Austin and Washington, D.C. Despite living 1,000 miles apart from each other and working for companies in completely different sectors, the alums share something in common: neither found employment by the time of graduation.

According to data from CareerLAB, 36 members of the class of 2012 indicated they were “seeking employment” at the time of graduation, representing roughly 3 percent of the student responders.

A physics concentrator, Weissman said he initially planned to teach math or science abroad after graduation. Had he done so, he would have joined 129 students in last year’s graduating class who indicated they were entering the education sector, the most popular field of employment for students in the class of 2012.

Though he received an offer from a company in Shanghai, he said it was not a good fit, so he turned it down.

“I was without a job and unsure of what I was going to do,” he said. So he moved back home and began applying for “anything you can imagine a physics degree might be good for,” focusing his search within what he called the “typical Brown cities”: San Francisco, New York and Boston.

He expanded his search to Austin at the suggestion of a friend and received an offer from Gerson Lehrman Group, a firm that connects clients with expert consultants, in October.

Though Weissman said he knew little about the company when he applied, he said he now feels lucky about the outcome. His job enables him to speak with people managing vast sums of money, as well as some of the world’s leading health experts.

He works between 50 and 60 hours a week and said most of his social life involves people he met through work. But he is also still in touch with friends from Brown — they’re all planning to meet at Commencement this year, he said.

Maynard lived at home in Connecticut for an entire year before landing his dream job in Washington at the U.S. Green Building Council. He said his job enables him to apply what he learned from his urban studies and environmental studies double concentration.

Though many students feel unsure about what career field to pursue, Maynard said he knew exactly what issues he was passionate about and that he worked hard applying to jobs throughout senior year. It was tough to have to move back home, he said, though he said he is grateful he could spend time with his younger brother and learn from two different environmental jobs he held while in Connecticut.


City dwellers

Weissman’s decision to expand his job search to Austin marks a path less traveled — many young alums focus their job search on the coasts.

Kurt Teichert, a lecturer in environmental studies who advises undergraduates, said he often advises students to consider staying in Providence or moving to cities that aren’t “San Francisco, New York, Paris or Berlin.”

“Any city has great communities,” he said.

Stephen Foley, director of undergraduate studies for the English department, echoed Teichert’s message. Though New York and Los Angeles are the country’s two media centers, the Internet has opened up opportunities for students looking to be writers in any location.

Rebecca McGoldrick ’12 said remaining in Providence after graduation allowed her to reap benefits from the Brown community.

She currently serves as executive director for a nonprofit organization that she and other Brown students co-founded. The organization, Families First, “supports progressive issues related to families and young people in Rhode Island,” she said.

“I don’t think I could do the type of work that I’m doing if I weren’t in Rhode Island,” she said. The state’s size enables her to quickly reach “key players” she needs to work with, she said.

“I feel like I’m making a difference now,” McGoldrick said. “I loved being at Brown … but toward the end of my academic career, I started getting this feeling, ‘I have all this knowledge. Let me go do something with it.’”


Grad school plans

McGoldrick plans to head back to school eventually, as do Maynard and Weissman.

McGoldrick and Maynard both hope to pursue master’s degrees in urban planning, and Weissman is contemplating business school.

Keegan plans to pursue an MFA in directing. Though she hopes to enroll in a program soon, most schools only take two students each year.

Rebecca Schneider, chair of the theater arts and performance studies department, said many students pursuing the performing arts do not need to attend graduate programs straight out of Brown.

“You don’t go out fully prepared for a profession. You know yourself, you’re broadly educated and you’re ready to go begin to prepare for a profession,” she said.

Both she and Teichert said taking time off to work or travel before pursuing a graduate degree can be advantageous.

“I do tend to advocate for students to travel or do more of a short-term assignment,” Teichert said.

Foley said he often advises students considering pursuing a Ph.D. in English to take some time off first, both to cultivate experiences that will make them better applicants and to build better survival skills for graduate school.

“There are practical reasons, too,” he said. “You better buy a car before living on a graduate student stipend.”


Brown’s lasting impact

All five graduates said they regularly draw on specific courses or experiences they had at Brown.

Kurzban said one of the most influential courses she took at Brown was one on entrepreneurship and social ventures taught by Danny Warshay ’87.

When she first arrived at Brown, Kurzban began teaching Zumba classes at the OMAC, she said. As she listened to feedback from students, her class slowly evolved away from the Latin music-inspired Zumba into 305 Fitness.

During her senior year, Kurzban said she decided she wanted to try to make a living leading the class, so she moved the class to a space she rented in Hillel after the fall semester.

Kurzban credits Warshay’s class both in helping her refine her “nightclub” workout idea and in helping her formulate a business plan that she is now putting into action in Manhattan. She has used the money she made from teaching her class at Brown to fund the new iteration of her business.

Though Weissman said he did not learn anything specific about finance at Brown, he uses some of the skills he learned through other classes.

“What my job is is to take a very complex topic and boil it down as quickly as possible to get down to the nuts and bolts,” he said. The skills he learned from doing rapid research in physics and “writing a late-night paper at the last minute … have definitely paid off.”


Staying connected

Maynard said he has managed to stay well-connected to the Brown community, especially through Washington’s active alumni community.

But some aspects of the transition from the “insular and nurturing environment” of college have been tough.

“Being released and scattered to the wind … can be daunting,” he said.

Though Keegan said she is far from unhappy, her post-graduation experience has been “different.”

“I’m trying to learn how to construct a different but equivalently meaningful happiness in this new structure and this new framework,” she said.

She has kept in close contact with her friends from Brown, but she added that they are all trying to figure out how to maintain meaningful relationships while not living within a five-minute radius. “There’s no longer the spontaneity of late-night conversations,” she said. “How do you recreate those instances and forge those relationships to maintain that level of happiness?”

“You end up staying in touch with the people you expect to,” Maynard said. For him, the worst part of leaving Brown is not always being surrounded by his best friends. Without that convenience, he said “developing those really close and connected relationships is hard.”

Schneider said she hopes students never lose their college-age curiosity about the world. “Students have a culture that’s really vibrant,” she said.

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