The UD Office of Personal Career Development and the Alumni Relations Department have launched a virtual alumni advisory panel in which students can connect with experienced alumni and pose questions on career-related topics.
The virtual panel boasts of 33 members from a variety of career fields and graduation years. Students can post questions to the entire panel or to individual panel members. Questions and answers are posted on the Office of Personal Career Development’s blog. Students can also scroll through past questions and answers to look for topics that interest them.
Panelist Monica Abbracciamento (BA History, 2011) said that she’s serving on the panel because she’s grateful for her UD education and the impact it’s had on her professional growth. “I wanted to serve as a resource for students facing the same decisions I once faced,” she said.
Abbracciamento also believes that good mentors are crucial for the success of young professionals. “Liberal arts candidates, in particular, have many ways of adding value to business and other organizations,” she said. “I’d love to offer perspective and advice based on my own unique career progression.”
Click here to view the alumni advisors and pose questions or select the “Ask an Alumnus” menu on the OPCD blog’s home page.
To make an appointment with an OPCD career counselor, click here.
Alumni Give Advice on Leveraging a Liberal Arts Major
For many students, settling on a major is a choice that causes anxiety and quite a bit of hand wringing. Will I learn enough to succeed after graduation? Will I gain the skills I need to get a job?
At a recent panel hosted by the Office of Personal Career Development entitled “You Majored in What?” a group of UD alumni explained to anxious students how the comprehensive liberal arts education they received at UD opened doors and led to opportunities that they would never have thought possible. Below are their responses to questions posed by students, faculty and staff.
How did your background in liberal arts help you in your career?
Yvonne Freeman (BA Mathematics, 1989), VP of Total Rewards, Michaels: I think people underestimate how effectively liberal arts majors can block and tackle and process problems. There were a lot of things I could’ve done–and my liberal arts degree opened up a lot of possibilities for me. I, personally, would rather hire a liberal arts major because they are better prepared to tackle the unknown.
Bob Hyde (BA Secondary Education, 1975), Senior VP, Bank of Texas: They used to say that BA stood for “didn’t buy anything,” but I disagree. One of my first assignments was to take a 6 page letter that my boss wrote, make it better and reduce it to one page. People with liberal arts degrees focus on the view from 10,00 feet instead of the microscopic view.
Steven Harrell (BA English, 2009), Communications/PR Specialist, Jackson Spaulding: Marketing and communications is really just storytelling. With a liberal arts degree and especially with an English major, you’re really trained to tell stories and to synthesize large swaths of information from an intelligent point of view.
How do you balance the pursuit of education with the pursuit of a specifically liberal education?
Shannon Doherty (BA Psychology, 2013), Business Development Analyst, GM Financial: I had no technical skills when I graduated. But it I had 90 days to get a job or I would be living in my parents’ basement. You have to find a way to gain some hard skills. Chip away at them through summer jobs and internships. That’s one thing I wish I would have done differently.
Matt Victorine (BA History, 1991), VP and Regional Manager, Fidelity Investments: When you apply to a company, learn about all the jobs that they have to offer and figure out what skills you need to get into the job you want. You want to apply to a company that teaches how to do their jobs. I’ve done hundreds of interviews and these days, if you can half-way speak well, you’re advancing to the next round.
Hyde: Don’t be too hard on yourself. You’re not expected to have a full skill set when you graduate. And macroeconomics are in your favor–there’s a shrinking work force right now. Don’t be afraid to make a mistake. If an opportunity doesn’t work out, chalk it up to experience. Don’t get caught in analysis paralysis.
Victorine: There’s no better job market in the country right now than Dallas/Fort Worth. It’s a fascinating time if you’re looking to explore different companies. If you’re flexible and nimble, there’s a lot of jobs out there.
Harrell: I wandered in the desert for a good long mile. But I did a lot of freelancing while still at UD and I learned to say “yes” to just about everything as long as it was ethical. Even though I might not be an expert in a particular subject, I at least had some familiarity and could move forward with a little training.
Freeman: We have a saying at Michaels that we hire for attitude and train for skills. If someone can at least carry themselves well, that’s half the battle. As a hiring manager, I know I’m not getting someone with a lot of prior experience, but I know that I can train the right person for the job.
The University of Dallas does not seem to have a high brand recognition, even in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. How have you explained UD to potential employers?
Victorine: It’s important to know your story. Explain to people that UD is a great, small university and tell them why you came here.
Harrell: The lack of recognition can be a negative but it can also be a real positive. You can tell your own story: “Here’s the kind of person I am because I went to UD,” instead of, “Oh, you went to Baylor, I know what you’re all about.”
Doherty: There are a lot of Ivy League grads in the The GE Capital Leadership program that I’m in. But because UD grads have proven themselves so well, there are more and more UD people in the program. UD people want to help UD people.
How did you gain the additional skills you needed to be successful in the job market?
Victorine: Take the first opportunity you can to get in the door of a good company, and then they will train you to do the job they want you to do. Big companies will teach you how to do the job.
Hyde: Think about what you would like to do, and then getting paid is the frosting on the cake. Look for companies that have a future and who are doing something good in the community.
Do you use your major in your job?
Freeman: Math at a liberal arts school is different from math at another college. I feel like I use my ability to think logically every day. I like having problems to solve. I would get bored otherwise.
Hyde: You’ll be surprised–you’ll use your major in unusual ways.
To make an appointment to talk about choosing a major or career field, click here.
If Terry O’Halloran learned anything during his years managing global companies, it is that no two cultures are the same and can’t be treated as such. “Every country, every territory, even every city is different,” he said. O’Halloran (MBA 1983), University of Dallas Trustee and retired CEO of Air Distribution Technologies, spoke on September 13 with Dr. Richard Peregoy’s Managing Global Organizations class at the University of Dallas to discuss global leaders learning from others and change.
One topic of discussion Dr. Peregoy brought up during the class was the barriers of communication that can arise from differences in culture between the parent company and its subsidiaries in different countries. O’Halloran said that he learned, for instance, that correcting an employee’s mistakes at a plant in Mexico had to be handled differently than at plants in the U.S.: “In Mexico, the employees feel a great sense of pride in their work. If you need to correct someone, it’s important to do so in private, so that you are not damaging that person’s standing in front of the other workers.”
O’Halloran told the class leaders must carefully assess the cultural implications of any proposed changes, especially in international situations. “The CEO of the company I worked for wanted me to institute lean manufacturing in India,” he said, referring to a system of manufacturing that reduces waste to improve customer value. “But it just wouldn’t work there. I visited several times over a long period, and I eventually realized that the system was not appropriate for the culture.” The bottom line, O’Halloran said, was that American manufacturing techniques don’t work in every country.
The class discussion on global business cultures eventually led to a conversation about the rapid change taking place in traditional manufacturing and retail businesses. “Companies are scrambling to try to figure out how to adapt to the tastes and habits of millennials,” O’Halloran said. “And the ones who figure it out are the ones who will make it.”
The University of Dallas Executives on Campus program was founded to further the University’s mission of providing practice-based education, by inviting successful business leaders to share their experience with graduate and undergraduate students in the classroom. Through this program, alumni, business leaders, and their companies are invited to partner with the University in our shared pursuit of management excellence.
Even before she graduated from UD in 2012, Mariana Zayas (BA ‘12) knew that she wanted to work in human resources. “I love people and I really wanted to make a difference in people’s lives,” she said. Zayas started her HR career on campus as an intern for the UD Office of Human Resources. She said that one of the most valuable parts of the experience was learning important professional skills: “I learned things like how to communicate within the boss/subordinate relationship.”
Zayas was able to translate her HR internship into an entry-level position with Omni Hotels and has since moved up to the role of Corporate Human Resources Manager. “Our employees are spending eight or nine hours a day away from their families,” she said. “So employee relations is the best part of my job because I can help those hard-working people grow.”
Zayas credits the critical thinking skills she developed at UD with helping her hone her ability to communicate professionally. “When I’m in a meeting, I have to listen to what people are saying, then make my case and support my conclusions with facts, just as if I were writing a paper in Lit Trad. UD grads are smart and eager to learn, and they reflect that when they become professionals.”
Alongside her career in HR, another way in which Zayas helps people grow is through her role as president of the Young Catholic Professionals Organization. “YCP brings together everyone from experts to recent graduates,” she said. “We host executive speakers and hold panel events and mixers designed to help you grow a network of friends who share the same values.” You can visit their website here for more information about the organization.
Zayas advises students to say “yes” to opportunities that present themselves: “Get to know your professors. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. Be ‘that person’ that says ‘yes’ to opportunities and be passionate about what you do.”
Most importantly, Zayas said, is that you love what you do: “Make sure the company you work for is a good fit. And if you’re passionate about what you do, you’ll be motivated every single day.”
So you’ve got a great idea for a product, business or app. Social media marketing guru Ali Mirza (MBA ‘12) says that the old way of launching–build, launch, market–doesn’t properly leverage the power of social media to bring ideas to fruition. According to Mirza, entrepreneurs must first test their ideas using a variety of offline and social media channels to validate that needs exist–and that their ideas can fulfil those needs. “Before you build a product, you have to know what people want,” he said. “You have to identify their pain points so that you can properly address them.”
How do you go about validating your idea? Mirza says that the first thing you must do is build an MVP–a minimum viable product. If your idea is for a website or app, build a landing page that includes a logo and briefly describes the product. Then use that landing page to capture the email addresses of interested users. Once you have an MVP, the real work begins. Mirza details five ways to drive users to your landing page, which–if your idea is a good one–will create buzz for your product and build your list of customers.
Mirza says that Meetups (meetup.com), local affinity groups focused around hundreds of different hobbies and interests, are a great way to meet like-minded people. “You could find a Meetup for foodies, for yoga, for just about anything,” he said. And look for other events that align with your idea, like workshops or vendor fairs. Make sure to bring your business cards with your landing page address, because networking with potential users in person can start the buzz and help you identify whether your product will take off.
Startup and Pitch Competitions
Mirza, whose FiveOH restaurant and food app won Google’s Startup Weekend competition, says that these types of competitions are about more than winning–they can validate your idea and help you find partners, like designers or programmers. “My app is designed to help college students find cheap food,” he said. “So I knew that I could talk to a lot of college students at the competition. I didn’t expect to win.” Check out startup weekend.org for more information.
Researching what others are doing is another way to analyze your market. Mirza suggests browsing startup communities like Hacker News (news.ycombinator.com) and Betalist (betalist.com), which give makers an outlet to showcase their ideas and get early feedback. A Q&A website like Quora can also help you look for questions and answers associated with your idea.
“The people who will use your product are on social media,” Mirza says. “If you want to connect with people, you have to commit to having a social media presence.” In the initial idea-building phase, Mirza suggests using social media as a tool to drive people to your landing page. “Choose one or two social media platforms and post consistently,” he says.
Ali Mirza is the founder of iSocialYou, a business dedicated to helping businesses create engaging social brands and generate leads. He spoke on April 20 to a meeting of the University of Dallas’ Entrepreneurship Society.
Current and Former Military Officers Emphasize Service Over Self at Leadership Dinner
When Terry O’Halloran came home from Vietnam, he was advised not to wear his Marine uniform in the airport. But he did, and protesters of the unpopular war threw trash at him. “Although 1966 wasn’t a good time to be in the military, not a day goes by that I don’t remember the lessons I learned in the Marines,” he said.
O’Halloran, a U.S. Marine veteran and a University of Dallas alumnus, along with four other current and former military service men and women, spoke on October 22, 2015, to a group of University of Dallas students about the importance of service over self, whether that service be in the armed forces or in one’s community.
O’Halloran, Vice President and General Manager at Johnson Controls, went on to say that his Marine experience helped him weather the changes that come with the many mergers and acquisitions that characterize the corporate world.
Patrick Law, Senior Vice President of U.S. Bank and the Chief Operating Officer of Elan Bank and UD alumnus, said that his military experience taught him to take initiative. “The world needs people who can look at a situation and take action,” said Law, a U.S. Army veteran of the first Gulf War.
Esther Gomez, a Marine reservist and Catholic Youth Minister agreed. “Preparing to be an officer taught me to handle pressure. I can look at problem, quickly make a decision, and get results,” she said. Gomez is a graduate student working on a master’s degree in pastoral ministry at UD.
“One of the most important things I took away from the Marines was a respect for diversity,” said Michael Hilden, a Principal Engineer at Verizon, a former U.S. Marine, and a University of Dallas alumnus. “In the Marines, I learned to respect and understand other cultures and other people’s ideas. This gave me a global mindset and helped me keep an open mind and listen to others’ ideas,” he said.
Bo Glavan, Chief Staff Officer of the Navy Fleet Logistics Support Wing in Fort Worth, said that his 10 moves in 19 years taught him to adapt to new situations. “My family and I have a process,” he said. “We move to a new place, I learn my new job, we get situated as a family, and then we look for ways to give back.”
Members of the panel emphasized humility as one of the characteristics crucial to career and life success. “You have to find ways to challenge yourself,” said Law. “By learning from everyone you meet, you can stretch yourself, stretch your boundaries, and do things you didn’t think you were capable of.”
Hilden agreed. “People respect leaders who are transparent—the ones who are on the front lines with them and supporting them.”
When the panelists were asked what characteristic they would look for in potential employees, authenticity was at the top of the list. “Everyone needs a mentor,” said Glavan, “but you have to make sure you are being authentic to who you actually are. Communicate what you are passionate about and that will come across as authenticity.”
The take-home message of the evening was that service lies at the heart of a successful career and a fulfilling personal life. “Find a grass roots, pure of heart organization that you are passionate about,” said Glavan, “and give them your time and treasure.”
Terry Halloran couldn’t agree more. Perhaps because he remembers what it felt like to be persecuted because of his uniform, he volunteers for the USO at DFW Airport, welcoming soldiers on the way home for leave. “Sometimes we play cards, sometimes they just want to talk,” he said. “We just want to be there for them.” In or out of uniform, that’s honorable service—and another one he can be proud of.
For more information on events sponsored by the University of Dallas Office of Personal Career Development, click here.
Joe Blute, a 2012 graduate of the University of Dallas with a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry, credits the University of Dallas’ Office of Personal Career Development with helping him build the relationships necessary to secure a permanent position after graduation. “Working with the OPCD helped me get the internship which led to my career with GE Capital,” said Blute, who is now part of GE Capital’s highly- selective leadership training cohort, Financial Management Program. As part of this program, Joe has rotated through several positions around the country, learning the ins-and-outs of the company’s internal operations. Blute says that his Chemistry degree from UD, though not typical for a finance professional, helped him develop the critical and analytical mindset that has helped in excel in the business world. “I honed leadership skills at UD as well,” Blute said. “I mentored younger students while I was in the Chemistry department, a practice which I have carried on by mentoring the newer analysts at GE Capital.”
Mary McKenzie, a 2014 graduate of the University of Dallas, says that getting involved with a variety of activities during her time at the UD helped her gain the experience that led to her permanent position as the Internship Program Coordinator at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C. While at UD McKenzie worked as the Director in Charge of Student Programming. She says that potential employers looked favorably on her ability to hold leadership positions while maintaining a full academic load. “And I didn’t do just one internship,” McKenzie said. “I did several. I gained on-the-job, down to earth experience that helped me get a position right after graduation.” She says that these internships, along with her volunteer positions, gave her a wealth of experiences and situations upon which to draw when talking to an employer or in an interview situation.
After living for fourteen months in a hut three meters in diameter with no electricity or running water, Kaylee Gund (Biochemistry ’13) realized she could handle just about anything. A volunteer for the Peace Corps in Guinea, Gund taught middle and high school students in a rural village until she was evacuated as a result of the West-African country’s Ebola outbreak. I spoke with her in October 2014 about her experience there.
Before beginning the Peace Corps application process her senior year, Gund considered several graduate schools but none seemed a good fit. “The ideas of service, travel and cultural exchange that are part of the Peace Corps experience really appealed to me,” she said. “And I felt I had been given so much that I wanted to give back where it was most needed.”
Her major in Biochemistry and concentration in French made Gund an ideal candidate for her post as a chemistry teacher in French-speaking Guinea. She lived with a host family during her three-month training but had her own hut among a circle of others within the village during her teaching assignment. Gund said she “adopted” a family living within the circle, sharing meals with them and going to them for advice. “Some aid organizations come in and out of the country without making a connection,” Gund said, “but the Peace Corps is different. By having an extended stay, I became part of the community. They were very generous and happy I was there.” A poignant story on Gund’s blog illustrates her point. Seeing her grief over the death of her great-uncle, the local villagers presented her with a small sum of money, a Guinean tradition for the family of the deceased. She writes: “The sum would have been nothing in US dollars, but it was more than money–it was a gift of tradition, a gift of their love and appreciation of me.”
Gund is quick to point out that the experience was hard, and that it was a culture shock. But she credits her Rome semester as helping to prepare her for this international experience. “Rome can help you adjust to life in another country if you can take the time to explore,” she said. She also turned to her faith to help her through difficult times. “Guinea is primarily a Muslim country. There was no Church in my village so I had to take a bush taxi to the city to attend mass. My faith gave me something to hold on to in the midst of everything new and strange and different,” she said.
Gund’s time in Guinea was cut short because of the much-publicized Ebola outbreak affecting the country. Although no cases were reported in her village, the Peace Corps determined that the Guinean health infrastructure was too hard-pressed to provide adequate support for volunteers in case of any other type of medical emergency. Hoping to continue her international travels, Gund now plans to attend graduate school in Europe. After her Peace Corps experience, she should have no problem handling that. “I’m more flexible now,” she said. “I can adjust to any environment.”
Kaylee Gund graduated from the University of Dallas in 2013 with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Biohemistry and a concentration in French.
Jake Thompson (MBA ’08) calls himself the President and Chief Encouragement Officer of Compete Every Day. He spoke on October 14, 2014 to Dr. Greg Bell’s Entrepreneurship class. The idea for the lifestyle apparel company Thompson started in 2010 came when he asked himself: “What would it look like to compete for every day of your life?” Finding inspiration in the question, he used money saved for a trip to New Zealand to buy t-shirts emblazoned with the new company name, selling them out of his trunk. Active in the CrossFit community, Thompson knew that this group of avid exercisers had not only a commitment to an active lifestyle, but also sufficient disposable income to be a viable target audience for his product. After success with this group, he has since expanded the reach of the company to include anyone that finds inspiration from competing every day to achieve his or her best life. “I wanted Compete Every Day to be about more than a catchy phrase on a t-shirt,” Thompson said. To that end, the company’s website contains inspirational videos, quotes, and stories about everyday people achieving great things.
Thompson turned to a grass-roots style of funding to grow his business, using his own savings and a line of credit from his hometown bank to finance operations. This has allowed Thompson to maintain 100% control of the company and its direction. He uses a grassroots approach to marketing as well by relying on social media to generate excitement and word-of-mouth about the Compete Every Day brand. “We post three to four days per week on our blog, two to three times per week on Facebook, and nearly every day on Twitter and Instagram,” said Thompson. The company also has an app which gives users updates on new products, access to exclusive offers and even inspirational quotes. “This kind of social media presence makes the community your microphone and megaphone,” he said. Thompson added that grass-roots marketing isn’t a quick fix. “This is a powerful way to grow a business, but it takes time.” Part of this approach includes establishing a physical presence at lifestyle events like marathons and CrossFit competitions in order to increase brand awareness among the company’s target groups.
Thompson relies on his own ideas and those of a few graphic designers to produce unique shirts available on the company’s website for only 72 hours, creating scarcity that drives customers back to the website in anticipation of new designs. Thompson’s marketing plan is working: after reaching six figures during the 2012 fiscal year, Compete Every Day’s sales have doubled two years in a row and are on track to increase another 1.5 times by the end of the company’s current fiscal year. But revenue isn’t the Thompson’s only goal. “The most important thing you can do is tell a powerful story about your company,” he said, “and Compete Every Day’s story is that you have a life worth competing for.”
Jake Thompson graduated in 2008 from the University of Dallas’ Satish and Yasmin Gupta College of Business with a Masters of Business Administration.