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Wednesday, October 20, 2021

UCD alumni “give light” to life-after-college career woes

Gabe Cooley and Ricky Chu began their job search with three goals in mind: giving back to the community, helping the environment and finding a profitable silver lining in a gloomy economy.

From this vision, the two UC Davis graduates decided to “go solar,” and in 2008, partnered to form Frontier Solar, a sustainable solar installation business, offering electricity and water heating to homeowners in the Bay Area.

“When we got out of school, we wanted to start a prosperous business that would allow us to give back to the community and the environment, and have something we could feel good about doing instead of just going into the corporate world,” said Cooley, a former sociology major who graduated from UC Davis in 2006.

Using their background in business, marketing and sales, Cooley and Chu partnered with a mutual friend whose technical expertise in solar installation allowed them to form a foundation for their company. After a year in business, the founders are optimistic for the future, as supportive governmental legislation and a growing consumer interest in green energy continues to thrive.

“Our clients so far have all been referral based. We understand that quality, integrity and a strong warranty will go a long ways in today’s market,” Cooley said. “We have not seen a slowdown in our business as we continue to see a surge in interest for solar power for homes. We have successfully installed over 45 systems and have many more quotes to go out on.”

As young entrepreneurs in their mid-20s, Cooley and Chu clearly remember the feeling of not knowing what to do after college. As interns for College Works Painting, the two met and navigated their way into the business world by creating networks of friends and contacts through their numerous internships and extracurricular activities.

“During college, we would go out to the bars, to social events and we were just open-minded to meeting all kinds of people,” said Chu, a former managerial economics major. “When we graduated a lot of the networks we had – even just through LinkedIn and Facebook – helped us to keep in contact with our college friends, which could later become business contacts, or people you can connect with in your professional career.”

Looking back to college, the two cannot say enough about the value of internships, which they directly attribute to their success in the business world.

“Don’t be discouraged by your failures, and keep long term goals in sight,” said Chu, who was successful in his internship with College Works Painting, and used the experience to open doors for him both personally and professionally.

“I didn’t want to paint houses – what I wanted was general business skills, so when I graduated college, I didn’t have to settle and put in my dues in some company,” he said. “I wanted to hit the ground running and be motivated about what I did every day, and eventually be in a position where I decide where and when I want to work.”

Cooley and Chu emphasize keeping an open mind, and being proactive to seek out internships, even if they aren’t prominently posted. They also encourage students to build a strong work ethic, and be aware of your skills to better market yourself to employers.

“Business fraternities, networking groups, the Internship and Career Center – there are a ton of resources available to college students,” Cooley said. “Just be proactive, and don’t be afraid to research opportunities, and go after them. Eighty percent of the best internships aren’t advertised, so you have to be proactive to go out and seek them yourself.”

Paul Hampton, a former UC Davis graduate who works as a sales consultant for the company, also suggested that students intern in as many and as diverse of fields as possible.

“Get out there and try to intern in college, in whichever area you’re studying – for me, I did one internship that I really didn’t like, and I found that knowing that I didn’t want to do a certain type of job was just as valuable as knowing what I did want to do,” he said.

For more information about finding internships and creating your own career path, visit the Internship and Career Center in South Hall.

MICHELLE IMMEL can be reached at campus@theaggie.org.

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