Daily classes and too much reading may set a college student’s short-term assignments above long-term goals. For many, however, graduation looms in a few short years and academic cohesion should not be a matter of hindsight.
Reflecting on their college years, former UC Davis students discuss how both classroom and work experience shaped their career paths, and urge current students to remember that classroom experience alone may not be enough to find the right field.
Shanon Astley, a UC Davis transfer student who graduated in summer 2013, stressed that opportunities outside of campus hold as much importance as academics within.
“You owe it to yourself as a student to challenge your fears, your compassion, your drive — because when you do, what you discover is worth so much more than what you find in a textbook,” Astley said.
Astley started college with the aspiration to become a teacher. Her interests immediately shifted toward science, eventually directing her path away from general teaching to research.
By the time she transferred to UC Davis she was majoring in biochemistry and molecular biology. Only a lack of room in her schedule stopped her from also pursuing a minor in sociology.
Having started school with the intention to help others as a teacher, she continues to pursue public service. She narrowed her focus toward helping communities suffering from HIV and poverty.
“I realized I wanted to personally be involved in the lives of HIV patients,” Astley said.
She has connected herself with Oak Park Outreach in Sacramento, a service that educates the local community on safe sex, HIV, hepatitis C and B and offers a free needle exchange and free clinic on Saturdays. She has also involved herself with various projects while volunteering in South Africa and Kenya.
“When you volunteer abroad, you don’t have to start your own project and you don’t have to go there with a big plan. You just need to go there, invest your whole heart, and I guarantee you will help someone,” Astley said.
She is currently applying to medical school and in the meantime works as a medical technician in an assisted living and memory care facility in Auburn, Calif.
Alice Phun, a UC Davis June 2012 graduate who completed degrees in history and Asian American studies, agreed with Astley, stressing that extracurriculars are important.
“I didn’t think networking was that important in college, but after college I realized the importance of a good network,” Phun said.
Phun has spent the past year after her graduation searching for jobs in state government work and nonprofit organizations. She attributes part of the need for such a long search to a lack of networking while in college. She’s done everything else seemingly right.
“One of the things I did my freshman year was [try] to plan out my entire four years as much as possible,” Phun said.
This planning ensured she could finish her double major after switching from environmental horticulture and urban forestry.
Kao-May Saeteurn, also a 2012 UC Davis graduate, had almost the opposite experience.
“I joined the Marines straight from high school in 2003. After four years of service I was selected for an officer commissioning program where the military sent me to college to get a degree,” Saeteurn said.
Saeteurn majored in exercise biology and minored in education, completing his degree before returning to duty. Rather than picking a career to match his education, his prior experiences directly impacted his choices as a student.
“With a military background, fitness has always been one of the most important aspects of my career and life. I started and ended with this major,” Saeteurn said.
Aided by his education, Saeteurn plans to stay fit and continue his service in the Marines for another 10 years.
Unlike Saeteurn, Jonathan Tung, who graduated from UC Davis in June 2013 with a degree in chemical engineering, directed his career path based on his classes.
“I wasn’t sure what industry I wanted to go into, so I chose chemical engineering because it was so broad and versatile. As I took more classes, I started to get an idea of where my interests lie,” Tung said.
Tung currently works in the pharmaceutical processing and technology development department at Genentech, a biotechnology organization headquartered in California. His path was shaped by his college experience, and his interests were discovered during his education; however, his education is not quite complete.
“I would suggest freshmen to keep an open mind to everything and anything that’s out there. Even though I’m out of school, I need to learn now and continue to do so for the rest of my career,” Tung said.
Tung plans to continue his career at Genentech, possibly changing departments as he learns more and his interests change.
To current students, Astley also stressed that experience teaches you and can change your career.
“Invest your time wisely, chase what drives you, and do it. You won’t regret it,” Astley said.
NICK FREDERICI can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.