Recent graduate Nicole Travis experienced more than a few déjà vu moments during students’
visit to Starcom Mediavest Group, where she is a media supervisor. A 2011 graduate
who studied English literature and business administration at IWU, Travis shared insights
on the Career Immersion Experience from the alumni side of the equation for IWU Magazine. Her story follows:
From the moment 20 Illinois Wesleyan students filed into our sunny conference room
overlooking the Chicago River, I recalled instantly the feeling of being in their
shoes, of walking into this massive building on Wacker Drive and wondering if I was
ready to go from choking on chalk dust in Shaw Hall to traipsing through this granite
skyscraper every day. In my desperation to land a great job after graduation five
years ago, I had leaned on my then-feeble networking skills and stayed up until 2
in the morning filling out an application at Starcom in the hopes that typing in an
alum’s name under the referral section would make up for the fact that I didn’t really
know what the media industry was yet.
I thought that was where our similarities ended. After all, the students who attended
the inaugural Career Immersion Excursion received a level of introduction to the media
and advertising industry that I didn’t have until my first few months on the job.
Listening to their questions, I was thrilled to see that a few hours at our agency
might prepare them to offer more on their first day as young advertising professionals
than the anxious smiles and blank stares I remember flashing at my first supervisor for weeks.
But when you don’t quite know what you’ve gotten yourself into, you pick up quickly
on the fact that the only and best way to survive your first post-grad professional
role is to learn as you go. Like fellow Star- com Mediavest Group representative Chad Maxwell ’02, this was a skill I first picked
up as a Titan.
“I think Wesleyan teaches you how to think,” said the senior vice president with a
background in anthropology. “When you know how to think, then you can go and pick
up business, you can go and deep dive into a new platform that’s out there, and you
have the ability to adapt and be agile.”
These nimble analytical skills were on full display as students used the opportunity
presented by the Career Immersion Excursion to examine opportunities and challenges
facing today’s advertisers and media agencies. By giving up the freedom of a spring
break, these students had instantly turned the tables. Suddenly they were in control
of the evaluation, and potential employers were trying to capture their attention
with the most enticing job opportunities. Each student could still consider every
connection they made throughout the week a possible career path, and just as at Wesleyan,
they were once again surrounded by people who wanted them to succeed.
It’s a position that is both thrilling and terrifying, and I remember waffling between
the two sentiments regularly. The day I graduated I felt eager to take on the world
but totally unsure about where to start. Now, just about five years later, I had the
opportunity to help people who were in the same position navigate their first steps
into a future that had once seemed so uncertain.
“When I graduated, it was more about ‘I need a paycheck,’” reflected Weber Shandwick
Digital Director Beth Schmidt ’03 after the event. Schmidt, who majored in political
science and women’s studies at IWU, spent her first two years out of college in a
position that paid the bills but didn’t mount up to the career she wanted for herself.
“Even if they have some of those realities, students might want to keep in mind that
you are really in control of your own path.”
Schmidt says this is a lesson she first learned at Illinois Wesleyan, where she accelerated
her studies in order to graduate early. “It was a good environment that showed you
that you’re the master of your own path. I think that was something that helped me
in the real world, and even today. If you’re not happy with something, it’s up to
you to make changes.”
David Rasho ’01, principal and co-founder of access 2 insight, LLC, found himself
in a similar spot early in his data analytics career. After spending six years in
pursuit of his ultimate goal of owning a business, Rasho saw the Career Immersion
Excursion as an opportunity to demonstrate to current students — many of whom are
interested in entrepreneurialism — how ambition and persistence became the key factors
in achieving his goals.
“Over time, through trial/error and effort/luck I’ve gotten to a place I’m very happy
with, but the students should form their own definition of success,” Rasho said. “Sometimes
the answer is to bring passion with you rather than to follow it.”
Now that my career is officially off the ground, I can look back on those days of
nervous anticipation and see that the stress I put on myself was unwarranted, that
at age 27 and five years in I’m still trying to figure out what my next step will
be and when to take it. The truth of the matter is that you can never truly be ready
for what life after college will throw at you, but it’s comforting to know that there are other people who have been where you are,
whether that’s Munsell Hall or Michigan Avenue. And they’re willing to help.
After all, this is the major advantage of a school the size of Illinois Wesleyan.
“Because of our [smaller] network, we’re really more inclined to help one another,”
Maxwell agreed. “I don’t think this is irregular, for alumni to go out of their way.”
I’m sure it was a hectic, fact-filled week that may have even left some students conflicted
about what to do with their lives after rubbing the pineapple on graduation day, but
I hope that the main things these students took away from the experience was the realization
that there would always be someone on the other side looking out for them and understanding
what they were facing. And, if you’re the one who’s looking out for others, you’re
sure to be reminded how proud you are of where you came from.