There is a theory we use in Career Services, referred to as Happenstance Theory by John Krumboltz. Essentially, Krumboltz theorized that “unpredictable social factors, chance events and environmental factors are important influences” on our careers. And when I look back, and the non-patterns become patterns, I see the influence of my Madison Experience on my career.
It all starts with a flyer. In the fall of 1999, I was admitted to JMU Early Action. Like every good applicant, I visited Harrisonburg but for some reason my dad never drove west of 81 or north of 11. I never experienced downtown. I didn’t realize the glory of “Mall-Mart”. I insisted on the private, out-of-state, super elite university instead. So off to the frozen tundra of Cleveland, Ohio I went. I changed my major five times, from Vocal Performance, to Music Education, to Psychology and finally to Communication Disorders. I got involved, and made friends. Then, September 11th happened and our world changed. The economy stumbled and hard decisions happened. My family and I came to the decision that it made more sense to transfer home to study at one of the best Communication Sciences and Disorders programs at an in-state rate – JMU. So, 5 days before the deadline I rushed my SATs, sent in my transcripts and applied to transfer.
SPOILER ALERT: I was admitted.
When the admission packet arrived, inside was information on housing, and stuck to the housing information was a flyer, “Currently Hiring RA’s for 2002-2003 – Contact Stephanie Carr.” So I did. I sent in my resume, spoke on the phone with Stephanie, and found myself not only transferring to the Shenandoah Valley but employed for the year ahead in Chappelear Hall as a Resident Assistant.
I spent my first year falling in love with JMU. Crossing 81 to ISAT daily, making friends, memories and covering my nose from the mulch smell in the spring. I was reintroduced to my future husband at an Ashby party one Saturday night (and yes they played the fight song at our wedding despite his Hokie affiliation). I developed a sense of service to my community, and became fully indoctrinated into the Office of Residence Life nerd life.
What people may not know is that residence life, is a “gateway drug” to higher education jobs. That is how they get you. Purple polo shirts are HOT! So when my supervisor encouraged me to apply to be one of a few undergraduate Hall Directors on campus, I did. And my senior year I found myself hiring a staff of six RA’s, and building a community in Chappelear. I LOVED IT. I ate it up. And I found myself questioning my decision to apply for Speech Pathology masters programs, so I asked the graduate students, specifically Dre Anthes, “How do I get your job?”
And then I called my parents. “Hey! So you know that big plan of graduate school in Speech Path, high potential job outlook, great money, etc.? Yeah…. I want to work for colleges and talk with students for the rest of my life. Okay, bye.”
And that was the seismic shift. I walked across the stage at Bridgeforth, grabbed my diploma and headed south to North Carolina State University. I said yes to opportunities in front of me, as Krumboltz says we should. I was so nerdy about my new field, I became head of the Graduate Student Association, taking over the position from 2003 alumnus Kevin Hoch. As I was getting ready to graduate, I received an email from a Ph.D student saying her job was about to become available on campus, and again it was another JMU alum, Lesley Grieco Wirt (2002) who influenced my path. Before I knew it was there, or that I needed it, my Madison Experience was supporting me through my earlier career.
One of the greatest parts of my Madison Experience that has continued post-graduation, was my time in the JMU Triangle Alumni Chapter. My second year of graduate school the alumni office sent a note indicating a desire to restart our local chapter and asked if I would attend a meeting to find out more. WHY NOT? I love college. I love MY college. I’m in higher education, I know what I’m doing. So I went, and when the sign-up sheet came around I rode the happenstance train and signed up to help with programming. Programming Chair lead to taking over as Vice President, and within 5 years of graduation I found myself President of the JMU Chapter, leading my fellow alumni in meeting the needs of our Dukes in a 60 mile radius around Raleigh.
Which brings me to today. I’ve been a Duke. I’ve been a member of the NCSU Wolfpack; a Duke Blue Devil; a VCU Ram; and now, I find myself a Duke amongst Spiders at the University of Richmond. And what I know, is that the Madison Network is unique. Not everyone feels so indebted to an institution of higher learning. Not everyone shares a bond like we do. And not everyone holds doors for every student walking through Dhall or Wilson Hall. Not everyone loves their fight song like we do.
But JMU gave me, and all alumni, the chance to go in a hundred different directions with our lives and careers. Bridge or Train or Highway or Bus? Purple OR Gold? And it has been the thousands of tiny decisions we have made that get us to where we are today. So, I share a few final thoughts about how you can create happenstance for yourself as well as fellow and future Dukes.
1) Return that LinkedIn request — Trust me, when I say the Career and Academic Planning Center is telling students to find you and reach out to ask you how you got started in your career. Respond, even if to say “I’m super busy but I’ll follow up next month”. Share your path with current students. Share the good and the bad about your experiences, and pass it along. Share with one another as well. We are a tight community, and we should lift one another up.
2) Say yes, when you don’t think you’re ready. – I sat in the JMU Alumni Triangle meeting thinking “Why am I here? Where is the happy hour you promised? No, please don’t guilt me into this”. Taking the tiny step of saying yes to the smallest thing I could give at the time, lead to a commitment the following years that brought me joy and connection with my fellow Dukes in North Carolina. Taking risk comes with rewards.
3) Keep your eyes open — Create moments of opportunity for yourself. Let in that driver who is trying to merge with the Duke Dog sticker on its bumper in front of you. Wear your alumni sweatshirt to the grocery store and yell “Go Dukes” when you run across someone else in theirs. Dare to wear your Purple/Gold to work. Look for opportunities to that can change your path in the slightest, and almost imperceptible ways.
Look for your own flyer, throw caution to the wind, and see where it takes you.
Connector of college students to opportunity. Relationship-builder, not collector. Data nerd who believes numbers help us all tell our story and inform decisions. I am also known for bringing in a dozen donuts on a random Tuesday. JMU ’04 and NCSU ’06 grad.