By Edward Weinman
Photos by Matt Banderas
Allison Kelly ’16 came to the networking reception sponsored by the Student Engagement Centeron Friday because she wanted to find out, firsthand, where her Whitman degree might take her. At the Reid Campus Center Coffeehouse, Kelly had the opportunity to connect with a host of interesting alumni, from a brew master, to a wealth management guru, to an opera singer.
“It’s inspiring to see where I can go with a Whitman degree and what doors I can walk though,” said Kelly, who is leaning towards majoring in politics.
Kelly wound up gravitating toward Katie Masferrer ’03, a former psychology major who served in the Peace Corps in Peru and founded MEJOR Communities, a nonprofit organization aimed at inspiring leadership among youth in rural Peruvian communities.
Masferrer, who often returns to speak at Whitman, believes it’s important to explain to current students what life after Whitman can be like.
“It can include what students might not ever imagine” while they are in school.
Her advice to Kelly? “Try a little bit of everything. Talk to the staff and professors. They have amazing stories that can open you up to a range of possibilities.”
Polly Schmitz ’83, assistant vice president for events, noted that it’s important to foster relationships between alumni and students because “students can see that a liberal arts degree can lead to so may different opportunities. We have so many different types of alumni,” Schmitz said.
The professions of Whitman alumni run the gamut. At Friday’s event, even an astronaut showed up.
Dottie Metcalf-Lindenburger ’97, who in April 2010 flew into orbit on the Space Shuttle Discovery, epitomizes how a liberal arts education can take a student anywhere.
After graduating from Whitman, the former geology major was teaching when one of her students asked her how astronauts go to the bathroom in space. While searching for the answer, Metcalf-Lindenburger noticed that NASA was looking for teachers to become astronauts. So she applied, and suddenly she was a rookie astronaut “feeling the energy of the solid rocket boosters” and spending 15 days in space.
“It’s important we alumni give back to the Whitman students, because people helped us when we were in school. We have a responsibility to pass on what we’ve learned.”
As Metcalf-Lindenburger’s professional arc illustrates, the path from Whitman to a career “is not a straight line,” she said.
However, some paths are straighter than others. Alex Mitterling ’09 attended the networking event because he wanted to make himself available to students. It was the alumni connections he made in college that led him to his current job as a wealth manager at Brighton Jones in Seattle.
“Whitman is special because it has a strong alumni base and loyal alumni willing to help. Networking through Whitman helped me find a job. It was literally a chain of referrals that got me my current job,” the former economics major said.
Mitterling encouraged students to utilize the SEC as much as possible. He advised students that when applying for jobs to come with a list of questions, because applicants who ask questions set themselves apart from other applicants.
But his most important piece of advice?
“Try to get internships. They help students transition from college to the professional world. I did three of them,” he told the group of Whitman students gathered around him.