Alumni recount paths to work that matters
A full house in Richardson Auditorium welcomed four members of the Beloit alumni community to the annual Weissberg Alumni Career Panel on Sept. 21, the Friday afternoon of Homecoming and Family and Friends Weekend.
The panel discussion features a different mix of young alumni each year who are involved in advocating for human rights and social justice. The event is designed to offer current students insight into this work through the trajectories of the featured alumni and provide an opportunity to see what a Beloit education offers from the perspective of alumni who are now engaged in work they’re passionate about.
Seeking out classes and experiences outside your major area of focus was one universal piece of advice from the panel, as was allowing time between Beloit and graduate school. Other tidbits included thinking about the future now, not only in the senior year, the importance of listening, and remembering to do what makes you happy.
Barb Knittel’06, a psychology major at Beloit, now holds a master’s degree in public health from Tulane University’s School of Public Health and did a stint with the Peace Corps in Bulgaria working with Roma youth after Beloit. She is a research, monitoring, and evaluation advisor for JSI Research & Training Institute, a position in which she manages a data analytics and visualization team tasked with public health projects in West Africa, among other things.
Her advice to students was to take advantage of the resources and what she called the “amazing professors” at Beloit. “The skill set you should be working on here is learning how to work in teams,” she said. “Beloit is a great place to hone critical thinking skills and to become a good writer, which is not that common out there. Do something that makes you happy to go to work each day.”
Amanda Lawnicki’14, a Russian and international relations major, is in her final year of graduate school at Indiana University, where she’s enrolled in a dual Russian studies and public administration program.
A year out of Beloit, she successfully landed a Weissberg Fellowship that supported a six-month internship in Bosnia with the Center for Peacebuilding before she started graduate work. She said one of her favorite things about Beloit was the chance to get deeply involved in international studies. She encouraged students to apply for anything that interests them and to see the application process itself as an important experience.
Emma Wingfield’08 majored in art history and minored in anthropology at Beloit and then went directly to University College London to earn master’s degrees in the history of art and in archaeology. As part of her master’s program, she worked in the field of archaeology on the African diaspora, which led to a position at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, where she researched objects from the Congo and made connections with other researchers. Those connections eventually led her to meet and collaborate with artists and weavers in a remote part of the Ivory Coast. She co-founded Five Six Textiles, a company that works with artisans in West Africa to bring their beautiful, hand-woven textiles to distant, high end markets.
She explained to students that she couldn’t really find the job she wanted, so she created one. She counseled them to “take advantage of the collections here; take advantage of the resources.” She also urged students to take calculated risks. “You don’t have to be linear. Try a bunch of things … see what you like and experiment.
Megan Slavish’14 is a candidate for a master’s degree in urban planning at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design. A health and society major at Beloit, she studied abroad in Botswana, and after Beloit worked in Uganda for the Global Health Program, which paired staff with local leaders to identify needs and acquire microgrants. She described her circuitous journey this way: “Sometimes you just have to be opportunistic and go with the flow. It was definitely a zigzag to get to where I am now.” She also urged students thinking of studying abroad to consider the ways they can cross borders nearby—to look to the city of Beloit and state of Wisconsin for example. “You don’t have to cross a border to learn from someone who’s different from you. If you’re thinking of going abroad as embracing the unfamiliar, I challenge you to do that here,” she said.
Slavish also encouraged students to be looking for internships or job shadowing experiences throughout their time as undergraduates. “Think about what you’ll do over break and take time to find someone who does something you may want to do and talk to them,” she said, adding that she did some job shadowing at a for-profit urban planning firm herself this summer. “It’s an ongoing process,” she said. “Don’t wait until your senior year to start thinking about the future.”
Knittel had a closing comment, and it was a reassuring one: “You will all be fine,” she told students. “You have a great education and you’re smart people. It might not work out the first time you try to do something but it’s OK to fail.”