Westmont Magazine Getting to Work on a Westmont Job Network
Does a Westmont education prepare graduates for careers? Numerous studies establish the value of the liberal arts, which teach students to think critically and communicate effectively. The rapidly evolving workplace demands such skills—and the flexibility that comes from studying a wide range of disciplines. While these competencies help Westmont alumni succeed professionally, finding that first job can be tough. A growing number of students are turning to internships to give them a boost in the job market.
Tom Wilger ’90 attributes his success in starting an operations research company to both the theory he mastered as a computer science major and the ways in which he applied this knowledge. “I learned how to think and solve problems at Westmont,” he explains, “and I found outlets for my learning in internships and graduate school.” During a semester with the San Francisco Urban Program, he marketed accounting systems for a computer reseller, and he interned with AT&T as a graduate student at the Colorado School of Mines.
For his doctoral dissertation, Tom developed a computer program that analyzed the efficiency of manufacturing processes at Coors. By making the changes Tom suggested, the corporation saved a significant amount of money. Their gratitude and eagerness to retain his services enabled him to start his own company after earning a Ph.D. in mathematics and operations research.
Unlike her husband, Jennifer Root Wilger ’91 doesn’t owe her present position to an internship. Her double major of English and religious studies helped her land a job as an editor with Group Publishing, which produces Sunday School curricula and Christian education materials. But she understands the value of internships and has joined Tom in developing a network of alumni willing to work with Westmont interns.
“We both loved our college education and experience,” Jennifer notes, “and we think real-world training on the job can make Westmont’s program even stronger.”
Tom has developed a summer internship at his Golden, Colorado, company, and Jennifer persuaded her employer to do the same. While these positions are currently vacant, the Wilgers hope to fill them next summer. Meanwhile, they have mailed a letter to other alums in Colorado encouraging them to offer internships as well.
Parents as Partners
Parents also know the value of internships. Max and Carole McCormack, who own Travel Headquarters in San Diego, regularly recruit college students as interns in their agency. “Most business owners shy away from internships, fearing the students won’t be productive,” Max observes. “In my experience, interns have proven valuable very quickly.”
As the parents of two students (Todd ’93 and Holly ’96) and members of the Westmont Parents Council, the McCormacks saw a need for an expanded placement program. “Westmont has grown in prominence in many ways,” Max states. “But it needs help establishing a network for jobs and internships. As the alumni are relatively young, it make sense to expand this network by adding parents.”
Like the Wilgers, the McCormacks wrote a letter promoting the network. Nearly 80 parents of current students and recent alums have replied that they want to participate.
By linking efforts with Tina Kistler, who oversees internships for the Career and Life Planning Office, the two couples hope to line up 25–35 student interns next summer in six key areas: San Diego, Denver, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, and Minneapolis.
“There’s a tremendous demand in the business world for the kind of people coming out of Westmont,” Max notes. “A network of Westmont contacts will help students and alums break into the job market and show their worth.”
To earn academic credit for internships, students must work closely with faculty advisers. Both the Wilgers and the McCormacks consider the involvement of professors essential to the success of their plan. Tom, who consulted Professor Russell Howell of the mathematics/computer science department when setting up his internship, believes the Westmont curriculum should require internships. Max regards the San Francisco Urban Semester, which combines internships and academic study, as an ideal model to follow.
As chair of the engineering/physics department, Professor Ken Kihlstrom often gets questions about the job prospects of graduates from liberal arts colleges. He cites a Douglas Aircraft study of long-term employees that concludes the most successful engineers are those who excel in English classes. “You live and die by your ability to communicate,” Ken comments. “Engineers need to think logically to write well and develop successful proposals and presentations. Our majors acquire these skills through our broad curriculum. The hallmark of the liberal arts is producing well-rounded people, not technically proficient employees. Yet well-roundedness can actually help graduates get jobs.”
Ken believes that internships fit in well with the purposes of a liberal arts education. Seeing real-world applications of theoretical knowledge not only helps students’ resumes but deepens their learning. He strongly encourages engineering/physics majors do internships, and about half of them take his advice. Companies such as Santa Barbara Research Center, local fire departments, and the Los Padres National Forest service use Westmont interns. Some students even work their way into permanent jobs. Ken looks forward to consulting with alumni and parents who offer internships to match students with positions and make suggestions about the structure and nature of their work.
Internships as Entrees
Two recent graduates can testify to the value of their experiences as interns. Katie Maddrell Ferren ’95 says she owes her current job to her internship as the managing editor of the “Horizon,” Westmont’s student paper. As director of communications for Pro Health Inc., she oversees publications for this mail-order company. A double major in English and communication studies, Katie learned to use computers for design and layout as the editor of her high school newspaper. During the two years she worked on the “Horizon” she developed this skill even further.
“Some alums say Westmont didn’t prepare them for real life,” Katie relates. “But these people didn’t take advantage of all the opportunities the college offers—such as internships. If you focus only on your studies and don’t get involved with the local community, you won’t be very presentable to an employer. Internships expose you to office politics and the challenges of getting along with fellow workers. You can’t learn these things by reading a textbook or attending class.”
Students who do work locally, even as babysitters, can use their contacts for networking, she points out. “Santa Barbara residents can be very well-connected and it’s wise to talk to them when looking for work.”
While Jeremy Kamm ’92 didn’t participate in a formal internship as an art major, he did gain practical experience working at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art and a Montecito gallery. But he aspired to be a graphic artist, and neither position taught him the skills he needed. To acquire this expertise, he moved to Denver, Colorado, to pursue an informal internship with graphic designer Todd Clary.
Working entirely on his own initiative, Jeremy has invested in a computer and training materials and has taught himself the basics of graphic art while developing a portfolio to present to prospective employers. Todd is available as a resource to answer questions and critique his work. While this process is working for Jeremy, it requires personal discipline and perseverance. An alumni or parent mentor could have offered Jeremy additional resources and support.
Even alumni can benefit from a Westmont job and internship network. Dana Alexander ’70, director of career and life planning, gets calls from alums who are looking for work, thinking about switching jobs, or considering graduate school. He offers advice and directs them to relevant resources. He would love to connect them with alumni and parents working in their area of interest as well.
Changing careers completely is becoming more common. For 25 years, Bob Lien ’70 held jobs he describes as “working class.” After graduating from Westmont with a degree in sociology, he enrolled in graduate school at Marquette University. Studying working-class issues there inspired him to explore this field first hand. He embarked on a series of positions that included laboring in a foundry, driving a taxi, building, selling, and installing playground equipment, constructing homes, and hanging wallpaper. While he feels blessed by all these experiences, he decided several years ago he didn’t want to grow old as a wallpaper hanger. “Something inside me said, ‘There’s more to life than this,’” he recalls. When his uncle asked him if he had ever finished his degree, he began to think about going back to graduate school.
Sociologists at the University of California at Riverside warned him that much had changed in 20 years and questioned his ability to succeed. Today, after five years in the program, he expects to earn his doctorate in 1997. He studied marathon running (one of his hobbies) for his master’s thesis and hopes to write his dissertation on rock climbing (another avocation). Specializing in work and labor in the global economy, he plans to teach at a college or university and continue his research. He is thriving in his new life.
“Going back to school was a momentous decision for someone with a wife, three kids, and a house,” Bob relates. “But I have finally torn off the blinders that prevented me from pursuing the talent God gave me.”
Like many others in society, some Westmont alumni struggle with unemployment. A successful, nine-year career in property management enabled David Osborn ’83 to buy a house in Santa Barbara and start an Individual Retirement Account. But an unexpected layoff led to 10 months of unemployment and cost him his house and savings. He then moved his wife and two children to San Luis Obispo to take a job there which didn’t last. Once again he is seeking work.
“Being unemployed is numbing—it drains you. It’s easy to become introspective and constantly wonder what went wrong. But I don’t dwell on these feelings, and I’ve never been closer to my wife. This experience has drawn us together, and we know we’ll come out on the other side better people with a stronger relationship. We now have a deeper understanding of what’s really important, and we have seen God bless us as a family.”
A well-established Westmont job network can make all the difference to people like David—and possibly you. Won’t you sign up today?
—Nancy Favor Phinney ’74