What’s next? Alumni share their stories after graduation
There may be no time as contradictory as graduating college. Students experience a cocktail of emotions, usually joy, elation and relief, and at the same time, fear, doubt and turmoil as many changes lie ahead.
The University’s six-year graduation rate has passed 60 percent and graduates have an average salary of $51,600, according to the Department of Education.
The Cougar reached out to alumni from all walks of life to ask them what they experienced after they finished college.
Courtney Brown – Stayed at her job after graduation
Courtney Brown graduated 2017 with a degree in business administration, and was surprised that it didn’t feel as life changing as she thought.
“I thought I was going to go from school straight to the workforce, but I worked most through college,” Brown said. “I transitioned fairly seamlessly, with no time stuck in that ‘limbo’ I think others feel.”
However, Brown didn’t begin working in what she felt was her field right away, instead staying at the job she was already at.
“My boss thought my degree was in sales,” Brown said. “I appreciated having employment right after college, but it was not my forever job.”
She went from her job in sales to a temp job as she searched for work that suited her degree and passion, which was higher education.
“Do not knock temp agencies,” Brown said. “They’re the reason I have my current job, which eventually became full time employment.”
Brown said she wouldn’t have made it without her parents and her boyfriend being there to help, as well as her roommate, who all provided her with many forms of support, including financially.
“They knew if they supported me or gave me money, they didn’t have to worry about me paying them back when I could,” Brown said.
Brown used to work at Escape Room off Louisiana Street, but now works at the Welcome Center at UH and at the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts downtown.
“I really like where I am now,” Brown said. “I only feel like I’m reaching where I want to be now, so it definitely can take time.”
Nam-My Lee – Job offer after college
Nam-My Lee graduated from the University in 2015, with degrees in economics and accounting. He spent five years at the University and after graduation felt relieved.
“I was pretty excited, and I was pretty burnt out,” Lee said. “I love college, that wasn’t the issue at all, but I was ready to move to the next stage of my life.”
Part of that excitement was due to already having a job offer straight out of college as a data analyst at Exxon Mobil Corp., a job he still works at and saw him move around, including to Dallas.
“I changed degrees a lot,” Lee said. “I interned at Texas Instruments as an engineer, I worked at The Daily Cougar as a news editor, so I got tons of experience, and that primarily got me where I was.”
It took Lee about six months to feel normal again after graduation, partially due to moving for work, Lee said.
“Moving out of your support system is difficult,” Lee said. “You’re leaving your friends, the structure of college, and I moved to an entirely different city, so I didn’t have access to that support at all.”
The most important thing a graduating student could have is an open mind, Lee said.
“It’s going to be kind of weird,” Lee said. “After graduation, it’s a wild ride, and you can end up in a lot of places, so keep an open mind to opportunities.”
Chris Gervasio – Graduate program
Chris Gervasio graduated from Bauer College in 2017 with an undergraduate degree, and in 2018 with his master’s in accounting, but he went through a direct program that funneled him right into his postgraduate degree and considers 2018 his real graduation date.
“I was paying graduate tuition, but for all purposes I was in an undergrad mindset still,” Gervasio said.
While Gervasio had a job lined up, he took several months to focus on the Uniform Certified Public Accountant, or CPA, exams until he began working Oct. 2018.
“I was worried about finding a job since my freshman year,” Gervasio said. “I was one of those weird kids trying to work jobs and get internships since day one.”
Gervasio wanted graduating students to understand that life continues after the degree and leaving college.
“This wasn’t the end,” Gervasio said. “Graduation is just another milestone, the same way getting married, getting to the wedding ceremony, isn’t the end. The relationship keeps going and so does life.”
Deborah Okoro – Took time to find a job
Deborah Okoro graduated in May 2019 with a degree in psychology, after following a typical four-year plan. However, her plans stalled when she couldn’t immediately find work after graduation.
Okoro moved home to live with her parents to start searching for jobs, but hopes to find a better living situation.
“I was waiting, waiting, and I felt like I had to go back to the drawing board,” Okoro said.
Fortunately, she now works as a recruiter for healthcare jobs, a job she found in July, which she feels will propel her into another career in workforce solutions or HR.
“I don’t know when I’ll find a normal state again,” Okoro said. “I feel like with all the pressure of looking for a good living situation, it’s difficult.”
Okoro had the support of her family, but at times their expectations made things more difficult, especially in regards to work, she said.
“My mom was kind of pressuring me to get started and asking me what my plans were,” Okoro said. “It made me feel stressed.”
Even with the uncertainty, Okoro wanted graduating students to feel proud of what they’ve achieved.
“You don’t have to figure it out right now,” Okoro said. “Graduation is a huge accomplishment.”
Brooke Tolle – Graduate school and a job
Brooke Tolle graduated in December 2016 with a major in Liberal Studies and was in a bit of a haze for months afterward. She had enjoyed her time as an undergraduate student, but her next plan was to “get a job she didn’t hate” and figure out what she wanted to study in grad school.
Narrowing down her options for grad schools was daunting, Tolle said. After trying out a few different jobs over the last couple of years, Tolle is back at the Graduate College of Social Work pursuing a master’s.
“I knew that I wanted to do something along the lines of psychology or sociology or something, and I feel like I’m in the right place with social work,” Tolle said.
Having an enormous amount of support from her friends and family has been a huge help in life, Tolle said. However, she said after graduation it gets harder to maintain friendships, as it takes more intentional effort to find time to spend with each other.
“You may realize that there were some people you were only friends with out of convenience,” Tolle said. “That’s OK. It’s OK for your circle to narrow a bit. Hold the ones who are dear to you close. Tell them you love them.”
Tolle said in her experience there’s a societal pressure to follow a formula of finishing school, starting your career, getting married and then having children. However, she said life has a different path for everyone and each one is valid.
“The world is changing and people don’t typically stay at jobs for 30-plus years anymore,” Tolle said. “Family can look like a lot of different things. There are a lot of directions your life can go.”
Rodolfo Yamba – Pivoted to law school
Rodolfo Yamba graduated in Spring 2019 with bachelor’s degrees in psychology and liberal studies.
During his studies, Yamba initially wanted to go to physician assistant school, but in his last few months at UH he wanted a career change. Now, he’s preparing for the LSAT to head to law school.
“Stay engaged, stay involved, do things that you want to do, not because you have to do it, and be OK with changing,” Yamba said as advice to future alumni.
Yamba took a variety of services related courses at UH — from food security, poverty alleviation, education, genocide and more.
“I realized in everything that I’ve been doing the link was with people and understanding and advocating for them in these different areas,” Yamba said.
He slowly began to realize that he wanted to do more at the intersection of health and humanities, which ignited his passion to attend law school.
“Always just know that you can always spin your experience to make it work for quest and what potentially want to do,” Yamba said.
Some advice that Yamba said he’d give to future graduate would be to not be afraid of a gap year. In his experience, once you have a job there are no breaks in life. So, if you need to take some time and figure out what you want in life you should go for it.
“You’re not failing,” Yamba said. “Not everybody needs to go work right out. Everybody’s capable of doing that.”
Yamba also recommends to stay connected with your former professors and fellow students and to take use of the networking opportunity your undergraduate studies gave you.
“Who knows, they might funnel you to a potential job opportunity that you may want to do,” Yamba said.