Beyond the bullpen
UB alumni share advice on school, jobs, and finding the work-life balance
The Spectrum spoke with UB alumni across the country, from those in public relations in Los Angeles to aerospace engineering in Washington, D.C. Despite their different paths, most alumni had similar advice for students entering the job market.
Networking: It’s as important as everyone says
There is perhaps no phrase more ubiquitous on a college campus today than “networking,” and according to alumni, there’s a reason the buzzword gets so much traction. Nearly all alumni agreed on the importance of overcoming the “awkwardness” of emailing, calling and reaching out to professionals for advice and insight.
Cooper Ehrendreich graduated from UB in 2016 with a bachelor’s degree in international trade and now works as a staffing assistant in Washington for local Congressman Brian Higgins. Ehrendreich said he applied to internships here and there, never hearing back. His senior year he accepted an internship with Sen. Chuck Schumer and from there discovered he loved working in politics.
“It took some doing for me. Initially, I wasn’t super comfortable with this, but really just send a cold email to people and they’ll almost always be willing to grab a coffee with you to talk about what they do and what your interests are,” Ehrendreich said.
Elie Onokoko graduated in 2014 with a degree in computer science and media studies, and now works for the international consulting firm Deloitte. Onokoko said he wishes he would have been more involved during his time at UB, and joined different clubs and organizations.
“There are a lot of small communities and organizations [at UB] that I could have been involved in,” Onokoko said. “I met a lot of really great people but if I had been more involved, I definitely would’ve learned a lot more and grown my network more. It’s easy to get comfortable with your group of friends or your ‘thing.’ I think a lot of people do that. But you need to try new things. There are a lot of benefits to that.”
Corey Rosen, who graduated from UB in 2015 with a bachelor’s in film studies and communication, said students should never be afraid to reach out to past UB alum for networking. Rosen has worked in Los Angeles' entertainment industry since 2015, and said she still is “constantly asking” for informational interviews with others in the industry.
“People are so happy to talk about themselves, especially when you have a connection either through a school or a sorority or something like that,” Rosen said. “They don’t need your whole life story, but just send a short introduction, and say, ‘If it’s not too much trouble I’d love to steal 10 or 15 minutes or your time to learn more about your career trajectory.’ UB has such an amazing international alum network, and I think it’s a shame that people don’t maybe take advantage of it.”
Intern, Intern, Intern
Peter Rizzo received his bachelor’s in English in 2007 before getting his master’s at Cornell University in city and regional planning. He now works at the federal headquarters for Veterans Affairs, after working for six years in another federal agency.
“The one piece of practical advice I would give to students is to use the summers and winters to take internships. I’m very fortunate to say I don’t have any regrets about how my career has gone, and that’s in part because of really thoughtful career planning. Interning is so crucial for that,” Rizzo said.
Rizzo interned through UB’s partnership with Millard Fillmore College, and also worked at The Spectrum, first as an assistant news editor and later as editorial editor. He credits the newspaper with making him a fast and concise writer.
Alumni also noted that any internship could be valuable experience, if for no other reason than to learn more about a field.
“The things you get to learn from interning or volunteering in politics can translate into so many different things so even if it’s not totally for you. The skills you’re exposed to can really help you focus on what it is you want to do,” Ehrendreich said.
Grad school: a gigantic waste of time, or essential in today’s job market?
Alec Frazier, who graduated in 2013 with his bachelor’s in political science, and in 2016 with his master’s in disability studies, began his career in disability rights advocacy immediately after graduating in 2016.
Since then, he spoke on behalf of disabled communities at the Obama White House, and has a book on autism coming out in three weeks.
UB’s graduate program in disability studies has been “immensely helpful” in Frazier’s career, he said. And yet he thinks students should consider taking time off before going into debt for their graduate degree.
“The degrees were absolutely worth it. Life is a really wonderfully rich, magical thing for me right now and a big part of it is due to those degrees,” Frazier said. “But if you can only do grad school with student loans, then I would suggest you at least take some time off and make some money and have some fun before you can go to grad school.”
On the other hand, Rizzo said he highly recommends students pursue graduate school if they can.
“We don’t hire many people who are recent undergrads with bachelor's degrees,”
Rizzo said. “We need either a bachelor’s and significant professional experience or we’ll hire people with a master’s right out of school, but in today’s world it seems to me that it’s paramount for students to strongly consider pursuing either graduate or professional studies.”
From Nanosat to NASA: clubs as a launchpad
It’s no secret that incoming students are encouraged to join clubs, but alumni say being involved with organizations on campus is more than just a way to meet friends. For Sam Pawlyk, jumping around from club to club eventually landed him an internship with NASA.
Pawlyk graduated in December 2014 with an aerospace and mechanical engineering degree and a computer science minor. He spent the spring semester interning at the space hub’s location in Maryland. From his internship, Pawlyk went on to get his master’s at the University of Maryland, and now works full-time designing software for a private aerospace company.
But it’s tough for him to say where he would be now if he hadn’t joined clubs at UB,
specifically working with the Nanosatellite Club out of the aerospace engineering department.
“That was crucial,” Pawlyk said. “I worked with the robotics club a little bit, but just going and trying different clubs until I found one that fit. Actually going out and doing things is the biggest step toward where I got.”
From politics to pastry: know when to scale back
After getting her law degree from UB in 1998, Amy DuVall went on to work in Washington as an environmental lobbyist, fulfilling a childhood dream to fight for the earth. She worked for most of a decade to amend a piece of legislation related to toxic waste. In 2016, DuVall finally saw the legislation pass. It was a moment of satisfaction her entire career had been leading up to, she said.
But then something else happened; DuVall began to notice odd cramps in different parts of her body from tensing muscles. Her dentist prescribed a bite guard because her teeth were so ground down from clenching her jaw. She wasn’t sleeping right.
DuVall realized the stress and anxiety that she’d dealt with most of her life as a practicing lawyer and then lobbyist –– the same stress that drove her to do the work she loved –– was wearing her down. On March 9, she quit her job and began looking into pastry school.
DuVall said she regrets nothing about her career, but wants students to know it’s never too late in a career to take a break or try something new, especially when mental and physical health is at stake.
“What I’ve learned is that you can make the best plan and then at some point a higher power takes over and says, ‘Hey, that was a great idea you had, but here’s how it actually is going to work out,’” DuVall said. “I don’t think I would have changed a thing. Getting that bill across the finish line is the highlight of my career, but I also knew right now I needed a break.”
For the next few months, DuVall plans to explore her love of pastry, and is working on the first draft of a book detailing her work with environmental legislation.
Buffalo: stay or go?
Although none of the alumni The Spectrum spoke with live in Buffalo currently, all spoke fondly of the Queen City, and many said they are trying to find a way to move back for work.
Alumni said they regretted not spending more time exploring the city while they had the chance, and urge UB students not to make the same mistake.
Students should also take advantage of being so close to the Canadian border, and visit major cities like Toronto, Pawlyk said. The same is true for the university itself. Don’t take opportunities for granted, alumni urge.
“So many people complain about UB and there are so many opportunities at that school to learn and to grow and to develop,” Rizzo said. “I’m extremely proud of being an alum from UB. More so than even Cornell.”