Alumni offer spring graduates some words of advice

Kelly Richardson

It’s that time of year. The time when graduating seniors walk the line and walk out into the real world. It’s also a time when seniors can look to alumni, who have walked that walk and to share their experiences.

It’s alumni like Kristen Miller, Kim Thomas, Donald Smith, Finley Woodard and Julie Childress whose Western reminiscences can guide seniors as they leave the Hill for good.

Kristen Miller

Miller, a 1997 graduate, is a policy analyst for the Louisville metro government. She makes recommendations for the mayor, after researching things like what other cities have done in certain situations.

She spent four years at Western. She was a print journalism major with a minor in government. She was also a member of the Student Government Association.

But it’s the professors that stand out in Miller’s mind when thinking about Western. Miller said that Erika Brady, a modern languages professor, Camilla Collins, a modern languages optional retiree and James Highland, a journalism professor who was Miller’s adviser, are professors she remembers fondly.

“They were creative, they treated us as adults, they challenged us to really come up with our own opinions,” she said. “They made it feel like a collective experience instead of something you come in and sit down and do for an hour.”

Harry Allen, a journalism associate professor, also made a lasting impression on Miller.

“At the time he probably gnashed my teeth,” she said, “but now I thank him about every day for the things he taught us in class.”

Miller says Western was a vital player in her life after graduation.

“Just about every job I’ve had since I’ve graduated came from Western,” she said.

Miller also said that being on the Hill for four years helped her become more independent and gain a new perspective.

“I guess it kind of opened my eyes to more of the world,” she said.

According to Miller, if graduating seniors want to take away something from her story, it should be something Highland told her when she was graduating.

“The school’s done a lot for you, hasn’t it?” she recalls him asking her.

When she answered “yes”, he replied, “Well, now, it’s your turn.”

Kim Thomas

Thomas, a 1992 graduate, has a different story to tell. She lives in Bowling Green, where she is a commercial banking officer at Citizen’s First Bank.

Her story, however, doesn’t differ when it comes her feelings about her Western education.

“I think it was very good preparation,” she said. “It allowed me experiences outside of the classroom and in the community that helped me prepare for what I’m doing now.”

This preparation could be due in part to Steven White, an accounting and finance associate professor. Thomas said she feels he had the most impact on her of the professors at Western.

“He was just very helpful and also very personable,” she said. “He was interested in what was going on with you outside of school.”

As graduates are stepping out into the world, they are undoubtedly looking toward careers. To them, Thomas offers this advice: “Do as much research as you can and be as prepared as you can when you’re looking for a job.”

She also insists grads should “make sure it’s something you enjoy, because you’ll probably be doing it a lot. Because I think in order to be successful, you have to do more than you’re asked.”

Donald Smith

There are some graduates who love Western so much, they never want to leave. That would be the story of Smith, the alumni relations director at Western.

Smith graduated in 1995, with a degree in corporate and organizational communication. He went on to attend Vanderbilt University to obtain his master of arts degree in higher education administration. He is currently getting his doctorate at Vanderbilt in the same subject.

Smith was also involved at Western while he was a student. He was in Sigma Phi Epsilon, SGA, Spirit Masters, and the Phi Beta Lambda business organization.

“Western has a lot of different opportunities and you learn as much out of the classroom as you do in the classroom and both are equally important in preparing an individual for a career,” he said.

Inside the classroom, Joseph Cangemi, a psychology professor, was just one of the instructors who helped Smith prepare for his life now.

“He really stood out and was instrumental in preparing people for the work force and developing self-confidence and everyday skills that individuals need to succeed,” he said.

While Smith said Western gave him those skills, he said people can’t obtain all they need in life from school.

“Western or any institution cannot 100 percent prepare you for everything that you’re going to see or experience,” he said.

Finley Woodard

Smith isn’t alone as a Western graduate who works for the university. Finley Woodard, the assistant director of admissions, was once a student, too.

Woodard completed her bachelor’s degree in computer information systems at Western and received her master’s in student personnel services.

Woodard was a walk-on on the women’s basketball team her senior year, and being a member of an athletic team was one of the main reasons why she appreciated Thomas Bohuski, a physics and astronomy visiting assistant professor.

“He understood that we’d be gone for periods of time and he didn’t hold it against us, he kind of helped us,” she said.

Woodard was also a student worker in the economics department and said all of the professors were “wonderful.” She said they still invite her to events put on by the department.

“They still treat me as one of theirs,” she said.

But Woodard said she was impressed with Western as a whole in how it prepared her for her career.

“I felt they did a very good job because my career started immediately after graduation; I immediately started working at Western,” she said.

Maybe she did so well because of the advice she gives to graduates.

“Get to know any and everybody they can while they’re in school,” she said. “And make sure they know who you are.”

Julie Childress

Childress, a contractor for AFLAC and a South Central Bank employee who does mortgage servicing, has only been out of Western for a year and a half. But she said her life hasn’t gotten any easier since graduating in 2002.

“Hard work doesn’t end after you graduate,” she said.

Childress got her degree in corporate and organizational communication with a minor in marketing.

She was involved outside the classroom as a communication ambassador, and was in Alpha Kappa Psi business fraternity and the Student Alumni Association.

“It makes you a more well-rounded person,” she said. “It’s more than just the classroom.”

But despite all that Childress learned inside and outside of the classroom, it couldn’t teach her everything.

“I guess I wasn’t prepared for the fact that things didn’t go the way I had expected them to go,” she said.

“You don’t land your perfect job right out of college,” she adds. “But the jobs I’ve had have prepared me for things I came across later.”

As graduates transition from Western seniors to Western alumni, the Alumni Relations Office can help.

The Alumni Office keeps in touch with alumni by direct mail, e-mail, an alumni magazine published three times a year, and an online newsletter sent out monthly. There are also 44 alumni chapters across the country.

Childress attempted to sum up hers and thousands of other graduating seniors’ college experiences.

“It’s one of the greatest times in your life, I think,” she said.

Reach Kelly Richardson at [email protected]