Entering the New Real World: MCHS alumni embark post-college into an uncertain job market with mixed results
If all had gone as planned, Josey King would be in Boulder this week experiencing the pinnacle of her undergraduate career. She was scheduled to present her research at the American Society of Mammalogists Conference at the University of Colorado. Instead, the Moffat County alumna and 2020 graduate of Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction, was left with an unsettled future and a bummer of a last semester in college.
“I felt like the work I put in my whole undergrad to present, got pushed under the rug,” she said. “It almost felt like my career path took a halt.”
In May, King graduated with a Bachelors of Science in Biology with an emphasis in ecology, evolution and organismal biology. Her plan for the next couple of years was to find internships and research opportunities to help her get into graduate school. She was looking forward to the presentation at the conference to potentially connect her with a future opportunity in her field. Instead, because of cancellations due to COVID-19, she was left scrambling for any leads she could find.
“It all occurred in the crunch time of my senior year,” she said. “It is definitely more difficult to find jobs and opportunities post COVID.”
Across the country other 2020 college graduates have been experiencing stoppages, cancellations and challenges. Schools had to cancel job fairs and other in-person recruiting opportunities, leaving spring graduates without the traditional opportunities for finding their first real-world employer. Not only does that create a challenge, but the jobs that are available are few-and-far between. Several economic experts predict that the future job market could be the worst since the Great Depression.
For some MCHS alumni who graduated with an undergraduate degree this spring, the results have not been all bad, but they have nearly all not been what they expected.
When Allie Dilldine entered her final semester of college she was preparing for student teaching in a classroom. Instead she became an online instructor.
The CMU graduate now faces uncertainty of what her first year of teaching will look like, but at least she does not face uncertainty of having a job.
“I applied to the district I wanted at the beginning of March,” she said. “So I started the process prior to everything being shut down.”
A common thread for the grads who did find jobs in their chosen profession was that they were able to start looking prior to the quarantine and stay-at-home orders.
“I’ve definitely heard of graduates who are having a hard time if they didn’t have something figured out before March,” said Dilldine, who will start her teaching career as a third-grade teacher at Orchard Avenue Elementary School in Grand Junction. “There are a lot of hiring freezes out there, especially in education.”
If the fall starts with online classes, one thing that will be unique to Dilldine and other rookie teachers is that they will be experiencing a new way to start a school year with all of the teachers. In some sense, they will all be rookies. She said she is fortunate to have a job and will enter into it knowing she will need to be flexible.
Craig native Morgan Lawton was given four days to pack up her belongings and move out of Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Since all undergrads live in campus housing, all were asked to leave in March, unless they absolutely did not have somewhere safe to return. Lawton returned to Craig to finish her last semester of her undergraduate degree.
The double major in Social Anthropology and Archeology said her path is not dependent on finding a job specific to her degrees because she is planning a gap year before attending grad school. She did acknowledge that she had heard of some challenges for classmates in other degrees.
“My classmates who had waited and were looking for jobs in bigger cities were struggling,” she said. “On the other hand, I know there were job fairs in the fall and other students were getting hired by companies they had already interned with.”
As for herself, Lawton was not too worried about her future opportunities. She said she had been looking for a gap-year position in cultural resource management or ecological survey work and that there were openings.
“You don’t see too many archeologists running around these days,” she said.
Early Bird Gets the Job
What one does see is a lot of engineers running around Colorado. According to wallethub.com, Colorado had the third-best job market in 2019, and one of the top job opportunities was in engineering. Christopher Kling, a 2015 MCHS grad, earned his Bachelors of Science in mechanical engineering from The University of Colorado – Boulder this spring. He credits the “early-bird-gets-the-worm” efforts for his post-graduate success.
“I started applying for jobs in January and talking to others I feel quite fortunate to have found a job,” he said. “I applied for a bunch but did not get hired until May.” Kling said the only company that got back to him was WesTest LLC in Lakewood.
Kling said he feels a little lucky to have found a job because many of his classmates who didn’t start as early are still searching.
“My friends and classmates applied at different times and are still looking,” he said. “There were a lot of roadblocks that students in their last semester don’t usually see.”
Sculpting a future
Shayna Allen went into the 2019-20 school year with one degree already under her belt, a Bachelors in Fine Art in K-12 Art Education, and she was not done. The 2015 MCHS grad had two more semesters for her BFA in Studio Art: Sculpture. Traditionally, a fine arts student gets to have a senior art show in their final semester. COVID-19 closures canceled that for Allen.
“The show is the combination of our work during our time in school,” said the CMU graduate. “Not only was the show cancelled, but we were locked out of the studio to complete our final pieces. Sculpture is a really difficult thing to complete online.”
Allen had been utilizing her first degree to work at an arts-based preschool for the last year, but having a chance to produce and sell some more of her pieces would have helped with income and notoriety this spring.
It is not all bad news for Allen, she was able to secure an internship at a sculpture facility in Minnesota where she will be getting hands-on experience installing shows, running a gallery and maintaining the facility. The internship is unpaid with a housing and food stipend, so in order to support herself, Allen said she will also be able to work on her own pieces, which have been on hold. The CMU art faculty gave students a warning that the next couple years might be hard for artists relying on sales to make ends meet.
“My professors have talked to us about how after the last financial crisis, they sold little or no work for several years,” she said. “Being financially dependent on artwork is a very difficult thing to do even under ‘normal’ circumstances.”
Local Health care graduates
As Emily Sollenberger entered her final semester of nursing school at Colorado Northwestern Community College in Craig she was looking forward to her senior practicum in neurotrauma at St. Mary’s Medical Center in Grand Junction. Instead, she stayed home in Craig to finish her degree virtually.
“It was a bummer not getting the hands on experience,” she said. “But I thought that CNCC did an amazing job creating the best experience they could for us.”
Sollenberger, who graduated from MCHS in 2006, said her final studies primarily consisted of video case studies and virtual simulations. She said she still feels prepared for her upcoming exam to earn her nursing license.
“It was different but I think I’m ready,” she said. “I feel fortunate because I know a friend who was going to nursing school that basically has to take the semester over because to get hands on experience.”
CNCC Craig Vice President of Student Services, John Anderson, said school administration recognized some traditional opportunities like job fairs and visits from four-year school recruiters, were not available for future grads like Sollenberger, so they made as many adjustments as they could. They provided resume assistance online as well as mock interviews.
Anderson also said that because CNCC nursing students start getting hands-on clinical experience in their first semester, they were more prepared than some other nursing students who start their clinicals later in the school process. He also said that the data they have is that graduates were seeing success getting placed into a job.
Sollenberger was one of many non-traditional students in the CNCC nursing program. Before enrolling she had started a family and she had also worked for four years as a medical assistant at Northwest Colorado Health in Craig. She said if she is able to pass her exam she is confident in her chances to land a position at a hospital close to home.
“Most of us who join the program and are local were looking to stay local,” she said. “CNCC had me prepared even with the adjustments they had to make due to the shut downs.”
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