Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Changing Careers and the World

Written by  Interview by Annie Sugar, Writer/Editor, Career Services Future 411 Graduate Student Newsletter
Allison Freedman started her career with a BSEd from Northwestern University and later returned to school to get an MA in Middle (Near) Eastern Studies at New York University. After several years working in a variety of roles in education and nonprofit management and parenting her her twin sons, Allison returned to school once more and is currently working on her MBA at CU-Boulder.

How did your career goals lead you into your master's degrees? How did your first master's degree change and shape your career?
I was getting ready for class in my midtown apartment when the first plane struck the World Trade Centers. I was concerned about being late for my Arabic test, so I hurried out and was on a subway underground when they fell. The trains were stopped, and I emerged from the subway station into a world that seemed so different than the one I had known just an hour before.

I always wanted to focus my career on the developing world, particularly the Middle East and its languages and cultures, but September 11th changed that because, ironically, no one seemed to know how to use my skills.  I had an apartment and school loans, combined with a variety of skills and interests, so I embarked upon the challenge of teaching about the world in a difficult New York City public school instead.  From my first master's degree, I learned Arabic and acquired a framework for ideas about the Middle East and the world that I had gained from traveling, living, and working overseas.  I learned a great deal from my students, colleagues, the community and the experience.  And I worked tirelessly to ensure that my students, colleagues, and the community learned from me as well.

What made you decide to pursue your MBA and why at CU-Boulder? What are your plans when you finish your degree?
I always wanted to better the world, or at least do my part toward that end. Although I was always grateful for the contributions I had the opportunity to make to lives and communities through education and nonprofit work, I began to yearn for something different.  There were other skills and global perspectives I wanted to share, but there was no appropriate forum to do so in those environments.  It became obvious to me that, in addition to education, nurturing financial stability was a critical element in improving people's lives. In turn, overall better living standards can foster environments where conflict can be replaced by peace. I still wanted to improve the world, and I recognized that I needed to update and/or learn many of the skills taught in an MBA program to help me to do this. I decided to pursue an MBA for the chance to acquire tools to rejoin the workforce in a new way, to take on a new role with broader, global impact.

Having learned the value of connecting with the surrounding community as part of an academic experience, I waited until I was living in a location in which I was eager to invest and could commit to before deciding to go back to school. I finally made my way back to Colorado and, once settled, began the process of researching and applying to business schools.

At CU-Boulder's MBA program, I am learning core business skills, such as how to read key financial statements.  The entrepreneurial spirit that flows through campus from the startup culture that surrounds it is invigorating.  I am discovering how ethics and sustainable initiatives can play an integral role in many businesses and that there are opportunities to connect these to my own values in a meaningful and productive way.  I am getting out into the community, meeting people and learning from local business leaders, through school and community-sponsored events and leadership roles in several students groups.

How did you know you wanted to make a career change? What changes do you want to make? What does graduate school offer as a means to this end that you couldn't get with any other instrument of change?
As a parent, it quickly became more important for my children to see me working hard toward something that is very important to me, even if for me that "something" takes me out of the house and back to school toward a brand new career.  I think it's important for me to do, and it's important for me to model values of global connectedness, working hard, and peace.

When I first entered the workforce almost 20 years ago, there were many skills that you could simply learn on the job.  Employers were willing to hire you for your ability to think and learn.  Job searching no longer works quite the same way, and many other people looking for work will already have many of the essential skills that employers value and graduate school offers me the opportunity to show my commitment to acquiring the most critical skills and my ability to still grow and learn.

What advice do you have for other graduate students seeking to use their degree programs to change careers?
I love learning, but from years as a student, teacher, and supporter of students and teachers, I will be the first to say that the classroom is not the right place for everyone.  Many of the skills and tools I am learning I might have been able to acquire through on-the-job training, but it might be harder to find the "right" job when you are in a quest for a new direction. I think it's too easy to get off track or find yourself needing to make several job changes in order to get where you are trying to go.  I think that - for people with drive and commitment - graduate school offers a powerful, respected way to acquire a solid foundation in a discipline or industry to lead you where you are going in a much more straightforward way.

How are you preparing for your new career and job hunt after graduation?
I feel fortunate to have the support and resources both targeting the MBA students here at Leeds, as well as the general career services of the broader university in my efforts to find an internship and ultimately a new job and career after graduation. This support has been clear and readily available and it helps me to embark upon these next steps with the greatest possible confidence and preparedness.

Through the MBA program, the emphasis on setting career goals and taking strategic steps toward meeting those goals is something that begins with the orientation before classes. The staff is enthusiastic and dedicated and provides opportunities for students to evaluate their career interests, develop their own job search skills, and take advantage of all that networking has to offer.

As part of the effort to develop our job search skills, the MBA program invited Annie Piatt from Career Services to present to our entire class. She provided invaluable advice and resources that helped me emphasize important skills and processes when looking for an internship or job, and broaden my perspective about possible career trajectories. Her presentation make me aware of the wealth of additional services available to MBA students through the CU Career Services as well.  In only one semester on campus, I have already found Annie to be a refreshing source of support and guidance as well as an additional voice of critique and guidance as I embark on the internship search in earnest.