Q&A: Words of wisdom from recent grads


Ready to graduate? It may be odd to think about post-graduation life during orientation, but ask any graduate and they will say that the next four years will fly by. Here are the answers to some burning questions incoming students may have, courtesy of recent Occidental graduates.

What are you doing now?

CJ Cruz ‘14 (economics): “I’m currently interning at the California Institute for Social Business, the first institute in the U.S. that focuses on the education, research, and creation of social businesses… Additionally, I am working with MyVision Global, a young social enterprise that focuses on spreading the social business movement globally.”

Erin Lashway ’14 (history): “I am working as a Corps Member in John H. Liechty Middle School for a non-profit organization called City Year Los Angeles, through AmeriCorps.”

Lito Nicolai ’14 (economics): “I’m applying for jobs in computer science. It’s unrelated to any of my studies, but I was able to take a handful of independent study courses through the math department, and combined that with my math classes to get a few interviews.”

John O’Neill ’14 (politics): “I’m working as general consultant for a state senate campaign and applying to the [Los Angeles Police Department].”

Christina Turner ’14 (biology): “[I’m] looking for a lab technician job in a research lab to work in for the next year or two before going to grad school for a Ph.D. in microbiology.”

Do you think that Occidental prepared you for post-grad life?

Cruz: “I believe that college is place where you create what you want to make out of it. The Oxy palette provides a wide range of opportunities to choose from to make your college masterpiece; you just have to actively pick which ones you want to take advantage of.”

Lashway: “Yes! Especially working for an organization like City Year, which is so centered on social justice, I would say a liberal arts education from Oxy was the perfect thing for me. My last semester I also took a class on Children, Poverty, & Public Policy in the [Critical Theory and Social Justice] department, where we learned all about the inequalities in education throughout the Los Angeles area and now it seems as though I’m actually living it and witnessing it for myself.”

Turner: “For finding a job, no. But for having confidence in my conceptual and analytical skills and having the drive to make something happen, yes. I don’t think any school can fully prepare someone for post-undergrad life, though.”

Do you think that you prepared yourself for post-grad life?

O’Neill: “Yes – I left Carleton after two years and worked in D.C. for a year at a political consulting firm, working on redistricting Arizona. I had to support myself and actually hold down a job, and that gave me a lot of confidence when I returned to college, because I knew I could fend for myself after graduation.”

Nicolai: “Yes – I studied a lot on my own at Oxy, both with independent studies and on my own time. That’s one of Oxy’s strongest points; if there’s a topic you’re interested in, you can find someone to support you in learning about it.”

What is one thing you are really glad you did at Occidental?

Cruz: “Studying abroad provided a global perspective of the world, first-hand. It’s one thing to study the global economy and the international environment through readings, class discussions and writing papers, but it’s another thing to actually live abroad and experience it yourself. For me, I had the opportunity to study in Hong Kong at the University of Science and Technology, which was an international school that received students from across the globe. Many of the classes I took there required that I worked in group settings, which allowed me to engage with students who had completely different life experiences than I had.”

Lashway: “My last semester at Oxy I took a journalism class, since my dream is to become a published novelist and I had zero experience in journalistic writing; I decided to take a serious risk. I spent most of the term in utter confusion, unable to get out of the storytelling mindset and wound up getting the lowest grade of my academic career in that class, but in the end I don’t regret taking it.“

Turner: “I’m glad I decided to study less and spend more time with my friends my last year.“

What do you wish you did differently in your Occidental career?

Cruz: “It wasn’t until my senior year when I realized the importance of sleep. During my first year, I overloaded myself on classes and extracurricular activities. I was still in high school mode and felt that I had to prove myself. This added unnecessary stress and led to many late nights of work in the library. Though I had fun and a lot of adventures during this time, looking back, I think that my senior year was ultimately the best semester of my college career because I prioritized rest and relationships with teachers, friends and mentors.”

Lashway: “I wish I had taken more risks. Of course, transferring universities as a junior was a risk in itself (that I’m very glad I took), but as far as risks as an Oxy student go, I didn’t take very many. Believe me when I say Oxy offers so many opportunities.”

How should college students be utilizing their summers?

O’Neill: “Try to line up a summer position during fall term instead of waiting until spring. You get first choice of positions and the peace of mind of having summer plans. This time can be used to work in a lot of different fields to see what you like, or to work in subsequent summers for one organization you like.”

What advice do you have for incoming students?

Cruz: “Get to know your professors beyond the classroom. Visit them in office hours or invite them out for a drink at the Green Bean. Oxy professors are some of the most dedicated and caring people I have ever met, and I can honestly say that the relationships you build with them are more valuable than the letter grade you receive at the end of the semester.”

O’Neill: “Take classes with professors that actually work in their fields. I took Professor Freer’s L.A. Politics course and it was great because she was on the L.A. Planning Commission at the time and every day in class she’d have a new story to discuss about actual city issues. Professor Ling’s housing policy and [Los Angeles Unified School District] Board Member Steve Zimmer’s education policy classes are really good examples of this. Take their courses early on, and if the field interests you, go work at an internship for them or someone they know.”

Nicolai: “Join non-academic clubs and organizations! So many of my best friendships at Oxy came from the Glee Club and Dance Production, as well as many of the most valuable lessons in leadership and organization.”

Turner: “Work hard, play harder.”


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