College Seniors Network to Land Jobs

Colleges Week feature: Many seniors and recent graduates of Catholic colleges have gotten a boost into the workforce from networks of graduates — or from satisfied employers impressed by their predecessors.

As Kayla Kermode began her senior year at Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, Calif., last fall, she planned to put off serious job hunting until her second semester. Then recruiters from Wellpoint, a health insurer, were sent to campus by an alumnus. Now Kermode has a job waiting for her at Wellpoint.

Classmate Nathan Dunlap has a similar story. He’ll be working for Pixomondo, a computer-animation firm. He was hired by the friend of his brother, a TAC alumnus who has been mentoring him for several years.

These students are typical of many seniors and recent graduates of Catholic colleges who have gotten a boost into the workforce from networks of graduates — or from satisfied employers impressed by their predecessors.

“They were looking for someone analytic, with problem-solving skills,” Kermode said. “They’d already interviewed at several business schools, and this alumnus said, ‘Okay. Why don’t we try Thomas Aquinas? After all, you are pleased with my work, aren’t you?’” They were and did.

“Apparently, they want people who don’t just look at the numbers, but who can step back and see the big picture,” Kermode explained.

This is precisely what is taught at Thomas Aquinas and other schools devoted to the Great Books approach. Students study classical writings, and then they explain and critique the works.

Dunlap is confident the program will serve him well: “Studying the philosophers — and watching movies — makes me think that the best stories are based on a good understanding of what it is to be a human being.”

Thomas Aquinas spokeswoman Anne Forsyth says the college’s learning approach “gives our students an edge. They aren’t prepared for any particular job, but their reasoning has been honed by four years being challenged to analyze and defend ideas. That’s good training for any job, and prospective employers know that.”

About 10% of the school’s grads go into the priesthood or religious life. Others go into the military, attend architecture or law schools, or pursue teaching, journalism, public-policy work and, lately, medicine.

John Paul the Great University in San Diego, which opened in 2004 with the mission to “Impact the Culture for Christ,” is preparing students for the film industry and new media. The school offers undergrad specializations like video gaming, screenwriting and producing, as well as theology and New Evangelization; internships are procured with film companies such as Metanoia Films (maker of Bella). The school also offers master’s degrees in business and biblical theology (see related stories in this section).

School spokeswoman Colleen Monroe, herself a recent grad, hopes for a career in costume design but expects she may have to create her own job. John Paul the Great stresses entrepreneurship. A film professor at the school has set an example by starting Yellow Line Studio, which produced a feature thriller, Red Line, in which many students, including Monroe, contributed.

Last year’s graduating class includes a sister and a postulant with the Sisters of the Vineyard Chaldean Convent, who are helping to run an online TV station for Catholics in the Middle East; the owner of a start-up wedding videography company; a graphic artist making TV commercials; a Catholic blogger; a writer and story developer at Yellow Line Studio; the owner of a start-up brewery; and a “biomimicrist” who works at the San Diego Zoo studying animal behavior that could solve engineering problems.

Matt Salisbury started a motion-graphics company when he graduated in 2009. “We were inspired by An Inconvenient Truth and some of the spots being done for the Obama campaign, but we wanted to work for pro-life and Catholic organizations,” Salisbury said. Now, seven JP the Great students and graduates work part time for Creative Rhetoric.

“I was always entrepreneurial,” Salisbury said. “But I’d probably be working for others if JP the Great hadn’t forced me to take accounting and business planning.”

At Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, a survey of 2010 grads revealed only 4% are jobless, with 85% employed full time, in religious life or attending graduate school.

Nancy Ronevich, the director of career services at Franciscan, said its students have a reputation for being good thinkers with a well-rounded education. Many teach or nurse in Catholic institutions and join diocesan or parish staffs. Others go into the armed forces or work for such government agencies as the FBI. Many also go on to law or medical school.

Informal networks of alumni provide job tips and mentor current students. Franciscan also offers a fraternity-like group of “households” that not only live and worship together when on campus, but provide an ongoing link between the school and alumni in the workplace.

The University of Dallas has educated five of Patrick Fagan’s children. Fagan, the director of the Washington, D.C.-based Family Research Council, said that the university “provides preparation for life. If you come away with a good grade-point average, employers know you are bright and can work hard.”

Fagan’s son Thomas, UD ’07, a stockbroker, says the largest grouping of Dallas grads outside of Texas is in the Washington, D.C., area, as he is; most work in government or public-policy jobs. He found his job through a friend.

His sister Margaret, ’05, also found her teaching job at a Maryland Catholic school through a friend. Though UD has an education program, which she did not enter, what she did study “gave me a very structured perspective with the subjects all interwoven. It gave me a love of poetry and eye for beauty and a love of ideas.”

Steve Weatherbe writes from Victoria, British Columbia.