With top-notch educations under their belts and one of the lowest unemployment rates in history, the 585 members of the Puget Sound Class of 2000 found themselves facing tough decisions: Graduate school? A job? A fellowship? Travel? Public service? The only dilemma seemed to be deciding between some truly great options.
"The post-Puget Sound experience of our graduates reaffirms the value the liberal arts," says Puget Sound President Susan Resneck Pierce. "They do distinguish themselves by their ability to write well, to think critically, to be intellectually nimble and curious, and to learn new things. Today these capabilities, always important, are more important than ever before."
Arches spoke with six members of the Class of 2000 to get their thoughts on liberal arts education, the job market and the future–theirs specifically. We also asked them to reflect on their time at Puget Sound. Here’s what they had to say.
By Mary Boone
Most graduating seniors leave college with freshly typed résumés and limited work experience. Molly Grooms ’00 leaves Puget Sound this spring as a published children’s author.
We Are Wolves–written under Grooms’ nom de plume, Melinda Julietta–was published as a result of her 1998 summer internship with a Belgian company called Yo Yo Books. The St. Paul, Minn., native is under contract to write at least two more books for the young readers’ series.
"It was a great opportunity to see all sides of the company," said Grooms. "I sorted film, edited, brainstormed, designed advertising campaigns, and I got to write a book. That was undeniably cool."
Grooms earned her degree in English literature, although, she admits, it’s not the course of study she started when she came to Puget Sound four years ago.
"In my heart, I think I always knew I’d be an English major, but I denied it. I thought I’d do something where I’d make more money," she said. "I tried sociology. I tried business. But I ended up in English."
Long term, Grooms would like to remain in publishing. She plans to move to Portland and search for a job with a small, ethical company that places importance on giving back to the community.
"I know that makes me sound young and idealistic, but it’s important to me to find the right fit. I want a good relationship with my boss. I need to feel respected by co-workers," she said.
Grooms played leadership roles in a number of organizations while at Puget Sound, but she regrets that she didn’t become more involved with faculty and staff.
"I think I was like most students in that I was so worried about making friends that I didn’t take time to realize what incredibly interesting people my professors were," said Grooms. "I wish I’d taken time earlier to realize how lucky I was to be a part of the Puget Sound academic community."
When Matt McGinnis ’00 wrote a series of articles for The Trail about Puget Sound President Susan Resneck Pierce, the response was not overwhelmingly positive.
"You could definitely say I got some negative feedback from students," recalled McGinnis. Still, the Bellevue, Wash., native considers the experience one of his proudest collegiate accomplishments.
"It was clear not everyone supported what I wrote, but I was encouraged by the fact that it raised discussion about some important campus issues. I was excited that something I wrote stirred people to discuss the quality of education they’re receiving, as well as how the school as a whole is furthering educational initiatives," he said.
McGinnis departs Puget Sound this spring with a degree in English literature and classics; he’s the school’s first graduate in classics since classics became an approved major last May.
As Puget Sound’s Rhodes Scholarship nominee, McGinnis could have had his pick of graduate programs. He’s postponed formal studies, though, in favor of a job as an associate recruiter in the international group at Microsoft’s Redmond, Wash., offices.
"The high-tech industry fascinates me and I’d really like to learn more about it," he said. "Besides, I love talking to people about what I do, so recruiting for a high-tech company seemed too good an opportunity to pass by."
Long term, McGinnis hopes to attend a top-tier graduate school. He thinks about someday writing for The New Yorker or Harper’s.
"Or, I know I could be completely happy being a professor at a small liberal arts college.
"Or, my ultimate dream is to get involved in college administration and become president of a school like UPS.
"I just think there are so many possibilities out there," he said. "I feel fortunate to be in a position where I’m able to make these kinds of decisions, and where I know that no one thing will be the only thing I end up doing with my life."
Cecilia Olivares’ involvement in campus activities helped determine her career path: She’s headed to graduate school to obtain a master’s degree in student affairs.
"I came here thinking I’d major in biology or chemistry. My dad is an analytical chemist, so I believed I’d get my Ph.D. in chemistry and we’d have a lab together," says Olivares ’00, who majored in foreign language and international affairs with a Spanish emphasis.
"I didn’t even know student affairs was a possible area of study. Now, it seems the perfect match for somebody like me. Extracurricular activities have played a huge role in who I am, and they’ve allowed me to pursue some very diverse interests."
Olivares participated in campus activities including CHispA (a Hispanic culture awareness group) and Kappa Alpha Theta sorority. She was an orientation leader and coordinator of the Admission Phone Program. And, she founded Club de Nuevo, an organization dedicated to sharing the culture of her home state of New Mexico.
Outside Puget Sound, Olivares worked as tutoring coordinator for Tacoma Community House Student Literacy Corps, and did a stint arranging home stays for international students through American Cultural Exchange.
A first-generation American, Olivares said spending the fall semester of her junior year in Madrid was a real turning point for her.
"I lived with my grandparents, so I got to experience my own culture and heritage," she said. "Unfortunately, my grandfather was very sick while I was there. It was a struggle, but I learned that I could overcome very difficult situations. It made me much stronger."
Olivares plans to emphasize multi-cultural affairs in her postgraduate studies.
"I’m really interested in recruitment and retention of minority students," she says. "I want to help students from all types of backgrounds see that the opportunity to attend college is within their reach. And, more importantly, I want to help them find the support they need to stay in school once they get there."
Many people profess an interest in public policy, but Christy Thomas ’00 is taking her interest past the point of just talking about it. She’s planning to enter Teach for America, a program that trains and places teachers in low-income schools in 13 urban and rural areas around the country.
Education reform is a key interest of this Springfield, Oregon, native. Thomas earned her degree in politics and government. As a Thomas Davis Research Award winner, she studied the impact of funding on education reform. She got hands-on political experience during an internship in Democratic Rep. Jim Clyburn’s Washington, D.C., office.
During her four years at Puget Sound, Thomas’ activities ranged from being a resident assistant for honors students living in Langlow House to Lighthouse, a campus Christian fellowship group. She was secretary of Mortar Board and co-president of the political science honor society Pi Sigma Alpha, worked as a career peer advisor and event planner for the Academic and Career Advising Center, and served as a mentor for the Kids Can Do! program.
Thomas eventually would like to attend graduate school. She imagines her career will take her down one of two possible paths: nonprofit organization management, or policy making in education or health care.
"I have a heart for serving people," says Thomas. "I think a two-year commitment to Teach for America will allow me an opportunity to give back, as well as exposure to important issues. I know teaching will be tough and being away from my natural support system will be difficult, but the opportunity to make a difference in a tangible way is important to me."
Thomas appreciated the challenging academic environment Puget Sound provided, but says personal relationships enriched the experience.
"The amount of support I have had from friends, faculty and staff is unbelievable. I just don’t think I would have made the same connections on a larger campus," she says. "The relationships I had here are something I will never forget."
As if double majoring in chemistry and mathematics wasn’t tough enough, Kevin Weidkamp ’00 did it while playing four years of collegiate soccer. And he did it while maintaining the highest grade point average of all Puget Sound athletes.
"There were times when it was kind of difficult to balance it all," said Weidkamp, who received Second-Team All-League honors his senior year. "I think all the fund raising we did and the traveling and practice sessions really taught me to manage my time."
Time’s been scarce for this Lake Forest Park, Wash., native. In addition to sports, he was active in Mortar Board and the Phi Kappa Phi honor society. Even his summers were packed with scientific research.
As a 1998 Murdock Summer Research Grant recipient, Weidkamp began work on what would become his honors thesis, writing computer programs to interface two pieces of scientific equipment, a multi-channel scalar and phosphorescence spectrometer.
In 1999, Weidkamp packed his bags and joined a Puget Sound-sponsored archaeological dig at Khirbet Cana, Israel. While learning the fundamentals of archaeology, he spent much of his time becoming an expert on the Global Positioning System (GPS) technology.
"Both those experiences really piqued my interest in computers," he said. "I haven’t eliminated the possibility of teaching someday, but at this point I’m more drawn to a job in industry where I could combine the areas of computers and science. Things are changing so fast right now, my ultimate job probably doesn’t even exist yet."
Weidkamp leaves Puget Sound confident that he got the most out of his education.
"I’m glad I was exposed to a variety of classes, while at the same time I was able to get into some real depth in my major fields of study," he said. "I’m also glad I was able to do it and continue with my athletics–and the fact that the soccer team had its best season in school history this year makes it even sweeter."
Allison Weiss ‘00 thinks she’ll someday be a music professor at a small liberal arts college. But first she’d like to study Argentine classical music in Buenos Aires, or perhaps work as an ethnomusicologist at Microsoft, or attend graduate school, or compose music, or perhaps join the Peace Corps.
"I think it would be an incredible honor to become a music professor, but I have so much to learn and experience before that," says the Redmond, Wash., native. "By the time I’m up there lecturing in front of a class, I want to have some incredible experiences to share with students. I want to have the kind of knowledge you can’t just get from books or by attending grad school."
Learning is a passion for Weiss. The oldest of 11 children, she was educated at home until entering public school in fourth grade. As a high school junior, she created a schedule that allowed her to take music, language and science at public school, while studying English, history and math at home.
"I feel fortunate that even before I came to college, I rediscovered the natural curiosity you have as a child. I learned to ask questions and find answers," she says.
A Carol Reed Summer Study Award allowed Weiss to travel to 12 countries last summer to research the ways in which various countries and cultures have incorporated folk music into classical music.
Weiss, who graduates with a music education major, took a year and a half off school for a religious mission to Chile. It was during that mission that she became both fluent in Spanish and intrigued by South American culture. Upon returning to Puget Sound, Weiss followed up on that interest by earning a minor in Latin American studies.
Weiss was accepted into graduate programs at the University of Texas-Austin, University of Indiana and UCLA.
While in school, she had major roles in two Mozart operas, sang in the Adelphian Concert Choir, and helped form UPSalon, a European-style salon in which participants composed and performed each other’s music. During her final semester, Weiss was selected to attend a conference for Bartok scholars in Austin, Texas.
Freelancer Mary Boone has written for Entertainment Weekly and Midwest Living, among other magazines.