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Ready for what’s next

On May 4, Furman’s 590 graduates from the Class of 2013 received their degrees at commencement. Now, these students are preparing to start the job search, begin graduate school, and explore the world.

As they make their way in the world, they know they’re armed with the right tools.

“If you look at the research, it consistently shows students from a liberal arts background tend to posses a high level of analytic, qualitative, quantitative, communication, and problem solving skills,” said John Barker, director of career services at Furman. “That’s the type of people companies want to hire.”

Just ask these Furman students.

Passion for politics

Before Ben Saul came to Furman, he knew he wanted to make a difference in South Carolina’s education system.

As an incoming freshman, Saul was enrolled in the Emerging Public Leader program at Furman’s Riley Institute of Government, Politics, and Public Leadership. In the summer program, he learned about South Carolina’s “Corridor of Shame,” a collection of poor, rural towns with subpar public education systems, and developed an interest in poverty studies. Four years later, Saul is ready to examine poverty issues as a graduate fellow at the Riley Institute.

Saul will spend his first year after graduation working as a community liaison at Scott’s Branch High School in Summerton, S.C. The rural town will be part of an initiative to bring science, engineering, technology, and math programs to school districts that were previously underserved. It will be Saul’s job to encourage the community to support the program. His interest in education might have started before college, but it continued to grow during his time at Furman.

“A required part of my poverty studies minor is an internship and mine was working as a summer counselor at Frazee Dream Center, an after-school program for underserved children,” Saul said. “I worked with kindergarten to fifth grade students and I loved it.”

When he was at Furman, Saul pursued his passion for education and politics beyond the classroom. He served as the president of the College Democrats, the co-director of the mentoring group Men of Distinction, and the Children’s Education Division Head for Furman’s Heller Service Corps. Saul plans to use his fellowship to springboard himself into a career in early childhood education–first as a teacher and eventually as a policymaker.

“The interplay between politics and policy in education have encouraged me to reach a high level policy making role in education,” Saul said.

Social responsibility

This August, Jenn Summers will begin a year-long teaching position in Cange, Haiti. She’ll teach English and biology at Centre de Formation Fritz LaFontaine, a vocational school for young adults.

Summers became interested in Haiti during her freshman year when she studied the country in her first year seminar, Global Health and Equalities. She continued her studies of Haiti by taking an additional first year seminar on Haitian Women Diaspora and Their Writings. During that class, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake hit Haiti’s capital, Port Au Prince.

“I was reading a lot of Haitian works of women authors and I felt a real connection to them as a result,” said Summers ‘13 (Simpsonville, S.C.).

Her freshman year turned out to be the perfect introduction to her new career path.

“I’m interested in studying political ecology, which is the relationship between development and how it is affected by the environment,” Summers said. “Haiti’s relationship to the land is difficult because of all the natural disasters they’ve had. Poverty also plays a big role in environmental destruction and degradation. When you’re poor, you don’t have time to think ‘can we cut down this forest?’” You need to cook and heat your house.”

While her work in Haiti will be a new experience, Summers is no stranger to travel thanks to her time at Furman. She visited Guatemala, Nicaragua, and El Salvador to study the relationship among politics, history, revolutions, and poverty in Latin America. She also studied geology in Iceland, field biology in New Mexico and South Africa, marine biology in Belize, French language and culture in France, and interned for sustainable development projects in Guatemala.

For Summers, this work is the natural progression of her education at Furman.

“I get a strong sense of communal responsibility from Furman,” she said. “You can’t just take. You need to apply what you learn for the good of someone else in a way that inspires you. For me, it’s working with the people who need it most in Haiti, in this region and in the world.”

Different perspectives

When Alanna Gillis was growing up in Hilton Head, S.C., she knew a lot of kids whose families were living illegally in the U.S. But when it came time for high school graduation, she saw they didn’t have the same choices as she did.

“Their choices were very limited because of their parents’ decisions,” said Gillis ‘13. “I didn’t think that was fair. Before that, I was pretty apathetic about political issues and that was the first time I got interested.”

With her degree in hand, Gillis plans to spend a year volunteering at the Annunciation House, a homeless shelter in El Paso, Texas for people entering the U.S. illegally. The shelter provides basic needs like food and clothing for their guests, but it’s also a place where people come to regroup. Many of the guests in the home have been the victims of crimes or are dealing with hunger. Some need help applying for visas or asylum, while others need to find their family living in the U.S.

Gillis is familiar with these stories. She’s already spent a summer interning there for her poverty studies minor at Furman. The volunteer work is a step toward her ultimate goal.

“I had never heard of such a thing or thought it would be legal,” Gillis said. “I read the internship description and instantly fell in love with it. I also plan on getting my Ph.D in sociology and researching families of undocumented immigrants and how their legal status affects their children.”

Her time at Furman has prepared her for this career path. Not only is she graduating with a major in sociology and minors in poverty studies and Latin American studies, Gillis has also traveled to Costa Rica, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Cuba with Furman’s study away programs. The trips gave her a chance to improve her Spanish, but she also gained a new perspective on poverty and politics in Latin America and how those issues are viewed in the United States.

“I didn’t feel like there were enough people who cared about this issue,” Gillis said. “These people don’t have a voice in politics and I wanted to be a voice for them. Whether or not they have a visa, they’re still human beings worthy of having their basic needs met.”

You could say Gillis’ passion for helping others runs in the family.

While Alanna volunteers in El Paso, her twin sister, Alyssa, will be working at Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos, an orphanage in Miacatlán, Mexico.

For Alyssa, the experience will be a chance to pursue her interests in Latin America and poverty while deciding where she wants to take her career.

“I worked as summer camp counselor for three summers and I just came to love kids more and more,” Alyssa said. “I’m thinking that’s what I want to do with my life. This should give me a good indication of what capacity I want to work with kids.”

Alyssa will spend the year working with three other adults at a home for 20 children. She’ll help them with chores and homework and teach an informal English class. While many of the children have lost their parents to violence or poverty, some of them have been brought to the orphanage by the parents because the family didn’t have enough money to care for them.

The situation will be unlike the summer camps Alyssa is used to working at.

“Relating to kids who come from such a different background will be one of the hardest challenges,” she said.

However, Alyssa is well-prepared. As a Furman student, she worked with children from other countries as a volunteer in an after-school program, where she taught English. Her Latin American studies minor also helped her improve her Spanish skills and learn more about the issues impacting these kids. It helped her understand how the children got into difficult situations, and inspired her to work toward a solution.

“I saw a lot of kids on the streets working instead of going to school, even though they were only five or six,” she said. “This organization gives them a future they wouldn’t have had otherwise.”

Science in the liberal arts

Matt Correnti is no stranger to the inside of a research lab, but you can also find the math, physics, and biology triple major choosing to fill his spare time with philosophy classes. So it’s no wonder Correnti chose to widen his horizons instead of going straight to graduate school.

“The liberal arts aspect of my education has strengthened my desire to have a broad perspective on issues, so I wanted to have more experience before choosing an area to focus on in graduate school,” Correnti ‘13 (Springfield, Pa.) said. “That broad perspective lends itself to innovation. That’s what made me not go right to grad school.”

Correnti will be working as an intern at the Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Wa., conducting research for national security interests. The internship is month-to-month for up to two years. Correnti will have the option to leave, attend grad school or become a permanent employee.

While he can’t be sure of the details of his research until he arrives, Correnti knows he’ll be working on methods to detect and monitor nuclear and biological attacks though the chemical remnants of the materials left in the environment. Although he doesn’t have direct experience in this field, he gained laboratory research experience with chemistry professor Lon Knight–something Correnti has been doing since sophomore year.

Correnti hopes his internship will broaden the education that Furman gave him.

“There’s a lot of value in this because you get into the industry and work in an environment to develop skills that you wouldn’t get in a Ph.D or masters program,” Correnti said. “It helps keep you well rounded.”

Climbing the corporate ladder

By the time Alex Lewis got to Chattanooga, Tenn. for her fourth and final round of interviews with Unum, a Fortune 500 insurance company, she was convinced all the candidates who had made it that far were in.

But when the last round of interviews started, she realized she’d still need to fight for her spot.

“When I got to the interview, I realized it was going to be much more competitive than I had thought,” said Lewis ‘13 (Lakeland, Fla.).

The trip ended with good news for Lewis. She was one of the three candidates the company selected out of hundreds of applications. Next year, Lewis will be part of a four-year, rotational, professional development program with Unum. Each year, she’ll focus on a different aspect of the business and by the end of the program, she’ll be ready for a management position at the company.

It wasn’t just Lewis’ economics and mathematics degree that helped her win the coveted position. It was her well-rounded education and ability to communicate her ideas clearly to her interviewers.

“They were looking for someone who’s not strictly academic,” said Lewis. “They wanted people with good interpersonal skills, so the fact that a lot of students at Furman are well rounded worked well for this program.”

During the program, Lewis will learn about topics like finance, risk management, and marketing. Even though she’s never taken a business course before, Lewis isn’t worried about her ability to succeed.

“I learned how to learn at Furman,” said Lewis. “Whatever they teach me, I’ll be able to repeat and study. I’ll be able to take on whatever they throw at me.”

Last updated May 15, 2013
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Clinton Colmenares
News & Media Relations Director