Career After College: Alumni Share Tips for New Students

Sept. 10, 2014

For students hoping to be competitive in the job market after graduating, the hard work must begin now – during college.

That's why the University of Arizona is committed to engaging 100 percent of the student body in applied experiences – internships, jobs, research opportunities, fellowships, service work and other opportunities – that will help them to be workforce ready upon graduation.

UA alumni can attest to the importance of such college experiences, saying that they can give students a leg up on the next candidate in line.

We asked three UA grads to share their experiences and insights: Kevin Gressley (right, pictured with Ventura on the left), co-founder of the Los-Angeles-based Venley, an apparel company; Nick Ventura, Gressley's collaborator and co-founder of Venley; and Cori Malin, a segment producer on “The Voice” in Los Angeles, her hometown, who "fell in love" with the UA on a campus visit. UA Regent's Professors also shared their advice in "What I Wish I Had Known as a Freshman."  undergraduate students again. The title of Regents' Professor is the highest of faculty rank at state universities in Arizona.

Malin earned a degree in regional development. Gressley and Ventura were Sigma Pi fraternity brothers while at the UA, with Gressley graduating in regional development and agriculture technology management and Ventura in history.

Q: Tell us a little bit about your background. What were your college aspirations?

Malin (left): I knew I wanted to go into business. I knew I wanted to have a degree. I wanted to be really well-rounded so when I go into the working world I'd have skills to make a name for myself. In my mind, business is the only way to do that.

Gressley: When I went to college, I did not know what I wanted to do. As a kid, I wanted to do something that my friends and family would be proud of me for doing and I wanted to make sure that I left my brand on the world. The University of Arizona had many different programs which gave me the opportunity to look in to several career options.

Q: How did you get into your current work, and why do you consider it your dream job?

Gressley: My senior year, I had a friend convince me to start a company that focused on event planning. As we experienced growth, we recognized an opportunity to offer another product; clothing merchandise. We never realized how much clothing merchandise we would sell as college kids. When I graduated from Arizona, I was forced to decide if I wanted to try to run a business or to work for a company. There was something special about creating a company and making decisions that affected the employees and their community. That satisfied my dreams of doing something important, making a name for myself while creating a legacy. Nick (Ventura) and I moved to L.A. and started up Youth Monument of Venley. And it was at the UA where we found the foundation to sell fraternity and sorority apparel. Through that, we learned what direction we wanted to go in the industry: to build a brand. We established relationships with the bookstore, and the University was very supportive in us starting a business.

Malin: Working as a segment producer on "The Voice"? Never in a million years did I think that would be me. But I am proof that dreams really do come true. Now that I am in the entertainment field, I want to ride out this wave. I really enjoy it — I travel sometimes, I go on adventures, I learn … it's just great. And the UA experience is such a mirror of my career. Go to the UA. It's just the right place to go. The people I work with are amazing. They've helped teach me and guide me. I wouldn't have been able to grow without them, and many are also UA alums. Two of my bosses went to the UA, as well as one of our lead editors. So we have this great Wildcat connection, which is really awesome.

Ventura: We kept going and built on what we established at the University. Right now, we're growing rapidly and we want to be able to grow it to a large company that employs lots of people.  That's our goal, and leaving a legacy behind is important for us.

Q: How did your UA experience prepare you for work after college?

Ventura: I was actually a transfer student. As a prospective student of the University of Arizona, what really appealed to me was the campus, the educational programs that I thought I could use to leverage myself into a job. Also, the people who were going there seemed like a good group of students that I could get along with and develop a good rapport with and a connection to the community. So transferring was the best decision I ever made. 

Malin: There are so many things that are so amazing about the UA. The community at the UA is amazing. It's similar to where I work. It's all about teamwork, and there are so many opportunities and different people, it teaches you how to deal with real-life people. At the UA, I figured out what I was good at, and my professors were really helpful. And then being a part of the Associated Students of the University of Arizona throughout my whole four years, they really helped guide me.

Gressley: Choosing a college is an extremely important decision, and you want to enroll in a college where you are going to excel. If you have a great quality of life, you're able to focus on developing yourself into the best adult you can be. Everyone carries college experiences with them in their everyday life. What Arizona gave me is the understanding of how to communicate with everyone around me, and I across many different personalities and cultures. After college, I now have the ability to adapt my behavior, wording and manners because of the diversity I encountered at Arizona.

Q: What did you take away from your UA experience?

Ventura: Something that I really felt was beneficial was the people that you do meet and the connections you make. Also, the habits that you develop there are top-notch. Developing strong habits and strategies for success, and also getting an education while meeting a bunch of great people, is a recipe for success. It's almost a fail-proof equation if you use those tools correctly after getting out of college.

Q: What advice would you give to students about the working world?

Malin: If you don't know what you are good at or what you want to do in life, it's OK. You're not the only one. Everyone struggles to figure out their strengths, and their weaknesses, and what they want to be when they grow up. I was the same way. The UA offers so many amazing classes and the professors and students provide such great support that you will find your path in life.

Gressley: Whatever you do, give it your 100 percent. Be involved in as many activities and clubs as possible. You never know when you will be able to use your experiences and knowledge again. Opportunities come along more than you think.

Ventura: Something else I really felt was beneficial were the people that you do meet, and the connections you make. Also, the habits that you develop there are top notch because, you know you can't beat the University of Arizona. The best advice I can give to current students is the importance of being involved in as many activities as possible outside of class. This helps to develop great networking and personal skills. The work-ethic skills will come from attending class and completing assignments. But the personal skills you need for your career, in whatever path you choose, will set you apart from those who are gunning for the same position in that same company.