My First Year Out- Cara Stapleford ‘ 17

Graduation weekend is upon us, the Class of 2018 is getting ready for the big day, and it is officially your one year grad-a-versary. Congrats!

And there are only a few weeks left of Afterword posts for your class, so with that in mind, we are featuring another one of your classmates this week: Cara Stapleford.

Cara shares what she has been up to in her first year out and what it’s been like staying in Vermont after graduation. Enjoy!

Describe your first year out:

It’s crazy to think that graduation was already a full year ago. This year has been a huge year of growth and learning for me.

After graduating in May, I moved to Winooski and worked as a nanny last summer. I love kids and I was really looking forward to it. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out and I ended up quitting but I learned a lot about myself during that time.

Although I was bummed (not to mention the fact that I had no income) it was a blessing in disguise because I was able to enjoy the beautiful Vermont summer. I spent a lot of time hiking, biking, exploring swimming holes, and going to concerts. There is really nothing as amazing as a Vermont summer.

In September, I began serving in the ECO AmeriCorps program with the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation. This program places service members at sites around the state that are focused on improving water quality and reducing waste in Vermont. I have been serving at the Central Vermont Solid Waste Management District in Montpelier as their Community Zero Waste Assistant.

This program has provided me with so many unique and amazing opportunities. As a part of their outreach team, I assist with waste reduction efforts throughout the district’s 19-member towns. My main project for the year has been to plan and implement a series of Repair Café’s – events where participants can bring broken household items to be fixed for free – which reduces the number of items sent to the landfill and promotes community sustainability.

In addition to that, I’ve been assisting with compost workshops, helping to develop a community compost site, and have become a certified Vermont Master Composter. I’ve met some amazing people through this program – professional connections as well as lifelong friends. It’s been an amazing way for me to give back to the community through something that I am so passionate about.

What was your biggest challenge, and how did you overcome it?

As rewarding as this year has been, it has also been really challenging. During my sophomore, junior, and senior year of college, I only had classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Transitioning from a 2-day school week to a full time 40 hour per week office position was pretty rough at first. It took me awhile to adjust to that plus a 45-minute commute to and from Montpelier every day.

Over time, it’s gotten a lot easier. It also helps that I love what I’m doing. I’ve started taking the bus to and from Montpelier and I bring a book with me. My bus time has become my “me” time. I now treasure my weekends and those occasional days off more than anything. But I have to admit, as much as I have gotten used to it and figured out how to fit in all those other things like going grocery shopping, going to the gym, etc., my laundry normally doesn’t get done until I have absolutely no clothes left to wear.

What did you learn from this experience?

I’ve learned a lot over the past year. I’ve grown a lot both personally and professionally. I’ve learned to let things go. Sometimes that laundry isn’t going to get done or I’m not going to be able to get to the gym everyday but that’s O.K. I’m doing the best that I can trying to navigate the post-grad world.

I’ve also really learned how to budget both time and money. Living on an AmeriCorps budget can be challenging but it’s taught me a lot about money management. I can’t take myself out to dinner every day like I’d like to, but I’ve become a really good cook because of that!

What are you doing now?

Right now, I’m just happy that the warm weather has finally arrived! I’m looking forward to another summer in Vermont.

I am currently studying to take the GRE and plan to apply to grad school in the fall. I also just applied to be a snowboard instructor for next winter. I have a community garden plot with a friend and we’ve been growing little veggie babies. I love getting my hands in the dirt.

My service term ends in August and I’ll be moving to New York but other than that, things are pretty up in the air right now.

Any advice?

My advice is that it’s okay to say no to others so you can say YES to yourself more. I’m a people pleaser and a yes person, which can be good and bad. I’ve been learning that it’s okay to say no to others so that I can do more things for myself that I actually want to do. It’s given me more freedom and allowed me to pursue my interests. It’s amazing what you can learn about yourself when you give yourself the time to do so.

Know someone who has had a cool first year out? They can be featured on Afterword.

My First Year Out So Far – Kristen Roche ’17

This week we check in with your classmate Kristen Roche, who took a chance on Portland Oregon.

As her story demonstrates, if you network strategically and keep an open mind about what you want to do, you’ll put yourself in the position to do what you have always wanted (and learn more about yourself along the way).

Enjoy Kristen’s story!

Describe your first year out:

My first year of post-grad has been weird.

I can’t believe it’s almost been a full year since graduation. I’ve spent the past year focusing on myself and having fun trying to ‘figure it out.’ Don’t let anyone fool you, though, even if someone looks like they have it figured out…they don’t.

After graduation, I packed everything I own into my tiny car, and did the whole ‘cross-country road trip’ thing. I drove from Vermont to Oregon, to start my new life in Portland.

In my first five months here, I moved five separate times before finally signing a lease, on my own, in downtown Portland. I got a temp job working at Business Oregon, the State’s Economic Development Agency, helping with the Governor’s trade mission to Japan.

After that, I worked as a pizza delivery person for a hot sec…delivering pizzas until 5am at a very punk Portland establishment. Then I was offered a job as a Marketing Assistant for an Engineering firm.

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What was your biggest challenge, and how did you overcome it?

I’m really proud of myself for getting a job that challenges me and sparks my interest.

Moving across the country with no connections and zero professional work experience proved to be quite the challenge. You always hear “it’s all about who you know” when trying to find a job, and I knew no one.

I joke around that it’s really impressive I moved to Oregon with nothing and could have easily been flipping burgers at McDonalds (nothing wrong with that) but instead found myself shaking hands with the Governor.

I overcame the struggle by reaching out to anyone and everyone that was pointed in my direction. You cannot let rejection and awkwardness inhibit you from putting yourself out there.

There’s a lot of little details you need to remember; writing thank you notes, making great first impressions, and consistently following through even if your first email gets ignored. It’s important to remember it’s not personal and that people are just busy.

It was an emotional roller coaster, and especially difficult when all of my friends and family were back on the east coast. In order to overcome any challenges, I am learning to embrace the experience and accept that life is supposed to be a little weird right now.

What did you learn from this experience?

I’ve learned that I love drinking tea, I hate Doc Martens. And no matter how hard I try I can’t paint to save my life.

In the bigger picture, I’ve learned that it is SO IMPORTANT to trust your gut and just go for it – whatever that may be. You really grow as a person and figure yourself out when you put yourself in tough situations.

What are you doing now?

Honestly, I’m thriving as I continue to use different gyms for their free-week promos. I’m learning to not spend $50 every weekend on brunch and which skincare routine works best for me.

I’m going out, making new friends and enjoying the fact that random strangers find me interesting and laugh at my dumb jokes.

Professionally, I’m a Marketing Assistant for a civil engineering firm. It’s really cool because marketing is done the same across the Architecture, Engineering, and Construction (AEC) industry, so I’ve joined a niche community, SMPS, that I believe will immensely help me to develop professionally. I’m being exposed to a variety of different projects, and I enjoy knowing little details of what’s going on around me. I’m really interested in urban development, so it’s a really good fit.

Any advice?

Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Put yourself in situations that force you to develop people skills and grow your network. Use your youth and ignorance as an advantage and ask for help, because no one needs it more than a recent college grad with absolutely no experience – plus people inherently want to help.

Take risks now because even if you fail, you’re still young enough to bounce back. Plus, it’s more interesting if you have adventures to tell stories about later.


Want us to feature your own first-year out story? Know a friend who might want to as well? Click the button below and refer a friend (or yourself).

5 Reasons Why Grad School is the Worst (but actually the best)- From a Grad Student

It was senior year of college, and as my friends started to perfect resumes for jobs and meet with career counselors, I was stumped when it came to what I wanted to do next.

The thing was, I loved my college experience and I never wanted it to end; the late night snack parties, movie nights with friends, days in the library procrastinating with classmates. I was a leader on campus and involved myself in nearly every aspect of campus life I could think of. For me, the prospect of graduation was less exciting than it was sad.

I chose to come to graduate school because simply, I didn’t want college to end. I got accepted to UVM’s HESA progam, and started my graduate career right away. It wasn’t much like undergrad.

Here’s a few reasons why my experience was a total bummer*.

*Warning. There might be some sarcasm and humor in this post – particularly all the words in italics – I can’t help it, I’m a millennial.

1. Free School Sucks!

Like a lot of students, I was graduating from college with a lot of student loans and the prospect of paying for more school was not in any way appealing.

However, when I started researching graduate schools and programs I discovered that a lot of institutions will actually pay for student’s degrees and pay them for their service to the college. I not only fell in love with UVM, the green mountains, and the food on Church Street, but the financial package UVM offered me.

My process for selecting a graduate school was really centered on where I could get the most financial aid and salary for the work experience I would contribute to the college.

2. Gaining tangible work experience makes it way harder to get a job when you graduate

While I am in classes full time at UVM, I also work for the Department of Residential Life and am able to translate the theory I am learning in the classroom to practice. When I first started thinking about getting a master’s degree, I was afraid I would be over educated with no experiences.

Luckily, most graduate program incorporate internships, jobs, or teaching experiences, that help students prepare for the working world after graduation.

3. Having a seat at the table means you have just too many opportunities

To me, the best part about being a graduate student, is that everyone around you sees you as a learner first. I am often invited to meetings and spaces that I would never have the opportunity to shadow if my work at UVM were an entry level job.

It’s really special and cool to be a in a graduate program, because you are invited into another level of academic spaces which become a conduit to experiences and knowledge to which you never would have normally been exposed. These experiences have all come together to make me feel confident in my knowledge and abilities in a way that I wasn’t after undergrad.

4.Taking ownership of your own learning and focusing on what you are passionate about is super boring

My favorite part of my experiences in graduate school is the passion and excitement I have discovered for my own learning. When you are focused exclusively on not only a topic that maters to you, but specific issues and concepts within that topic, learning becomes so much less trivial.

In graduate school; professors invite you into research, see you as a colleague and peer rather than a pupil and you learn to create new knowledge rather than just reproduce it.

5. Its hard having so many friends and even worse building meaningful connections

Some of my greatest friends and mentors where made in college. When I graduated and started graduate school at UVM I never thought I would build connection and friendships as strong as I have.

Graduate school fosters individuals who are strong, passionate, diverse, and excited about learning. Many programs function in a cohort model and this model has giving me a group of 14 students who have been through it all with me. My peers are some of my greatest teachers and it is even more exciting to know that we are not only classmates, but the future of a work field we care so much about.

Carly graduated from Mount Holyoke College is 2016 and is graduating this May from UVM’s College of Education and Social Services Higher Education and Student Affairs (HESA) program. While at UVM she works in the department of Residential Life and with the UVM Foundation.

Survey Results!

Remember how we said we’d be calling you? Well, we collected all your answers, and have some fun facts for you all!


All of you are amazing, but we know that being out in the world after graduation isn’t always the easiest. Part of the reason we do these check in surveys is to share with your classmates that their experience is not out of the ordinary – You’re not the only one working part time, or applying for grad school. We’re all finding our way together.

Check it out! We have a sweet heat map of all the places that you guys have spread to since leaving campus, as well as some charts about what you’re all up to these days.

Not shown here are the alums that are currently based in Canada, China, El Salvador, France, Indonesia, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Peru, Switzerland, and the UK! You aren’t just all over the country, you’re all over the world!

We also asked about what you guys feel most connected to here at UVM. We are always curious about this.

With older alumni the answers are sometimes easier, because UVM was a smaller, different University. Now, with such a wide range of student experience, we want to know what you all identify with, and let that inform how we keep you connected with each other and campus.

Thanks for all your input, we’ll be back next week with more classic Afterword.

My First Year Out (So Far) – Olivia Peña ’17

Today we have another edition of My First Year Out, featuring your classmate Olivia Peña. From graduate school at UVM to travels in Kenya and interning in Senator Patrick Leahy’s office, she’s been up to quite a bit since graduation. Take some time to read her great story below.

Describe your first year out:

After a busy, action-packed senior year, I wanted to take some time to decompress before starting graduate school. When not traveling, I decided to spend most of my summer in Burlington and working. Prior to graduating in the spring, I was hired from as a research assistant by the Climate Change, Agriculture, and Food Systems group at the Gund Institute on campus. I held a similar position during senior year as an intern for CCAFS, and was able to continue the research of food waste and climate change over the summer. It was a great opportunity to learn more about the environmental impacts of agriculture and food systems while also gaining a firsthand understanding of the research process for a project funded by USAID. The research position was also flexible enough to enjoy the Vermont summer. Spending the summer here was a great time to hike through the beautiful Green Mountains, explore swimming holes, go to local breweries, and watch Lake Monsters games without the constraints of homework or classes.

What was your biggest challenge, and how did you overcome it?

Through the accelerated Food Systems masters program, I was able to begin my graduate work during my senior year. Fall 2017 was my first semester fully in the graduate program, and it’s been a challenging yet rewarding journey thus far. Specifically, I think the level of analysis associated with the graduate work has been totally mind-bending. My professors have introduced new ways of thinking and knowing (this is called epistemologies) and various concepts from different subjects of which I was not previously familiar. However, through this challenge, I have learned the importance of reaching out and asking for additional help. Even though graduate school is a higher level of learning than in undergraduate, professors are still very willing to help you understand and talk through different concepts.

I had a unique opportunity during the fall to intern in Senator Patrick Leahy’s office. This comprehensive position entailed interacting with community members through phone calls and letters, assisting staff members, and conducting research on various topics and policies. I was also fortunate to be able to attend different outreach events with staffers ranging from agricultural hearings to naturalization ceremonies. It was hard work, but definitely confirmed that I would like to work in a policy or public administration position one day.

What are you doing now?

2018 was off to an interesting start as I spent the first two weeks in Kenya on a service-learning trip. Through the Nutrition and Community Development departments, we prepared three different projects for our community partners centering on public health, entrepreneurship, and food systems. It was a great opportunity to take my skills gained the classroom in food systems and community development and apply them to a real life situation. This trip was also a cultural exchange in a way, as we stayed in authentic Kenyan hotels near the communities with whom we worked and ate indigenous foods. Sukuma wiki means kale in Swahili, and I’m happy to say that it is a delicious staple in their diet. I would be in remiss if I did not say that a highlight of the trip was the safari in the Masai Mara Reserve. Seeing wild elephants up close was incredible, until they trumpeted at our safari van as if to say, “okay now, back off!”

I’m currently on my last semester of courses for my master’s degree. In conjunction, I am also working on my research for my final project. This is a highly self-directed process, meaning that there is a lot of planning and personal motivation required to create, shape, and carry out your project plan. My research is focused on understanding the current state of community and stakeholder involvement in Vermont during the Farm Bill policy development process, and the ways by which stakeholders go about communicating their needs to policymakers and representatives. I’m hoping that the outcome of my project will be a guidebook that can be used as a tool for all Vermonters interested in getting involved and communicating their needs from food and agricultural policy.

Any advice to classmates?

My advice for my fellow classmates and future UVM graduates is to not be afraid to reach out and ask others for help. Whether from your parents, friends, peers, previous professors, new bosses, or even various departments throughout UVM, they are always willing to offer guidance to help you continue to succeed. I have found that the support didn’t end at graduation when it comes to my undergraduate professors. Your friends and family know you best, and have been there every step of the way through the college journey and likely want to continue to support your journey. I am privileged that I have my family and friends (thanks Goonsquad!) by my side as I continue on this next phase.

 

Know someone like who is doing something really cool in their first year out?