Happenstance + You

Cameron and Amanda, matching outfits

I worked at the Career Center this summer as a part of my NASPA Undergraduate Fellows Program (NUFP) internship in at UVM,. I want to share how this experience has caused me to reflect on my work experience and how I arrived here.

Throughout my time in college, I have not been as intentional in my career and professional development as one would expect for someone who has completed 4 internships and multiple other experiences. To be honest, most of my experiences have come from simply benefiting from unplanned events, occurrences, and opportunities. This, coupled with being open to many different things, is the basis for Stanford University professor John Krumboltz’s Happenstance Learning Theory.

Happenstance Learning Theory (or HLT) “posits that human behavior is the product of countless numbers of learning experiences made available by both planned and unplanned situations in which individuals find themselves.” The theory also argues that “the situations in which individuals find themselves are partly a function of factors over which they have no control and partly a function of actions that the individuals have initiated themselves.”

As I reflect more on my experiences of the past 3 years, two experiences stick out.

Last summer, I worked as a counselor for UNC’s Upward Bound summer program. It was a life changing experience that solidified my desire to pursue higher education as a career. It’s astounding that it had that much of an affect on my career trajectory, considering the fact I was unaware that the program even existed. I had actually applied for a different opportunity, the McNair Scholars Program, and although I wasn’t chosen, the office director suggested my name to the Upward Bound director. I met with her, interviewed a few days later, and the rest is history.

Let’s fast forward to this summer: before my internship at UVM, I interned at a small, private university in North Carolina called Chowan University. This was made possible because I had the unexpected opportunity to participate on a panel for high school males of color last summer. One of my co-panelists, was the VP for Student Affairs at Chowan. After the event, we exchanged contact info. Almost a year later, when thinking about summer opportunities, I found his email address and asked him about internship opportunities

As you can see, my master plan didn’t work perfectly. I simply continued working and growing when my plan didn’t work out. I was flexible and willing to dive into unexpected experiences, even when they didn’t exactly align with my initial goals. Being open to new experiences is a large part of why I’ve been successful.

So next time you get invited to participate in a project or event, or you get invited to interview for a position you we’re aware of, I suggest taking it. You never know where that opportunity will lead you.

Cameron Jernigan
NUFP Intern for the Dean of Students Office and Career Center
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill ‘18