The Big Pivot

Alumni Discuss Career Paths and Transitions in the Time of a Pandemic
by Melanie Johnson

The past few years have brought great change to many Cal Poly Pomona alumni. After earning their degrees, they took the big leap into the job market — some in search to apply what they learned in their field of study and others heading down unexpected paths.

As if the typical transitions from student to working professional wasn’t enough, a global pandemic arrived in early 2020, altering the workplace for many and ushering in career changes for others.

During a recent virtual workshop, a panel of alumni shared with the campus community how COVID-19 changed the way they work and offered career advice on overcoming obstacles related to the pandemic. The panel included:

  • Adrienne Markham (’17, marketing management), owner of the sweet treats business REdipped
  • Karen Daniel, (’14, graphic design, applied mathematics), UX designer at First American Title
  • Julissa De Anda (’19, management and human resources), a sales marketing representative at Techtronic Industries
  • Kristin Merki (’19, kinesiology), sales representative at E&J Wine Co.
  • Mari-Lyn Sweis (’15, marketing management), senior staffing executive at the recruiting firm Robert Half
  • Roderick Nappier (’20, computer information systems), IT associate at Southern California Edison

Here are highlights of what the panelists had to say:

Q: Did any of you attain a degree but upon graduation, made decisions that took you away from your original plans? How did you successfully pivot to make that transition?

Karen Daniel: I started making my pivot back when I was still in college. I had double major in math and graphic design. Once I got into graphic design, I figured out that I was really good at web design. So by time I graduated, I had some skill sets that I could apply. Keep your eye out for opportunities and new skills you can learn. If an opportunity came into my path, I would just take it.

Roderick Nappier: When I started at Cal Poly Pomona, I was actually a music major. After the first year, I decided to go into something more general, businesses, specifically CIS. I have always had an affinity for computers. I was very interested in technology. I still feel like I am on that pivot because I am not sure IT is where I want to be. I just know I want to be working with technology, new technology, maybe product development.

Julissa De Anda: The best way to find something you’re going to be happy in is to find your purpose. It was nine months after I graduated that I didn’t have a job. I was doing a lot of self-reflecting. My passion has always been leadership, working with people, and I think that is why I chose management. We are missing good leadership out there … leaders that motivate you and want to grow a team.

Q: What influenced or guided your decision when it came to beginning or switching into a new career?

Adrienne Markham: With my degree in marketing sports and entertainment, I actually did not jump right into the sports industry. I started off working in the hospitality industry (in Las Vegas). I went on to work for the Phoenix Suns doing sales. Once my time with the NBA was done, I ended up coming back to Vegas and doing event planning for the Las Vegas Aces, the WNBA team there. Fast forward to 2020, the pandemic era. I was furloughed. I was in a really tough position where I was like what the heck am I going to do? We’re in the middle of a pandemic. I’m furloughed. I eventually ended up getting laid off. I was like well, I can either sit here and throw myself a pity party or I can make the best out of it. I just started my own business.

Kristin Merki: With being a kinesiology major and pivoting to sales and business, it was definitely a big jump. I always like to tell people sometimes it is not about the resume fit. Sometimes it is about the culture fit. When I heard about the opportunity with (E&J Wine Co.) through the Cal Poly Pomona campus and got an opportunity to meet a few people who work for the company, it really started changing my mind and I began feeling very strongly that this company could offer me an opportunity to work somewhere I would be valued and I would be able to cultivate myself as a person and also cultivate myself as a professional. The deeper I got into the interview process and the more I got to learn about the company, how they give back and their sustainability, that kind of just sealed the deal for me.

What is the best way for an individual to network during this pandemic?

Markham: If you are not on LinkedIn as a busines professional, I don’t know what you’re doing. If you can have Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, and Twitter, trust me, you can have LinkedIn. I mentor a lot of youth and I tell them don’t be too intimated to reach out because someone’s title says president of XYZ company. Reach out. LinkedIn is the best way to network.

Q: What advice would you give students interviewing for jobs virtually?

Mari-Lyn Sweis: We noticed that a lot of people, since they were at home, didn’t take it as seriously as if they were going on site. They wouldn’t dress the part. We’ve learned from that to remind them on the front end that we know this is a video interview but make sure your dogs aren’t barking, you have proper lighting, you are dressed appropriately for the interview. Treat it like a real in-person interview. Also research the company and come prepared with a couple of questions.