A Degree in Debt

With a mix of confidence, elation, and a side of exhaustion, Arber Doci entered his apartment in a suit and tie with bags still in hand. The 8-hour drive back from Washington, D.C., was clearly taxing as he struggled over the threshold. Ever so stoic, he sighed in preparation of the question, “How did everything go?”

For the better part of a week, Arber Doci, a senior electrical engineering major at UMass Amherst was visiting the nation’s capital to meet with big wigs in the Department of Homeland Security. His self-started business, Arbcor, is working to get federal support and funding in order to begin operations.

“I think it went well. I met with a lot of people and I’m just hoping that they’ll be able to help me out,” he said as he reached in the poured himself a glass of water.

Unlike most seniors preparing to graduate, Arber is looking to follow a different path post-grad. Instead of hunting for job opportunities, Arber is creating his own.

As a graduating senior myself, I worry about the opportunities that are available in a struggling economy. In 2011, unemployment for recent college graduates stood at 5.2% – up from 2.4% in 2007. Of all of those college graduates 9.1% have already defaulted on their student loans according to the Department of Education.

When faced with grim statistics, Arber simply said, “I feel good. Given my major, I don’t see an issue getting a job. There’s no shortage of jobs for electrical engineering.” He’s probably right. Studies by the National Association of Colleges and Employersve shown that employers are looking to hire in 13% more from the class of 2013 in fields like engineering, business, and computers.

Arber also mentioned that he feels financially secure. “I got paid the first 2 years to come here through scholarships. And you have to be smart about how you pay your debt.”

Those who chose to study topics not in the booming fields of math, science, or business have vastly different outlooks on graduation. Pat O’Neil, a senior communications major, says he is “scared to death about the job market.”

With such a broad area of study, competition becomes varied and stiffer. Pat says his area of focus, broadcast journalism, is a “dying breed, especially in radio.” He continued saying “it’s definitely a tough situation. It’s frightening.”

Although he is worried about finding work, Pat wasn’t worried about defaulting on his loans. “Coming from an upper middle class family, I feel that my family wouldn’t allow me to default on my debt.”

Family aid isn’t so surprising either. Reports show that 17% of graduates financially depend on their families. Another 33% report that they moved back in with their parents after graduation.

Pat mentioned, “if I could get a job in my backyard, obviously I’d move in with my parent. There’s no cooking better than Mom’s and Dad is always there to talk about anything.”

Arber felt very much the opposite. He said, “My parents try to give me money now and I never take it. I think after a certain age you should be able to take care of yourself so I don’t plan on being dependent on my parents.”

While students like Pat fear for their futures in a tough job market, there is still a glimmer of hope. Many such as Pat and Arber, believe that they will come out on top.

Sofia Barbosa is very optimistic, if not idealistic about her future. In the midst of her senior year as a marketing student, she transferred from Eastern Nazarene College to MassArt where she is now a freshman studying graphic design.

Her change of pace came from the revelation that she wants “to be a part of the design and branding team instead of selling what’s already been made.”

The biggest challenge for Sofia before switching schools was whether or not she will have better chances finding a job in graphic design compared to marketing.

“I decided that I’m ambitious, and where ever I find myself, I’ll make it work to the best of my potential. So I voted on quality of liver over perceived job stability,” she said in an online interview.

With the economy in its current state and job holders reporting that they are underemployed and overqualified, people like Sofia fear that they will get stuck in a position where they cannot advance.

“I’d be discouraged if after a few years of holding a degree, I didn’t get any serious job offers other than working at Starbucks,” she said. “I’m scared, but I would always be pushing myself for something else. Something better, or different.”

While those who are preparing for the real world collectively worry about finding work that will be valuable to their career, those who have already graduated have a different outlook.

“I feel that relative to a graduate from 4 years ago, there’s quite a bit more opportunities now than there was,” said Jordan Bennett, a graduate of the fall class of 2011.

Jordan began working immediately after his graduation at a “small product design company in Foxboro, MA, doing project management.” This opportunity was a result of networking he said from a job he had while abroad in London, England.

Jordan’s case is atypical, though, as the majority of graduates do not have work already lined up pre-graduation.

Alex Schneider, a graduate of the spring of 2012, said it wasn’t as easy as he thought it would be. “It took me a couple of months before I actually looked seriously for job. I got pretty lucky, I got hired on my second interview.”

Maybe there’s a lesson to be learned from these experiences. Jordan Bennett and Alex Schneider graduated only a semester apart from one another and nearly a year before Arber Doci and Pat O’Neil.

Unemployment rates have gone down in the last few months and the atmosphere is a little less grim and a lot more optimistic. Jordan mentioned that the difficulty for recent graduates and upcoming graduates is that “they lack experience and most jobs are looking for experience.”

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If I was Joseph Gordon-Levitt

This year for Halloween I decided to be cheap – very cheap. So cheap, in fact, that my costume cost about $3.99 in total. I wore clothes I had and bought a toy accessory pack for a sheriff’s costume. 

I was the Good Will version of Woody from Toy Story, minus the yellow plaid and cow skin prints. And the hat, you can’t forget that I had no hat.

All of this resulted in me ending up at a party where I would meet a girl. What made this girl so special? Not much, actually. Although she did not get the sheriff concept, she thought I was Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

Yes, ladies. This girl thought that I dressed up as JGL and somehow by the grace of God pulled it off. 

That got me thinking. What if I was Joseph Gordon-Levitt? Answer – just awesome. 

He’s one of those A-list Hollywood actors that actually has a human persona. He’s no Brad Pitt with his posh wife that just exude an air of “better than thou” with every breath they take. No he is what I call a real person.

Fame hasn’t gotten to his head. JGL is just a funny guy doing quirky stuff with his quirky friends. He just so happens to gallivant  around as a fantastic actor every so often.

Plus he is biffs with Zoey Deschanel. If you don’t know her, you should. That’s my future wife, juss’ sayin’. Check out this clip of them doing randomly awesome stuff!

Ummm can I be in that relationship please?!?! Why can’t I do spontaneous videos with my incredibly hipstermatic best friend that involves silently dancing around in a bank?

If I was JGL that would be my life all the time. Hello? Why wouldn’t I want to spend my time making random videos with true creativity? 

Yeah, life as JGL would be good. So thank you random girl at that Halloween party for thinking I was him. Apparently I have the style, now I just need the life.

Or just Zoey. That works too. 

The Field Negro

The Field Negro, professionally known as Wayne Bennett, is an attorney by day in Philadelphia, and a witty political/social blogger by night. 

As a former “Black Blogger of the Month,” Bennett posts to his blog, The Field Negro, once a day. Most of his posts focus on politics, others focus on social issues. Each post, however, has large amounts of sarcasm and wit imbedded in it. 

In his most recent post about the recent election, he employs hardcore sarcasm. You can read the full post here, but he says: 

“I think all your fellow republicans throwing darts at you are full of it. They agree with everything you said. They are just mad at you because you lost to the Kenyan Socialist.”

Lines like this make me really enjoy Bennett’s writing. 

Bennett’s posts are very long. The majority of his posts aren’t actually his writing but quotes from other sources. For example, in this post, Bennett writes a total of 5 sentences, the rest of the post is source material. The leads to me to conclude that Bennett is less of a blogger and more of a commenter. 

The Field Negro blog writes a lot about politics so material comes from the papers and other news outlets. Since the end of the election, Bennett has had a lot of material to choose from. That being said, he does an adequate job at linking to other posts or background material.

A lot of his comments call for an explanation of terms. For example, in one of the posts I’ve already linked to, one commenter asks for Bennett to explain what the acronym NWA stands for. 

Since Bennett blogs mostly on politics, the comments can be heated. A lot of the time, those who comment are known as “Anonymous” and disparage Bennett as well as Obama, who Bennett was not shy about supporting. 

Unlike Steve Kornacki, who also blogs about politics, I would enjoy Bennett’s job. Kornacki blogged seriously and regularly about politics but Bennett shares a common trait with me – sarcasm. 

When it comes to politics, sarcasm is a must if I’m to take part in a discussion, debate, or what have you. 

When all is said and done, the Field Negro has a great blog that runs deep with witticisms and sarcasm. What more can you ask for? Nothing, that’s what.  

Beware the Immigrants!

Warning: This is not a political advertisement. 

With the election season over, I’m sure all you readers are just loving the topic of discussion here – immigrants. It is no surprise to anyone that immigrants can and do get jobs in America.

No, I am not talking about those terrible illegals that are jumping the border into “Amurrikah” to steal the jobs and food out of our children’s mouths. I’m talking about those who legally and willfully come into this country for an education and for better opportunities.

In June of 2012 the New York Times reported through an independent study that Asians have surpassed Hispanics as the fast growing racial group in American. 

The Department of Labor points out that Asian Americans have fared better in the Great Recession. The unemployment rate was below the national average at 7.5% and their median wage was slightly higher than other racial groups at $855 per week. 

With immigration increasing from Asian countries, most specifically China, Japan, Vietnam, and the Philippines, the number of jobs available goes down. Statistically speaking, Asian Americans are some of the most educated and seek higher level degrees which figures into their low unemployment rates. 

In a volatile job market, it is tough to be exiting your undergrad years to face competition from people who have their MA or a doctorate. 

Engineering a Career

Arber Doci is an outlier.

I recently interviewed UMass senior, Arber Doci, who has been studying electrical engineering for the last 5 years.

When I asked Arber about his outlook for the future, he seemed to have no worry at all. For him, he says he doesn’t worry because he “doesn’t have any debt. [He] was paid to come to UMass for his first 2 years.”

He also said that he didn’t expect to enter the typical workforce. Arber plans on creating his own business and being a self-built success story.

Luckily for Arber, if his business plan don’t work out, there’s always a back up. Having a degree in electrical engineering is a huge positive for him.

“There’s no shortage of jobs for electrical engineering,” he said.

The only potential downfall is that immigrant students from typically Asian countries are snagging jobs left and right in science fields.

Arber still doesn’t seen to worried. “Students like that, at least my friends, or classmates rather, get their education and go back to their countries.”

Talking to Arber makes me question why I chose to study the humanities. Perhaps a push in the scientific direction is in the near future.

5 Things You Need To Survive as a College Graduate

1. Experience, Experience, Experience

I cannot stress more than anything that you need experience to survive in a volatile job market post-graduation. Get jobs, get internships – GET EXPERIENCE! Having that one extra bit of stapling experience can spell the difference between you getting that desk job rather than Joe Schmoe over there.

2. Be Friends with the Boss Man

Being friends with your boss has one essential benefit beyond having an easier time at work – references. Having a stack of professional references to hand over with your resume and cover letter speaks volumes about your reliability, work ethic, and character. On your resume you can make yourself sound like an angel sent to down from God for this specific job, but without the references to back it up, the employer can assume its all a bunch of malarkey.

3. Learn How to Network

Getting a cushy job is all about who you know. The experience you have and the references you submit will carry you a long way up until Jane Doe submits her application for the very same job. She has similar work experience and she also has stellar references. What Jane Doe has that you don’t, is that one cousin’s friend who has a friend that went to school with the hiring manager’s brother-in-law. I’m sure you get the picture.

4. Business Cards

Anyone and everyone should have their own business card and should carry them on their person at all times. Having a business card allows you to give your contact information out with ease. Business cards come across, at least for me, as a symbol of establishment and professionalism. Plus, they make you look pretty cool.

5. Get a Job!

The previous four points to this list all lead to this: GET A JOB! Its that simple. Whether you’re working at the local Starbucks or at the New York Stock Exchange, having a job is great. That puts you in a better position than most of the world’s population. Being the barista at the crappy coffee place that makes you want to quit life does nothing but put cash in your pocket and …wait what’s that? Did you just gain some experience? Did you build a working relationship with your boss? Did you meet an interesting man in a power suit today who really connected with you? Were you able to hand that interesting man in a power suit your business card? Weird.

Mom, Dad, I’m Moving Home

Probably one of the best moments of going off to college is the realization that you will no longer be living with your parents. You can finally live your life and have no one to tell you what you can and cannot do. What’s not to love?

With the economy still slowly getting over the “Great Recession,” college grads are facing the grim reality of going back to live with their parents. The Huffington Post reports that a significant portion of recent graduates live with their parents – 33% to be exact. A good info-graphic showing the results of this can be found in this article posted on the site.

Bloomberg notes that a whopping 20.7 million 18 to 30 year olds are now living at home in their childhood bedrooms. This figure is up 3.9% from 2010.

My own brother, who graduated in 2012, is considering moving back home. In a phone interview he mentioned that he was “not prepared for the reality that comes after graduation.”

As a graduate who studied criminal justice, my brother Chris Chin, is working at a Sherwin-Williams selling paint rather than something related to his field of study.

This problem arises often in such a volatile job market. Graduating students are finding that they are working in fields they have no interest in or are otherwise over qualified for. You can see the statistics on this problem in an earlier post of mine.

Moving back in with parents after four years of freedom is a scary thought. How can a student prevent this from happening? As a graduating senior, I know I need experience. I need marketability. I need a job.