Honors alumni advise students on career prospects

Justin O’Brien was hired on the spot when his employer read on his resume “Washington State University.”

O’Brien works for Boeing in International Strategic Partnerships – and his best friend there is a Husky.

“This international business stuff – this is where it’s at,” O’Brien said.

O’Brien was one of four panelists who addressed a room full of students in the Honors Lounge on how they found success after leaving WSU.

Also speaking was Cassa Hanon, who works for The Walt Disney Company; Joshua McKarcher, a lawyer in a small town; and Dennis McGreevy, who works in employee development at Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories in Pullman.

The four panelists shared stories with the group and gave advice on how to be successful during and after college.

Hanon emphasized three concepts: “Every opportunity is an opportunity. It is about who you know. It’s okay to let your personal life drive your career choices.”

She encouraged students not to turn down an opportunity before carefully considering its potential benefits.

Hanon, a computer scientist, took her first job immediately after she graduated from college. While it wasn’t a job she would take today, she said it was a good opportunity because it taught her what she did and didn’t want out of a career.

McGreevy said he learned a valuable lesson from an opportunity he took as a pre-law undergraduate.

“I had the great, great opportunity to go to Washington D.C. and spend a semester working for a senator,” McGreevy said. “So I didn’t want to be a politician anymore.”

A few years after that, having graduated from WSU with an English degree, McGreevy took a job in New York City working as an office manager for the Metropolitan Opera House, simply because he loved opera.

O’Brien found opportunity where he never expected, Boeing Engineering, where he indulged in a passion for travel, visiting all seven continents.

“I really just saw Boeing as an engineering company,” O’Brien said. “I was a business major. It wasn’t a good fit. I never even took a look.”

When he started there he moved around through internal positions for a while before landing his current job in International Strategic Partnerships, where he now oversees the company’s operations in Africa.

Connections are another important aspect of success, Hanon said.

“It is about who you know,” she said. “It’s also about who knows you and what they say about you.”

Hanon hailed WSU’s strong alumni network as a unique asset to students. She said she always interviews Cougs.

The panelists all agreed career life and personal life are not separate aspects of one’s life.               

McKarcher, who had trained to practice law in a big city environment, was nervous about the challenges of working in a small town. But when he arrived, he was pleasantly surprised.

“They practice the same law we do, the same constitutional law, and their clients pay them in money, not lentils!” he said.

Honors freshman Kayla Rhodes said she appreciated the discussion because it offered many differing perspectives on the art of finding a career.

“I’d never considered how you can go from one thing to a completely different thing,” she said.

McKarcher concluded the discussion by emphasizing the importance continuing to learn. He said worthwhile careers are granted to people who know how to learn.

“There’s an experience for each of you, but don’t be afraid to take odd turns,” he said.