Henderson-raised college graduates share career search stories

Henderson resident Allysa Starkweather sits at her desk in a brightly decorated classroom at Schofield Middle School, 8625 Spencer St.

Although she’s been behind many school desks in the past 18 years, the recent college graduate now gets prime seating in the front of the room as the teacher.

“I’m excited to start working with the kids,” Starkweather said. “They are responding really well to me so far, and I have a lot of activities lined up that I’m excited for.”

Life after college can be difficult for some graduates. With an evolving economy, it’s hard to gauge when they’ll receive their first job in their field.

“The big thing for me was that I didn’t want to pursue a degree where I wouldn’t get a job afterward,” Starkweather said. “That really pushed me toward the educational field, because I was going to school for a career.”

After high school, Starkweather, 23, considered studying statistics at Nevada State College to work in the casino industry; however, she changed her mind when she began tutoring at the college.

“I really loved it. Being a tutor was awesome,” she said. “I figured if I could teach on a small scale, I could do it on a big scale.”

Starkweather graduated from Nevada State College in May with a bachelor’s degree in secondary education with a focus on mathematics.

A month later, she accepted her first job as a teacher with the Clark County School District.

“It was easy finding a job but only because of the subject I picked,” Starkweather said. “There’s a high need for math teachers, but at the same time, I worked really hard and did a lot of things during college that helped me get here.”

Collaborating with Nevada State College’s math department, Starkweather helped write and edit algebra questions for a textbook. She also presented an undergraduate research project at a meeting hosted by the American Mathematical Society and the Mathematical Association of America in January.

“The education program at Nevada State really prepared us for everything we’re supposed to do in the classroom,” Starkweather said. “We have at least five classes that provide teaching experience, so I really feel like I had all the information I needed to be successful.”

Starkweather plans to enroll in an online master’s degree program through Regis University in January. She said it will take about two years to complete.

“I’d really like to get involved in making the curriculum that the students are learning,” she said, “but teaching for now is awesome because I get to work with those students one-on-one, and I get to bring them up to grade level.”

While some graduates are dedicated to a specific plan after college, others experiment with their options. But as J.R.R. Tolkien once wrote, “Not all those who wander are lost.”

Former Henderson resident Nikki Raffail graduated from University of Nevada, Reno, in May with a bachelor’s degree in psychology.

Although her former classmates have been accepted into graduate school, internships and research programs, the 22-year-old said she’s “perfectly content working as a full-time barista.”

“I feel like psychology was a major you had to have more drive to be successful at,” Raffail said. “It’s sort of a go-to major for some people because we all think we can do a bunch of stuff with something as general as psychology, but it turns out you can do little to nothing with only a bachelor’s degree.”

Passionate about creative writing, Raffail said she studied psychology to improve her understanding of people. She intended to translate what she learned into her writing.

“Writing is what I’m truly passionate about, but I didn’t choose to major in English or creative writing because I didn’t want to get burnt out on it,” Raffail said. “Turns out that getting a degree in psychology doesn’t really help out all that much in your understanding of how people work.”

While in college, Raffail worked at a behavioral facility for intellectually disabled adults for about two years. She toyed with the idea of going to graduate school to study acceptance and commitment therapy but decided against it.

“I think it was my second to last semester that I realized I really had no desire to pursue psychology past a bachelor’s degree,” Raffail said. “By then, I had already finished all of my psychology classes required for my degree … so it was too late for me to change majors, especially since I wasn’t sure on another major to choose.”

Raffail doesn’t see her college experience as a waste. Through school, she was introduced to clubs and creative writing publications that she plans to collaborate with this semester as a volunteer.

“I like to write a lot of poetry, some descriptive writing, journaling, observations,” Raffail said. “It’s definitely more of a hobby, but I’m making an effort in joining and helping with the local arts and writing community in Reno.

“I’m really into volunteering right now because it allows me to test out different fields without being tied down to anything.”

Some fresh graduates head back to school when the job market isn’t welcoming. Coronado High School graduate Carter Jones got her undergraduate degree in 2011 in Alabama. She said the prospect of getting a job back then was so bad then that she opted to go on for her master’s degree while she “waited out” the economy.

As she was wrapping up her advanced degree, she began attending career fairs and looking for jobs through her school, Tulane, and getting interviews. She did find work, but the job she was offered was in sales.

“That’s not what I was looking for,” she said. “I wanted to use my math skills and my data skills. … you could tell companies were hesitant to hire when I was searching. They were happy to be at the career fair and get their name out there but they were not actively searching for talent.”

She said that had she taken the sales job, she likely would have been unhappy and be back searching for a job within six months.

Jones braced herself for a really long job search, figuring it would take all summer and fall of 2013 before she found employment. He biggest fear, she said, was staying out of the job market too long and having a prospective employer ask why she had a six-month gap on her resume.

Curiously, it was a former high school classmate, Amanda Smith, who told her there was an analyst job opening at Red Rock Resort. Jones returned to Las Vegas, applied and was hired.

“It was one of those great situations where it all happened within a few weeks, and it felt like the right place to be,” Jones said.

She is now using what she learned in college on a daily basis, dealing with the marketing people and heads of departments. She said having an advanced degree probably made her stand out a little more than other applicants.

“I think whenever you have an advanced degree on your resume, it can’t hurt,” she said. “It looks better” on your resume.

Jones said she joined LinkedIn hoping to find a job that way, but got no interest through that, nor any other social media. She said she wished she had reached out to friends and acquaintances, letting them know she was looking for a job, as she felt that would have helped.

“But even if somebody tells you about a job, or helps you get your foot in the door, you still have to earn the job with your interview, with your skills,” Jones said.

Lori Nelson, spokeswoman for Station Casinos, said the company received approximately 50 resumes/people of interest vying for the position Jones landed and that no preference was given to applicants from the Las Vegas Valley.

“It’s all about the qualifications,” she said.

Contact Henderson View reporter Caitlyn Belcher at cbelcher@viewnews.com or 702-383-0403.

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