By Tasneem Paghdiwala ’04
It’s an innocent inquiry that seniors can expect to answer
dozens of times on the road to Commencement: “So, what are
This has never been easy for many to answer, and the recession has changed the post-collegiate landscape. While more recent college graduates than ever are heading straight to graduate school, others aren’t ready for more schooling or don’t plan on adding a higher degree to their portfolio. These students have found themselves in the position of launching into the toughest labor market of the past 25 years.
In the media, stories abound of college graduates living at home with parents, saddled with tens of thousands of dollars in student loans, and piling up rejections from parttime retail positions. Those who do find employment face the long-term impacts of graduating into a recession, like lower earnings and delayed promotions.
The Bulletin interviewed Class Notes Editors of recently graduated classes to find out how the recession has affected them and their classmates. These Editors say despite the rugged climate, many recent grads have landed in positions that match the work they did at Bryn Mawr. Jessica Schwartz ’09, Class Notes Co-Editor, points to her former college news colleague Kaitlin Menza, an editorial assistant at Glamour Magazine, where she covers social issues, politics, and sexual health. “Kaitlin was my co-editor at the college news, a sociology major and worked with Glamour for an internship her junior year,” says Schwartz. “She’s a great example of someone who perfectly continued her college interests and activities in her current job.”
Still, the Editors emphasize that it’s tough out there for many of their classmates. Each year, the Career Development Office conducts its “One Year Out” survey, which asks last year’s seniors for information about their first year after graduation. Of the 311-person class of 2008, 284 members responded to the survey, the highest rate in five years, and their experiences clearly speak to the recession. Just 58 percent of the class was employed one year after graduating, compared to 70 percent of the previous year’s class. And 13 percent of the class of 2008 said they were seeking employment, up from 1.2 percent in 2007. These numbers reflect national trends in post-collegiate employment. Last year, employers said they planned to hire 22 percent fewer college graduates than in 2008, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, an organization of career counselors.
To keep their careers moving despite the recession, many new alumnae are widening the field of potential first jobs or taking a “gap year” of service. And they stress the heightened importance of relying on the Mawrter network.
“I feel really supported by the communities of alumnae that I am close with, and that’s helped me immensely in this first year out of school,” says Elizabeth Walsh ’08, Class Notes Co-Editor. “I feel that I’m not alone.”
Menza credits her job to her persistance. After her internship at Glamour, she kept in touch with senior editors throughout her senior year. “After a very lonely summer of unemployment, they called me in August the same day an assistant resigned, and here I am!,” she said. “An internship is great, but so many interns come in and out, and I think it was my constant communication—okay, bugging them incessantly—that made me stick in their minds.”
Widening choices for first jobs
A Cities major who studied the bright lights of Las Vegas and Atlantic City for her thesis, Jessica Schwartz admits that her first move after graduation was markedly provincial. “I went home to where my parents live, outside Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and worked at Borders,” she says.
She’s quick to point out the plus sides of that summer— free rent being high on the list. And she loved her job. “People might not realize this, but working at Borders—or taking a temporary job at the cafe or a record store—is incredibly stimulating,” says Schwartz. “After the intense experience of writing a thesis, it’s a way to continue having intellectual, intelligent conversations with lots of people, but in a really relaxed way. It’s a nice transition.” Then again, Schwartz logged 70-hour weeks, mapping out a new layout for her ailing local branch, so it wasn’t exactly a lazy summer.
As fall approached, she began crafting a strategy to find a full-time job. Many jobs that related to her work as a Cities major, such as positions at museums and research libraries, required a master’s degree for candidates to be competitive in the current economy. While graduate school seemed appealing further down the road, Schwartz wanted the experience of having an interesting, stimulating job first. She started a different kind of hunt, opening a blank Google document on her computer and compiling a long list of company, products, and ideas that she admires.
It’s an eclectic document, including Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods, Kodak and the Sundance Film Festival, publishing houses and art auctions. “People in my generation are really interested in doing things that mean something personally to them, and those places related to my passions in one way or another,” says Schwartz. Some items stem from experience she gained at Bryn Mawr, like the inclusion of advertising firms based on her work as student marketing coordinator for Bi-College Dining Services. Others felt romantic and different, like an itch to move to an organic farm out West and trade labor for room and board. The list continually grew and evolved, based on input from friends and family, job openings, and the recession’s impact on the industries in question.
“I also had a lot of conversations at that time with a Bryn Mawr friend who’s still in school and a bit younger than me—one of my hall advisees,” says Schwartz. “She asked really smart questions that I hadn’t been considering, like, ‘Do I want to live in a big city or a small one?’ ‘A rural area or an urban one?’ “ Schwartz had narrowed the search down to region—a small but vibrant city with a strong arts scene—when she had an epiphany.
“I was looking at the list one day in my Gmail inbox—the hub of my communication—and I thought, ‘I really like Google.’ ” Thinking back, Schwartz was tickled to realize the supporting roles Google products played at various points in her academic career. As a Cities major, she often relied on Google Scholar, a search engine for academic articles, and Google Books. While driving around Las Vegas and Atlantic City for her thesis, which studied the lives of year-round residents in those cities, “Google Maps was a godsend,” she says. “I realized I’m a really Google-y person, and like me, they’re really interested in the production and consumption of information.”
Once she decided to apply to Google, the process sped along rapidly. She found an opening in Ann Arbor, Michigan, with Google’s advertising department for “global online advertising assistant.” This position would largely deal with small business owners who needed help crafting their ads, which appealed to Schwartz. She heard back within 24 hours of sending in her resume, and after a speedy round of interviews, started her job in late fall.
“Google likes people who are curious and passionate—not just about advertising or algorithms, but the world in general—and my story was compelling because of things I was involved with at Bryn Mawr,” she says. “For example, I had come up with the idea to curate a few feminist art exhibits in conjunction with the Vagina Monologues, and they really liked that. They want you to come up with ideas and run with them.”
Her demonstrated interest and talent for working with people was also key. In interviews, she described her involvement with the Writing Center, her work as a teaching assistant for the Cities Department, and as an academic representative for her class involved with event-planning and recruitment. “It turns out that working with a freshman at the Writing Center is really similar to working with a client at Google AdWords,” she says. “You’re helping other people effectively communicate their ideas and succeed with their goals, and you do this by honing your listening skills and learning to give constructive feedback.”
Schwartz says she loves her job and plans to stay for at least two years, maybe moving into departments like Google Books or Google Scholar. She also has an eye toward graduate programs in American studies and visual culture, and has started prepping for that next step by attending academic conferences and reading up in academic journals. But she’s happy to report that widening her job search outside her major hasn’t resulted in an abrupt departure from all of the hard work of those four years. “This is an incredibly stimulating place, full of smart people,” says Schwartz. “I’m not talking about urban poverty with my clients in my current job, but I might end up discussing my thesis over lunch. And the best part is, I use other skills I built at Bryn Mawr every day.”
Gap Year of Service
According to the Wall Street Journal, two of the country’s biggest public-service networks reported a startling jump in applications last year. AmeriCorps received about 48,500 applications from November 2008 to March 2009—triple the number received during the same time period in 2008. And Teach For America, which recruits recent college graduates and professionals to teach for two years in lowincome communities around the country, received 35,000 applications last year, up 42 percent from 2008. College grads outweighed professionals 3to 1 among the Teach for America applicants, and their most common reasons for applying were difficult job conditions and President Obama’s call to public service.
“The gap year of service is very popular right now,” says Liza Jane Bernard, director of the Bryn Mawr and Haverford Career Development Office. She notes that the CDO has seen an increase of students seeking counseling appointments related to teaching fellowships and other service opportunities. A Gap Year Fair offered by the College last fall was also well attended.
Elizabeth Walsh ’09 was among the recent horde of college graduates who opted to ride out the recession by turning to public service. An editor of the college news for two years, she came to Bryn Mawr considering a career in journalism. But as the recession further rattled the journalism industry, which had already endured waves of layoffs, shrinkages, and shuttered outlets, Walsh, an English major and Film Studies minor, reconsidered her ambition. “A lot of people my age feel that journalism has changed, and it isn’t the career path it once was,” she says. “In addition to the lack of jobs and the changing nature of journalism, I think I also realized that I wanted to go into journalism in order to help amplify marginalized voices, which is really more about social justice than writing, and can be transferred to many other kinds of jobs.”
Instead of pursuing a job with National Public Radio after graduating as she had planned, Walsh went back to her parents’ home in Toppenish, Washington, for a summer and worked part time at a local winery. Her bosses, the owners of the winery, had spent their careers as teachers, and opened the winery in retirement. Meanwhile, Walsh noticed evidence of the recession’s reach. A public swimming pool closed, and her branch library cut its hours. Other friends were also home and without jobs, some having left college because their families could no longer afford tuition. “Looking at the economy and the climate in the country, I realized there’s a lot of important work to be done right now,” says Walsh. She decided to seek work in social service and community building.
Walsh lives in Seattle and is an intern with Quaker Experiential Service and Training (QuEST), an AmeriCorps internship program sponsored by the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers). QuEST places young people interested in social service in year-long positions in communities around the country. Walsh works for the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, a non-profit that provides free legal aid for immigration cases. She is a member of the program’s Violence Against Women Act unit, where she interviews prospective legal-aid clients who may also be victims of domestic violence.
“I’m really in love with what I’m doing right now,” says Walsh, and she plans to seek full-time employment in domestic violence advocacy after her yearlong commitment with AmeriCorps ends in August. Through connections she has made with other local organizations in Seattle, Walsh is keeping an eye on full-time positions in transitional housing, shelters, victim hotlines, and after-school programs. She believes her experience with AmeriCorps gives her a significant leg up. “I couldn’t have applied for these jobs without this program,” she says, pointing to the Spanishlanguage skills she has gained, and her range of duties from client interaction to deciphering complex legal documents. “Bryn Mawr prepared me to work hard and do good work.”
Walsh echoes the sentiment of Schwartz when she explains that while one’s post-collegiate employment may not appear to line up perfectly with her college major, the full value of her education turned out to be more nuanced. “On paper it probably seems like my academic interests are pretty far afield from what I’m doing now,” she says. “But in reality, it’s been pretty helpful. The reason I chose an English major was that the type of analytical thinking taught in literary theory was the most interesting way for me to view various problems. I took a lot of classes that focused on gender studies, and that’s given me some context for working with immigrants who are victims of violent crimes.”
She also credits the poor economic climate with opening an unexpected pathway into a career in public service. “The recession has made a lot of us take our time to really deliberate what path we want to choose,” she says. “We’re weighing our priorities a little more carefully, because there’s that feeling that you don’t really want to waste time or money in this economy.”
There is enormous pleasure to be had in
reading the first Class Notes columns
from classes past. They contain precious
information about the lives of young
women confronting new frontiers, as
the country and the world transform
We watch graduates of the 1930s enter prestigious universities only recently opened to women. From fledgling Cambridge, England, scholars “Kentie” Kent and “Ibie” Brown ’35, we learn that “tea-drinking seems the chief form of amusement” on their new campus, although “bicycling and playing hockey figure now and again!” We meet many firsts—-children’s book author to be Emily Cheney ’40 is the first copy girl (not copy boy) at the New York Daily News. Many land at major newspapers like the New York Times and Washington Post, and others long-gone, like the Philadelphia Record. Others sail abroad to study French at the Sorbonne and music in Munich, teach English in Shanghai, and cruise the Aegean Sea.
Later, wartime invades the lives and choices of Mawrters, as wedding announcements begin to mention the military distinctions of graduates and their grooms, and Mawrters flock to the capitol for jobs in both war and peace efforts. The whole class of 1943 appears to live in Washington, according to its Editor, and their notes are dense with news of wartime activity: Carolene Wachenheimer joins numerous classmates in the Economic Studies Division of the State Department. Criss Downing Moore, a junior case worker with the American Red Cross, “describes her job as one which involves handling ‘messages to prisoners of war, and investigations of home conditions of servicemen in mental hospitals and rehabilitation centers’.”
At least 10 members of ’42 were departing soon for officer’s training in the U.S. Navy WAVES. “In the meantime,” writes their Editor, “they have become accustomed to hours shifting every two days, to watches, and to going ‘topsides’ for lunch, be it 12 a.m. or 12 p.m., to the third-floor restaurant.”
With the end of war, a palpable release of tension enters the Notes, and as the 1950s arrive, the advertising firms of Chicago and New York become the latest magnets for Mawrters. Other institutions maintain their attraction throughout the decades.
The Brearley School, an all-girls private school in Manhattan located on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, draws handfuls of graduates interested in education each year, some also earning master’s degrees at nearby Columbia. The Washington Public Library and the Library of Congress appear to enjoy mutually satisfying relationships with the College.
East Coast medical schools— Harvard, Columbia, University of Pennsylvania, NYU, Johns Hopkins—are populated with Mawrters since the early 1930s. And of course, the institution of marriage holds firm sway over the imaginations of many Mawrters. Breathless news of weddings involves stories of Mawrters flying in from all over to attend, especially during wartime. This item from 1942: “In Bryn Mawr for the wedding [of Ensign Pat Delaney and Ensign William Fuchs] were Bobby Woolsey and Betty Marie Jones from Washington, Bobby Bechtold from New York, and Freida Franklin, on leave from the Red Cross before leaving by plane for parts unknown.” After the reception, with “their identical blue uniforms covered with white confetti,” the couple left for a six-day honeymoon in Philadelphia and New York, granted by the Navy, after which they would be stationed far apart and hoped to see each other for short weekends every three weeks.
All the while, each fresh batch of news comes with its own oddball cases and who’d-have-thunk-it surprises, like the member of the class of 1935 who traded the East Coast haunts fashionable among her friends for arid Gila County, Arizona, where she joined a team excavating a prehistoric pueblo that her mother had purchased in 1928. Or the member of Class of ’51 who chose a “rather original” destination (at the time) for her summer trip: not Italy or France, but Jamaica. From the editor of 1940, we learn that “one of the most interesting jobs to fall to a member of our Class fell to Betty Wilson. She is working for a Turkish business magnate who is buying cement from the Hercules Cement Company.”
But beyond this historical insight into careers, marriage, and other trends of the time, the personalities of the Editors themselves make these old Class Notes a worthwhile read. It’s their plucky musings on post-collegiate life, gentle (and not-so-gentle) pleas to their classmates to send in Notes, and more than anything, the affinity for Mawrters that probably made them seek Editorship in the first place.
“I had always thought that Class Editors bumped into people on the street and thereby gleaned all necessary information as columnists. It is a fraud and a delusion,” bemoans Louise Morley ’40 of Long Island, begging her colleagues for more details about their lives. “Don’t hide your lights under bushels, but come out and make yourself known,” urges the Editor of ’36. But a happy Editor, well-fed with dispatches and updates, can turn her attention to delivering news of her own. Edythe LaGrande ’49, for instance, has moved abroad and landed a job with the American Embassy in London. “A cool and rainy summer is finished and a foggy winter is about to begin,” she reports. “London is rather strange now that the American tourists have given it back to the British. I am told that Paris is much the same. If any more of you come over to England, I do wish you’d look me up at the Embassy.” And with that, she signs off.
Kaitlin Menza ’09, an editorial assistant at Glamour Magazine, where she covers social issues, politics, and sexual health, was a co-editor at the college news, a sociology major and worked with Glamour for an internship her junior year. Kaitlin Menza ’09 at her desk at Glamour Magazine. Photo by Joanna Muenz, Wellesley ’06
“It turns out that working with a freshman at Bryn Mawr’s Writing Center is really similar to working with a client at Google AdWords.” —Jessica Schwartz ’09 Jessica Schwartz ’09 at Google in Ann Arbor, MI.
Elizabeth Walsh ’09, an intern with AmeriCorps’ QuEST program. reconsidered her ambition to be a journalist. Back in her home town for the summer after graduating, she noticed evidence of the recession’s reach and decided to seek work in social service and community building. Elizabeth Walsh ’09 on the roof of the building for Quaker Experiential Service and Training (QuEST), overlooking Puget Sound.