Students explore careers through Houston Connections Program
While most students spent the first week in February preparing for the spring semester, a group of 10 St. Olaf College students spent their time in Houston preparing for life after college.
The trip was part of the Piper Center for Vocation and Career’s Connections Program, which enables students to explore careers and network with alumni in cities across the country. The program in Houston focused specifically on opportunities in the technology, energy, engineering, and biomedical industries.
“The goal of the Houston Connections Program is to expose students to a wide variety of alumni and other professionals working in a range of careers,” says Kris Estenson, an associate director of the Piper Center who led the trip to Houston. “The program is designed to help students discern their vocational path after St. Olaf and to receive tangible advice for navigating the path from college to career.”
Much like the Connections Program in New York this past fall, the Houston program gave students the chance to see firsthand what it’s like to work in a variety of fields. Paul Ling ’84 led the group on a visit to the Baylor College of Medicine, where he works as a microbiologist, and to the Houston Zoo, which conducts research in partnership with Baylor.
The group’s itinerary also included a trip to the headquarters of Environmental Resource Management, a sustainability consultancy firm where Ian Achterkirch ’88 works, and a visit to the Houston Port Authority, which was led by Bob and JoAnn Fry, the parents of a 2007 St. Olaf graduate.
The students even got to tour NASA’s Johnson Space Center thanks to the efforts of Doug Blanchard ’67, the retired division chief of planetary science.
To supplement the site visits, the students also attended a career exploration panel, during which alumni representing a variety of industries spoke about their work and fielded questions from those students interested in following similar vocational paths.
For some students, the Houston Connections Program has already paid off. Theo Knaeble ’13 even found a position at a health care information company through connections he made during the trip.
“The most helpful part of the program was that I was offered a full-time job at Certify Data Systems,” Knaeble says. “I am seriously considering the job with Certify, so my trip to Houston was the sole force behind me finding a career.”
The next Connections Program will take 34 St. Olaf juniors and seniors to Washington, D.C., during spring break, where they will explore career and vocational opportunities in government, nonprofit, education, and international organizations.