Thursday, December 15, 2011

UMass Lowell Business Students Preparing For Life After December Graduation


By Angela Rodriguez
Gordon College News Service
November 21, 2011
(This story appeared in a GCNS package series December 15, 2011, in the print and online editions of the Boston Globe, North section.)

LOWELL, MA – When Christian Elwood, 23, first applied to UMass Lowell, the last thing he thought he would be doing his senior year was meeting and learning from billionaire Warren Buffet. Elwood was one of twenty students who traveled to Nebraska last month (mid-November) for a question and answer time with Buffet about his investing philosophy. The timing for hearing Buffet’s tips was good for Elwood, a finance major with a 4.0 grade point average, who begins his future in the business world after the holidays.

Elwood and fellow classmate Richard LaFlamme, 22, are two of some 2,000 students enrolled in the Manning School of Business at UMass Lowell (newly named from the College of Management), and part of a small cohort from the Lowell campus who will be graduating this month.

“There has been a steady increase of about 100 graduates each December graduation,” said Christine Gillette, assistant director of media relations at UMass Lowell. Gillette said that mid-year graduations have grown from last year’s class combined total of 595 graduate and undergraduate degrees and this year’s closer to 700.

“Competition is probably less in December,” said Gillette. “We want students to be out in the job market when ready. We want to support them as best as possible.”

Though Elwood has taken all the right steps to become ‘ready,’ he says he is unsure of his future plans. “Right now it’s hard to tell if it’s really better graduating in December,” said Elwood. “I thought it would be easier getting a job. But because of the floundering job market, I’ve turned up a lot of dead ends.”
Elwood grew up in Ashby, MA, and after being medically discharged from the Marines due to loss of hearing in his left ear, started his college career at UMass Lowell, a semester after the rest in his age group. “I’m from close by. I was accepted my senior year (of high school), but never pursued it after I went into the Marines,” Elwood said. “I decided to go after I got out.”

Now Elwood is president of the Student Veterans Club and met with Buffet on Veteran’s Day. “We use his investment philosophy in our class that manages the Student Managed Fund, and we’ve always made returns,” Elwood said. “It was a great opportunity to meet him and hear about his success in investment.”

The Fund is a part of the Portfolio and Security Analysis class taught by associate professor of Finance, Ravi Jain, an experience that he says gives students a head start in the competition after graduation. “The Student Managed Fund manages real money,” said Jain. “They really get to do what we are teaching them. We show them what they would do in an actual business, and then apply it with actual money.”

UMass Lowell Chancellor Marty Meehan sees classes like Jain’s as crucial for early graduates. “Many students work when not in the classroom, pursue experiential learning opportunities such as co-ops or service learning or complete degree requirements in December in order to enter the workforce early," he said.

Still, they don’t guarantee instant careers. Even with his leadership experiences and academic record, Elwood is concerned. He says he has applied to between 50-100 jobs, had three interviews, six definite rejections and still nothing certain once receives his diploma.

“I’m feeling disheartened. I kind of expected I would be marketable graduating early, and with all that I’m involved in,” said Elwood. “My college dean and two of my professors have all told me they’re going to pass my resume around.”

Elwood’s classmate Richard LaFlamme sees the job market as more hopeful than Elwood. “I believe I am ahead of the game,” said LaFlamme, a business management major from Tyngsboro, MA. “I thought it would be beneficial to graduate in the fall and be ahead of the thousands who graduate in the spring.”

LaFlamme may be among the few willing to take any job; he started looking for jobs in October and now says it’s “wait and see.” He’s networking with friends and taking advantage of his major and campus resources. “For graduating early, there wasn’t much financial draw to it,” LaFlamme said. “I know I had to make money in this world, so I chose a business major and am now ready to start working.”

Even with such preparation, early graduates like LaFlamme and Elwood are entering a tough market.

“Competition will still be tight. No matter when one graduates, it’s important to keep an open mind during the job search,” said Ryan Hunt, corporate communications manager at CareerBuilder. “You may not find the ideal right away. This is true of anyone looking for jobs in a slow recovery.” Hunt said that a September CareerBuilder study showed that of laid off workers who found new jobs in the past year, 44 percent found them in entirely different fields.

Elwood and LaFlamme and the many who graduate from college in December may need to heed Hunt’s advice and take the first job that comes their way. Even with billionaire investment tips, club involvement, and successful studies, their job prospects after graduating are limited. But their priority is clear.

“I need money, I’m completely out of money,” said Elwood. “I can’t see myself living in this economy, so I need to find a job soon. That’s the smartest career choice I can make financially.”

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