“As you think about how to discuss your education with others in the marketplace, don’t be bashful,” attorney Justin Alvarez (’97) advised a group of Thomas Aquinas College students at this Sunday’s Career Panel in St. Bernardine of Siena Library. “I think we are rightfully trained to be humble people, and that makes it difficult for us to sell what God has given us as our gifts. But humility is acknowledging the reality of the gifts we have been given, then conveying that reality to others. And that creates opportunities for us to do great good in the world.”
Conveying one particular reality — the blessing of a Thomas Aquinas College education — to potential employers was the focus of Sunday’s panel, hosted by the College’s Office of Career Advisement. “Students here have the gift of spending four years honing the art of thinking,” continued Mr. Alvarez, who is the founder of The Alvarez Firm, a law corporation based in Camarillo, California. “You are trained in the art of clear and precise thinking, and I believe most employers — including myself — find that to be incredibly valuable.”
Joining Mr. Alvarez on the dais were two other panelists with deep connections to the College: James Bemis, the father of a member of the Class of 2004, is a principal at Montague DeRose and Associates, LLC., a California-based financial advisory firm. Nathan Haggard (’99) is a graduate of the College and a systems engineer at Apple, where he manages the company’s technical relationship with some of its largest enterprise customers, such as Disney, Amgen, and Toyota.
“We invited Justin, Jim, and Nathan because they are faithful Catholics who have put their God-given talents to use in the world for the service of Christ and His church,” said Mark Kretschmer, the College’s director of student services. “Moreover, they all have personal experience with our program of Catholic liberal education. They have a deep appreciation for its value, and they can help our graduates to navigate their way through the job market.”
Bringing Christ to the Workplace
The first speaker of the day, Mr. Alvarez urged students to think of business as a sort of vocation — not merely as a way to earn one’s livelihood, but also as an opportunity to engage and evangelize society. “If you want to change the culture, you have to participate in it,” he said. “We owe it to our coworkers to bring Christ to the workplace.” He stressed the value of forming “intentional” relationships that can lead both to professional opportunities and to personal friendships.
Additionally, Mr. Alvarez spoke of how his experience at the College was good preparation for his work of advising companies in matters of law and business. “The principles and patterns set out, and the kind of books we read, carry over into a lot of contexts,” he explained. “The notions from Plato’s cave, or your studies of how we come to know, or your understanding of the play between the intellect and the appetite — these are the kind of things that have practical applications when you get to the marketplace, and they are going to help you in wide variety of circumstances.”
The next speaker, Mr. Bemis, likewise discussed the great good that faithful Catholic professionals can achieve in the business world. He recommended that students continually advance their education, and he encouraged them to find and utilize professional mentors. When his daughter was a student at the College, Mr. Bemis said, he read many of the books that she was reading in her classes, and he saw how valuable a Catholic liberal education can be in the job market.
“You should not think for a minute that the world is against you. Your ability to project moral standards and principles will be respected by others, even if they are not of the same religion,” Mr. Bemis said. “You education is extremely practical. Every business needs people who can communicate. And those who can think clearly, write clearly, and speak clearly will always be in demand. Regardless of what career you might be interested in, the tools that you learn in your education here will be essential.”
Ending the prepared portion of the presentation was Mr. Haggard, who outlined a list of good habits for the Catholic professional, beginning with morning prayer. He also recommended personal-investment strategies, including tithing, and encouraged students to stay active in creative endeavors and to be tireless in pursuing career opportunities. “The first thing that you should do in the morning is go to Jesus,” said Mr. Haggard. “Go to Him quickly, before the devil gets to you, and give the day to Him, and pray to Him, and receive Him in the Eucharist.”
Reflecting on his various meetings with colleagues and clients, Mr. Haggard thought back to his time participating in the Socratic discussions that are at the heart of the College’s academic program. “A lot of times, when I am at my work, it feels like I am in class,” he said. “I am sitting around a table. I am discussing a complex issue. I am trying to make progress. And I am dealing with lots of big egos. So, just as normal schooling might have prepared you for Industrial Age jobs, Thomas Aquinas College has prepared you for Information Age jobs.”
Questions and Answers
The panelists then took questions from students and talked with them over refreshments. The students were interested and eager to speak. Well after the formal presentation was over, some of them could still be seen chatting with the speakers in the arcade outside the library.
“I was grateful that our panelists took such interest in the students and their questions,” said Mr. Kretschmer. “It was clear that they want to help our graduates succeed, and that they understand how to apply this unique education in a marketplace that needs thoughtful, articulate, and ethical leaders. Their advice was priceless, as was their encouragement.”
The Career Forum was one of several such events that Mr. Kretschmer has planned for this year. He has already hosted similar panels for students interested in careers in medicine, nursing, and business. On February 22 he will conduct a Career Strategies Workshop on résumé writing and interview preparation.