How does experience produce professional growth?

May 5, 2020 at 2:13 PM
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How does experience produce professional growth?

Jerlisa  Fontaine ’18 and Jim Stellar

Jerlisa was a human biology major and was the president of the student government, the Student Association (SA), at the University at Albany for a year in her junior/senior year.  That job was another full-time job commanding significant responsibility.  When she graduated, she moved back to New York City and that is where our story begins.  The goal of this blog is to use the experience of a recent graduate to see how experiential education, particularly the SA, played into the beginning of her career development with a larger goal being to see how professional knowledge could emerge from a college education.

Jerlisa, let’s start with a description of your duties as SA president, which I am calling here “experiential education” on top of your academic studies.

Coming into this role, I was fortunate to have been mentored by the prior three presidents whom always informed me of what to expect, but would always remind me, “There is no way to fully prepare for this role.” This was absolutely true. As student government, my duties included:

  • Managing the $2.67 million dollar budget for 14,500+ undergraduate students in conjunction with our Board of Finance, as well as, other stakeholders.
  • Creating strategic partnerships/alliances with various school departments and external organizations in efforts to execute initiatives that cater to the students’ needs.
  • Analyzing and influencing the effectiveness of 11 departments, comprising nearly 100 employees/interns, and approximately 270 student organizations.
  • Serving on University-Large committees such as the University Auxiliary Service Board (UAS), the 5-Year Strategic Planning Committee, and the University Senate
  • Implementing a new department called “ Department of Health & Sustainability” to combat the health and environmental concerns plaguing young adults, nationally
  • Created “Scholar Series” to unite undergraduate & graduate students, alumni professionals, and companies to fulfill the niche career interests of students.

That is impressive.  Now with this significant administrative experience behind you, walk us through your first attempts at work in NYC and how your SA experience may have helped you (or your human biology classes).

I was fortunate to land my first job straight out of college as a Program Coordinator for a non-profit organization. Through this non-profit, I utilized both my student leadership and biology background to educate the teenage students on the various health career pathways, as well as, college readiness. As a pre-medical student with internship and volunteering experience, it felt great to be able to help my students better understand the healthcare system and how to truly be a patient advocate.

Through my SA leadership, I truly feel that running the student government as a 501-c3, provided me with a one of a kind experience with a great deal of responsibility. To be quite transparent, I loved my non-profit job, but did not feel as if all of my skills were being used. I certainly had the leadership skills necessary to lead our teen advisors but lacked the responsibility of meeting with the organization’s stakeholders and making large-scale decisions. It was a very humbling experience and made me realize that I needed to do something else outside of work. This led to me creating my company, MilleniVision Networks, LLC. I would credit the SA experience for keeping me motivated, igniting an entrepreneurial spirit in me, making me highly responsible, and student-driven.

That is interesting that you went creative.  I love the name “MilleniVision.  Can you bring us up to date (winter 2020) about where you are now in your career development?  Again maybe you could relate it back to your learning in your college year AND your learning after graduation.

Definitely. 2019 was my first year of ever being unsure of what I wanted to do, professionally. I knew I no longer wanted to be a doctor, but had no clear vision of what my next steps would be. However, I was able to land myself into a Master’s in Public Health program at NYU with a focus in Biostatistics. I intend on using data, media and digital technology to better the patient’s experience. Since being in this program, I received my first shot working at a digital health startup and will soon be transitioning into different types of work. My MilleniVision team and I have also been behind the scenes creating our digital platform, which we hope to serve as the “everyday career- clarity platform for young ambitious professionals.”

As we were writing this blog, the COVID19 hit.  How has that affected your career trajectory and particularly MilleniVision.

COVID-19 has certainly put a strange halt on my progress. I am very fortunate to still have my job at a Digital Health Startup. However, due to COVID-19 my hours have been reduced. I had also been chosen as a finalist for a new position, but that is currently on hold due to their concern for the future of the organization. There is a lot of uncertainty plaguing many companies and organizations, so it’s a matter of patience at this time. In the meanwhile, I have been able to jump on a paid project that studies the transmission of COVID-19 in areas surrounding hospitals and health facilities. VERY INTERESTING!

As for MilleniVision, things are actually great. We have decided to take a new direction where we will be creating an app that connects young professionals to the best business and career focused events. Everyone is looking for a community of professionals to connect with. With there being so many, we decided that we are well-positioned to be the ones connecting them. As a team, we are currently doing some user research and preparing for the design & development of the app itself. This is going to be a very influential platform and we can’t wait to see how this app will truly change lives.

This is the first in a fairly new focus for the blog on how experiences in college, on top of a fine academic education, translate into jobs in the first few years after college.  Look for more.

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A view on student diversity and STEM education from someone raised in Jamaica
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