I’m in the middle of an extended trip to the West Coast to visit alums and attend the AACSB Dean’s conference in San Francisco. Among the many purposes I have on these visits, I seek to learn the stories of people who have traveled far from Orlando after graduating from UCF. My interest isn’t vicarious…It is related to my goal of expanding our national footprint. If UCF is going to take its rightful place among America’s leading universities, it is going to have to encourage more students to venture far and wide.
This willingness to relocate isn’t just about building our national brand, it is also a marker of a high-quality educational experience. A great education changes your perspective on the world. It gives you aha moments, expands your horizons, helps you make good career choices and gives you the confidence to know you can compete with anyone, anywhere. The stories of our farthest-flung alums are case studies in what it takes to enact the goals of a great education and I look for lessons I can bring back to the college.
I have met four alums so far on this trip who have travelled many miles from Orlando, including international assignments in places like China, France and Germany. Each of them has worked for major corporations and has had multiple assignments on each coast. There is a nature versus nurture argument to be had in their stories. As Bruce Springsteen notes, some people are just “Born to Run”, but the advice these “tramp” alumni gave in how to build dynamic careers is worth exploring and directly relates to the culture we are trying to build in the college.
Suzanne Fradette, a partner with PWC, who has worked all over the globe said : “When a door opened for me, I always went through it.” I never said “no”. I went to Paris without knowing French and came back fluent in the language. When they needed someone to go and live in Beijing, I got out my passport.”
Debra Reno and Bob Danna stressed the need to follow opportunity: each of them left Orlando because career opportunities were better elsewhere. They knew being in the right place at the right time was important and that Central Florida no longer offered them the opportunity to grow professionally or personally. They had to be proactive and create a door to open themselves.
Glen Dawes who has worked for a variety of Fortune 500 companies said: “The more you get out of your comfort zone, the farther you go. The farther you go, the more opportunity you see. When things start to slow down on a job, I start to get restless…”
If I were to summarize my visits with these alums it would be this: Sometimes a door opens in front of you, sometimes you have to search for the door, but every time you go through one, you see more doors and more opportunities. Going through doors goes from frightening to contagious. It is a journey that begins outside of your comfort zone, becomes less scary each time you go through a door, and eventually gets you to a place where all you see is doors. It’s then that you hear Springsteen playing in your head: “Tramps like us, baby we were born to run.”