Alumni Highlight: Suzanne Perkins ’18

Alumna Suzanne Perkins sporting her well-deserved graduation cap and hood around town.

Alumna Suzanne Perkins’ (’18) studies in epidemiology came to life just 6 weeks after starting her full-time job in February 2020. Suzanne works as a Statistical Research Analyst at MUSC, and although her position is designed to focus on research, she quickly adapted and jumped right in to assist other areas of MUSC with their COVID response, including family medicine response and setting up proper communications. In addition to earning her Master’s degree in Public Health with a concentration in Epidemiology from Emory University, CofC’s Public Health program helped prepare her to succeed in this role during the pandemic.

Suzanne entered the public health program as a non-traditional student. She wasn’t sure what she wanted to study directly after high school, so she started working full-time at a dental office while figuring it all out. It was through this experience that she recognized her interest in the medical profession. However, she realized that working directly with patients in a hands-on environment was not for her. As she took these self-discoveries into consideration, she learned that CofC was launching a new public health program that brought all of her interests together. She was excited about all the possibilities her degree could lead to upon enrolling in the program:

“There are so many different fields that public health touches and different areas you can go into: Clinical, government, non-profit, and for-profit. Through my classes, I ended up loving epidemiology and decided to get my master’s in that.”

As Suzanne worked toward her public health degree throughout her time at CofC, she balanced full-time classes with part-time employment at the dental office that inspired her studies, as well as countless hours of volunteer work. Her determination and hard work paid off, leading to her successful completion of a master’s degree and securing a job position that she loves.

Aside from stepping in to assist with MUSC’s COVID response, Suzanne’s role as a Statistical Research Analyst allows her to work with 5 doctors that conduct research, each on a specific area: Breast cancer, prostate cancer, homelessness, LGBTQ health, and pre-exposure prophylaxis (or PrEP). Suzanne assists these doctors by setting up studies and identifying what questions they are seeking to answer, who to target, and how to best run the studies. After conducting the studies and all the data has been collected, she analyzes the data, which is her favorite part of the job. In this role, she incorporates concepts learned at CofC regularly.

“You cover so much information in this [public health] program that it sets you up so well for any direction you could go in. [For instance,] I use behavioral science information and program planning that I learned at CofC in my job now.”

Additionally, Suzanne has found success in her career by demonstrating professionalism, arriving to her commitments on time, and not being afraid to ask questions.

“The doctors you are working with have so much going on and their time is so valuable…. If you show up on time and are willing to learn, they are more than willing to help you. In a clinical setting, it is even more crucial to be on time. Even in a setting where you are not the most knowledgeable, this sets you up for people to want to work with you and help you learn.”

 

-Camille Hamrick, Career Counselor

Alumni Panel Recap

“Your network is your net worth.” These parting words during the “Chart Your Path” alumni panel in March 2021 provide an excellent perspective on the importance of networking, even during these precarious, socially-distanced times. During this event, a panel of diverse alumni who work in law, business, education, and entrepreneurship shared how they got to where they are today and gave advice on how to ensure success as a CofC graduate despite the pandemic. On networking, Kenyatta Grimmage, Associate Director of Admissions at College of Charleston, explained the necessity of surrounding yourself with a supportive and enthusiastic community who can help you get to where you’re trying to go. And if you’re not sure where that is yet, his suggestion is to figure out what you would do without being paid- that is what your true passion is, and when you find that passion, the money will flow. 

Each of the panelists shared similarly incredible advice as they offered their own stories of career successes and setbacks. Kesha Rainey, Global Operations & Supply Chain LDP at Raytheon Technologies, gave a particularly important reminder:

“As a freshman, you’re not going to be the same person when you graduate. Be willing to enjoy the process along the way.”

It may seem like a familiar statement; you’re probably anticipating much change between the day you take your first step on campus and the day you cross the Cistern. However, when you’re just starting college and going from day to day, it can seem like nothing is changing at all. You’re going from class to class, finishing assignment after assignment, and juggling work, school, and your social life, while still trying to figure out how to get more than five hours of sleep each night. The process can seem overwhelming, repetitive, and certainly stressful, but that’s where the second part of Kesha’s advice comes in: you have to be willing to enjoy this crazy, once-in-a-lifetime process. Lean into the chaotic monotony of each semester because even though it may seem like everything is staying exactly the same, you’ll quickly begin to realize that the person you are this semester is entirely different from the one you were at the same time last year. Whether you’re finding new passions and interests, learning new skills and putting them to use in your classes, or meeting new people and making new memories, you are growing and changing every day. And then one day, you’ll arrive at the end of your final semester, look back, and realize that this familiar statement ended up being true, because you’ve become an entirely different person than you were four years ago. 

Kimberly Ohanuka embodies this idea of growing and changing throughout these short four years perfectly; she began her studies at the College as an athletic training major destined for medical school. But as she got into her major, something didn’t feel right, though it wasn’t until she met with one of her professors that it really clicked: She was living her life for the desires of others instead of herself. Kimberly had taken up this medical path because her family had dreamed of her being a doctor, when in fact, she wanted to be a lawyer. Her professor could see her lack of enthusiasm during class, and didn’t hesitate to point it out, encouraging Kimberly to start living life for herself, and not for anybody else, and she found that by the end of her four years, she was an entirely different person; one who would follow her own passions and dreams instead of allowing others to decide for her. She is now living out her true interests as a Civil Defense Litigation Attorney at Carr Maloney PC.

For Laqunya Baker, following those dreams meant becoming a lawyer as well, and one that advocates with the ACLU. In fact, she joined the panel from outside the courtroom right before she was due to testify. Laqunya encouraged students, especially students from marginalized backgrounds, to pursue their career goals even though others might not be as supportive. She emphasized the lack of black lawyers, especially black female lawyers, sharing that only 2 percent of those in her field look like her. 

Overall, the prevailing message was that students should study what sparks their own passion rather than what makes others around them happy, even if that means studying something out of the ordinary or entirely different from what they thought they wanted. With only four short years of college, it’s important to spend your valuable time studying what gets you excited to go to class every day, not what you think will get you the biggest paycheck. As Kenyatta Grimmage said during the panel, “once you find your passion, the money will flow.” 

 

-Katie Hill, Peer Career Advisor

Alumni Highlight: Sam Lemon

You never know where an ordinary conversation could lead – for graduate Sam Lemon (‘20), a simple chat with a previous neighbor resulted in a full-time job. 

Sam was a computer science major at the College of Charleston, and he always knew he wanted to incorporate coding into his career. Shortly after graduatinghe was offered a position as a Software Engineer and now uses coding daily to address client needs. 

“I landed this position in a roundabout way. I ran into this old neighbor of mine from growing up and I started talking with him about how I just graduated college with a major in computer science. He has a cyber security company along with other businesses, and he said he needed an intern to help around the office. So, I joined to help with IT in the office. Shortly after, he wanted to create a startup for a software company called primal. He brought me on to the team along with two other software engineers.” 

Sam’s office has a small engineering team and a sales team. The sales team brings in clients with software needs and the software engineering team works to address those needs, such as editing web pages to give them more functionality, creating apps, and finding solutions to current software. Sam and his team have also worked on projects creating databases, aggregating data, and displaying the data on customizable dashboards. 

My favorite thing to do is digging into the code and trying to figure out creative and efficient ways to solve whatever kind of problem is thrown at me. The Computer Science Department at the College did a great job of making me feel confident that I could pick up and learn any kind of coding language or style that I would need for the job.” 

Additionally, Sam took advantage of many opportunities as a student that prepared him to succeed in his industry such as attending career fairs and the Biz Bash, a computer science department networking event. Although he didn’t find his current position through these events, taking advantage of these opportunities gave him interviewing experience and allowed him to meet other professionals in the field. Attending these events every year also boosted his confidence in talking with advanced professionals in the industry, a skill of which came in handy when running into his past neighbor! His biggest piece of career advice is to grow and engage with your network. It just might lead to your dream job!

 

-Camille Hamrick, Career Counselor

Alumni Highlight: Katlyn Chandler ’18

Alumna Katlyn Chandler (’18) is all about service – helping others and meeting them where they are. Luckily for her, she has found a way to blend her desire to help others with her passion for nutrition.

When Katlyn was in high school, she constantly felt sluggish and made the decision to change her daily habits by eating right and exercising. This decision changed her life, and in turn, she knew she wanted to help others make healthy decisions as well. Although she entered CofC as a biology major, she quickly found out that public health incorporated all her interests: Preventative health, community health, and nutrition. After switching her major, Katlyn’s career launched.

Throughout her time at CofC, Katlyn dived into various volunteer and internship experiences in the Charleston community that took her out of her comfort zone, teaching her how to better serve people who are different than her.

“Going out into the community and getting to know people through volunteering is a great way to get you out of your shell and see people at eye level. Sometimes we think we can solve a large issue, but you don’t know what a community needs until you are working directly with them.”

For Katlyn, this looked like interning with the Ryan White Wellness Center that served the Eastside community by caring for their health needs. Through this internship, Katlyn was able to find ways for clients to receive nutritional supplemental drinks with a local vendor, file health insurance information, and shadow physicians. She also served with the Lowcountry Herald where she helped supply food and clothing for the homeless. Through each of her experiences during college, she gained a deeper understanding of how to use her studies to serve others well.

Upon graduation, Katlyn decided to go directly into the workforce. As she searched for jobs, she initially looked past an opportunity with the Lowcountry Food Bank because she saw the phrase public speaking in the job title and was nervous about performing this task. Despite being nervous about the public speaking aspect, she reconsidered and decided to apply so she could learn more about what this position truly entailed. After interviewing, she felt more confident about pursuing this role, and she began serving as an AmeriCorps for the Lowcountry Food Bank as the Program Coordinator of “Cooking Matters.” This program helps low-income families shop and eat healthier on a budget. In partnership with other organizations, she hosted 6-week classes to teach how to prepare food and provide nutrition lessons. It turns out that the very aspect that made her initially hesitant to apply – public speaking – is now something she loves to do! She fell in love with her career, and after completing her year term in this role, she landed a position as a Nutrition Education Specialist for the SC Department of Health and Environmental Control (SC DHEC).

Katlyn currently serves low-income communities in this role within the Women, Infants, and Children department. She loves that she gets to work with different types of people such as children from 0-5 years of age, prenatal moms, and post-partum women by discussing breastfeeding, promoting physical activity, and providing healthy recipes for picky eaters. Additionally, she provides nutrition health assessments and offers food benefits, but tailored in a way that is most optimal for their health.

“My favorite part is talking to a client who is really open to nutrition education and having them learn something they never knew before. I love seeing the lightbulb go off in their heads. Many people think everything has to change for nutrition, but you can actually make small changes to become healthier.”

Alumna Katlyn Chandler has successfully used her passion for nutrition to serve the Charleston community.

 

-Camille Hamrick, Career Counselor

Alumni Highlight: Seth Burrell ’15

The Coronavirus pandemic has greatly affected the world we live in, and it is vitally important to be aware of how to effectively search for opportunities despite the pandemic. This summer, the Career Center hosted a (Job) “Search Party” series where CofC alumni shared their tips and insight on how to successfully job search. Seth Burrell, a speaker at the first Search Party series, provided his insights on finding employment during the Coronavirus pandemic. Burrell graduated from the College of Charleston in 2015 with a degree in Political Science. He now works in talent booking, production, and real estate. Burrell’s career did not begin after graduation; it began during the CofC Transfer Orientation. As a transfer student, he met fellow students with similar goals and his networking journey took off from there.

After graduation, Burrell’s first job was far from his dream position. However, it laid the foundation to make further connections with others that led to new opportunities. He learned valuable writing, email drafting, and presentation skills that he uses daily at his current position with Norwegian Cruise Lines.

“Just because you didn’t land your first job from the first interview, that doesn’t mean that it’s not going to happen.”

From his experience, the way to secure your first job out of college is to reach out to CofC alumni in your prospective field to establish a form of communication, receive advice, and to learn about opportunities – in other words, networking. By connecting with alumni from your university, you have a great starting point to get a meaningful conversation started. While networking is different for everyone, “it’s okay to be direct” and request an informational interview with that individual or with someone else in their company to be more informed about your prospective career path. When looking for connection points, the Career Center recommends that you use College of Charleston’s Alumni Search Tool on LinkedIn to identify individuals within the career field, company, or location affiliated with the College. As you’re making connections, it’s important to introduce yourself and include the fact that you’re a CofC student looking for advice on professional topics, such as the job search. In addition to networking with alumni, you can start establishing connections with employers through the Career Center’s Career Fairs held every semester.

Throughout Burrell’s career, the practice of job searching has developed, most recently due to the coronavirus pandemic. “The traditional method of starting your career [and meeting employers in person] has completely flipped on its head [due to quarantine].” It is important today for graduates to do three things:

  1. Work on soft skills.
  2. Identify companies that would be a risk or dream to work for and just go for it.
  3. Use this time to reflect, and ask yourself what companies or career fields are interesting to you to help focus your career pursuits.

The pandemic has changed the job market and the future of many companies. However, Burrell points out that:

“It’s a great opportunity to build your own personal skills because we have so much free time… Things are really difficult right now, but the people who are using this time to grow will be better off.”

 

-Christina Ferrell, Peer Career Advisor