School started up again a few weeks ago for college students across the country. It's now been nine years since I moved 300 miles across the state to begin my college career at Washington State University. I'd like to think I was fearless, but I was more than a little nervous. My best friend was my roommate, but what if I didn't know anyone else? What if I didn't like it? What if I wanted to move home?
That first semester was pretty tough since I didn't have many friends there and I felt all alone most of the time. One of my dairy princess friends was in Dairy Club and said it would be a good way to meet people just like me. I joined and at the first meeting became an officer. As they were electing the historian, Megan said, "Pictures?! Kimmi loves pictures! She's perfect for this!!" Hmm. I guess there's no backing out now.
I didn't know it at the time, but that put me on track for a remarkable college experience. Megan was right. I DID meet a lot of people through Dairy Club. New friends that let me tag along to help milk at the university dairy, introduced me to another dairy-related group on campus and opened a lot of doors to various experiences. Most were seniors at the time and they certainly didn't have to do this for a little freshman they didn't really know. But they did. And I've never forgotten it.
When I was a senior, Dairy Club elected me as their president and we had a lot of new, younger members. I did everything I could to make them feel like part of the group and get them involved. Pay it forward.
A lot of older students and alumni gave me advice during my four and a half years in Pullman and in the spirit of paying it forward, I hope it helps current students.
"Good things happen when people know who you are and what you can do."
An alumnus said this at an event and it stuck with me. He said to get involved in activities and groups I enjoyed and make as many connections as possible. You know what? He was right! Every job I've had since college has been because of someone I knew. Well, kind of. I had the right connections, which helped, but ultimately it was my experience and personality that got me the job. Professors, industry folks and classmates are all good contacts. Keep in touch with them!
Along those lines, collect business cards.
I write on the back where I met the person, the date and anything that stands out about our conversation. When you get a lot of cards in a box, you'll be glad you have something to jog your memory.
You don't need to know everything...
No one is an expert. It's okay. Be knowledgeable in your area and open to new ideas. Knowing where to go for information when you need it is a good skill to acquire. This goes back to keeping in touch with those contacts.
...But learn everything you can.
I didn't know what I wanted to do. In high school, I wanted to be a journalist and write for a national dairy magazine. WSU had an exceptional communications college, so that's what I did. After joining Dairy Club and meeting a lot of animal science students, I thought learning about what I loved (cows) sounded awesome. Later, I found that there is actually a major for people who like to write and love agriculture: agricultural communications! I took a lot of somewhat random classes and I'm glad I did. I tap into that knowledge from time to time and it's nice to have some contacts that are better versed in those areas when I need it.
Don't be afraid to move.
Internships are SO important! Do a lot of them. Don't be afraid to move or try something that seems a little outside your comfort zone. It's three months. If you don't like the job and/or don't like the location, you aren't stuck. It's much harder to change your mind once you are in a job after college. Now is the time to try things out. Take advantage of that because it's MUCH more difficult to bounce around after college. For the record, moving was one of the best things I ever did.
In college, I wanted nothing more than to work in the Washington dairy industry and be close to family. You have to go where the opportunities are and unfortunately, at the time they were not in Washington. It's scary at first. The first 6 months will suck. Things get so much better, just give it a chance.
You'll be okay. I WISH someone had told me that when I was struggling after moving to Indiana after graduation. I didn't know anyone and felt extremely alone. It was awful. I hated it. I didn't know that what I was experiencing was normal and that it would get better.
Stay involved after graduation.
Get involved in activities outside of the classroom in college. Stay involved in the professional organizations you joined after graduation. The dynamic changes and you need to be ready for that. I wasn't. It was a shock and I almost quit going, but I'm glad I gave it another chance. Five years later, I'm on national committees and can't walk 2 feet at the conference without running into someone I know. Give it time. Learn everything you can. Meet people and network.
Network, network, network!!
This is one of the most important pieces of the puzzle. You need to have the knowledge to back up your credibility, but getting out and meeting people will make a big difference. Who doesn't like having new friends?! It makes everything more enjoyable.
Don't wish away anything.
I always couldn't wait for this or that. Dad told me not to wish my life away. He's right. You can wait. Enjoy what's happening now because you'll never get that time back. I was so over college my last semester. I wanted to be done. I didn't want to be there. The real world would be so much better. As good as the real world can be, I wish I had savored that last semester more.
Pay it forward.
Get involved, network and learn as much as you can. When others take time to teach you things like those older students and alumni did for me, don't forget to pay it forward. If we all help each other, the world will be a better place.