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Class Act: Grads Take on Reality

June 7, 2012 By:
Fredda Sacharow, Jewish Exponent Feature
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Marina Gonzalez (left) of Elkins Park earned a degree in history but thinks she'll go into medicine like her parents.

The headlines are stark, even dire: "Recent college graduates face educational second thoughts," reports The Philadelphia Inquirer. "Prospects dim for new grads seeking jobs," echoes the Asbury Park Press. And from The Wall Street Journal, this blunt piece of unwelcome advice: "College Graduates, Expect a Lengthy Job Hunt."

Marina Gonzalez (left) of Elkins Park earned a degree in history but thinks she'll go into medicine like her parents.
Rachel Jakubowitcz knows something about lengthy job hunts.

"I've been searching for an entire year and have not found a job," says the Northeast Philadelphia resident, owner of a spanking new bachelor's degree in media/communications and Spanish from Muhlenberg College. "A lot of my friends have jobs, but a lot don't -- I'd say it's about 50-50."

Statistics support Jakubowitcz's anecdotal findings. A study released last month by Rutgers University found that only 49 percent of graduates from the classes of 2009 to 2011 had landed full-time jobs within a year of finishing school. Of those who had, fewer than half had positions requiring a college degree.

The study's authors noted that this year's graduates face tougher competition than those who came before -- partly because of the continuing recession, partly because of stiff competition from earlier grads who received their pink slips when the economic landscape turned toxic in 2008.

According to the national outplacement firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas, Inc., job prospects for graduates are slightly better than last year, but the overall picture remains glum, with entry-level hiring nowhere near pre-recession levels.


Ardmore's Michael Pasek will use his political psychology tools at the Religious Action Center in Washington.
"I know it's not me -- it's the economy," says Jakubowitcz, who not only delivered this year's commencement speech at Muhlenberg, but also worked for the college's television station, wrote for its newspaper and speaks fluent Spanish.

Her ideal is to find a position in the media industry, either public relations or broadcasting. She's cast a wide net, using social media sites such as LinkedIn and taking advantage of Muhlenberg's alumni services.

"I didn't think about the economy when I went into college," Jakubowitcz says. "If you had told me four years ago it would be like this, I wouldn't have believed you."

Neither would Daniel Lefler. Or Michael Pasek. Or Marina Gonzalez, Danielle Haim or Brian Tino -- all Philadelphia-area Jews who are entering a post-college world in which hard work, academic achievement and grit are no guarantees of a weekly paycheck.

"I had above a 3.0 grade point average overall, which all my advisers said would be sufficient" to find a job, says Tino, who received a bachelor of science degree in civil and environmental engineering from Bucknell University in May.


Despite a good GPA, Bucknell grad Brian Tino is still without a job.
But he's lost count of the number of resumes he's sent out and the cover letters he's composed.

The results for the Cheltenham resident? One in-person interview in March, one phone interview coming up, zero job offers.

"My parents have been very supportive -- they're not putting too much pressure on me," Tino says. "I'm settling in, plugging along and hoping something eventually will turn up."

The positions are out there, many of these Jewishly active grads note, but they're going to students who majored in business, accounting or economics, with a concentration on the practical such as supply-chain services or information technology.

Danielle Haim of the Northeast fits into that category -- sort of.

The Penn State grad earned her degree in communications and advertising, with a business minor. She'll move to Rhode Island in September to be an inside sales technical rep for Schneider Electric, a company that promotes efficient use of technology.

Haim connected with the international firm at a campus job fair in February; the recruiters apparently saw something they liked in her sales background and her advertising savvy. She says she feels extremely lucky to have landed a post when more than half her schoolmates are among the nation's unemployed.

The future is still in flux for Marina Gonzalez of Elkins Park, who picked up her degree in history with a minor in sociology last month from American University in Washington, D.C.

For the next few months, she'll go back to working in a PBS warehouse that distributes gifts to the station's donors -- a job she's held during summer and winter breaks since 2008 -- while contemplating applying to graduate school.


Penn State grad Danielle Haim is heading to a technology firm in Rhode Island.
With a father who's an emergency-room doctor and a mother who retired from nursing, Gonzalez is fairly certain she'll wind up in medicine, either in a general practice or with a specialty in infectious diseases.

Gonzalez says she's leaning toward an 18-month pre-med program at Temple University that allows students to transition into the university's medical school if they maintain a required grade-point average and score well on qualifying exams.

Rhonda Cohen, the coordinator of community relations with JEVS Human Services, which provides Jews and non-Jews with a wide range of career-related programs, has a singularly pragmatic view of the realities confronting the class of 2012.

JEVS sponsors the Franklin C. Ash Summer Internship Program for students hoping to expand their knowledge of Jewish issues, community life and communal services. Cohen has watched the economy drive more and more young people to consider stop-gap or alternative choices.

"Because a lot of kids are still not getting jobs, the trend is to go to internships or programs like Teach for America, or to work for a nonprofit and make less salary -- so there's no gap in their resume, and they can also feel like they're doing something good," Cohen says.

The program, which offers a stipend, helps students better position themselves for the job market through career counseling and networking. "This year we'll do interview practice, make sure resumes are in great shape, and have human resources people from different fields come to talk to them," Cohen says.

Michael Pasek of Ardmore, like Haim and Jakubowitcz, is a former Ash participant. Count him among those going the internship route.

The Friends Central High School graduate created his own department at Bates College in Maine: political psychology, an interdisciplinary hybrid that wove together his interest in social psychology, politics and group relations.

As an Eisendrath Legislative Assistant Fellow for the Religious Action Center in Washington, he'll call on all the skills he learned at Bates. Among them he lists "effective communication, strong writing, effective leadership, willingness to take intellectual risk" and a body of knowledge.

The center mobilizes the Reform Jewish community on legislative and social concerns, including economic justice, civil rights, religious liberty, Israel and more. The one-year paid fellowship "puts you at the front lines of Jewish policy," says Pasek, one of five applicants chosen for this year's group.

"A lot of the job will involve tracking policy issues, working to represent on a daily basis Reform Jewish values, whether meeting with people in Washington, D.C. drafting petitions on behalf of the Reform movement or working with Reform Jewish youth," says Pasek, who was co-president of his class at Bates and the school's Hillel.

When the fellowship runs its course, he plans to start working toward his doctorate, either in social or political psychology.

Another recent graduate, Daniel Lefler, armed with a degree in neuroscience from the College of William and Mary, is headed for medical school, most likely as a member of the inaugural class of Cooper Medical School of Rowan University in Camden, which has accepted him.

It'll be a long haul, the Haddonfield resident acknowledges, but he's prepared for it.

"It's really my passion," he says. "I'm interested in psychiatry, neurology, maybe neurosurgery. I'll spend the next four years in medical school, then an internship, then a fellowship where you really learn your specialty.

"It could be anywhere from seven to 10 years before I start practicing as a specialist. You really want your doctors to know what they're doing."

So, given the uncertain world greeting them, do these newly minted grads think the long grind and the possibility of shouldering thousands of dollars of debt is worth it for those who come after them?

Unequivocally yes, the response comes, with Dan Lefler most eloquently voicing the sentiment.

"There's a misconception that going to a liberal arts college means you come out solely to be employed by a topnotch employer. But there's a much deeper meaning," the aspiring doctor says. "You're learning life, learning skills. Those are things that are invaluable.

"You can't get that without going to college. If the goal was just to get a job, you'd be more successful going technical school."

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