Three different paths to success: December graduates reflect on their college experience

By Shaley Muska, Kristie O'Brien, and Brady Zwiefelhofer with contributions from Gretchen Hutterli

Three graduating seniors...three different paths for success. While their stories are very different, they share many of the same traits—each student is articulate, goal-oriented and hardworking. They are resourceful and have sought out opportunities at UW-Eau Claire and in the community to move closer to their own definition of success.

December graduates Maddie Howard, Tyler Christiansen, and Michael McElhinney reflect on past experiences that have prepared them to leave UW-Eau Claire and begin their careers. We thank them for sharing their stories with us.

Maddie HowardMaddie Howard, a management major from Green Bay, WI, will graduate with an emphasis in entrepreneurship. This program has given her a diverse set of classes that are relevant to opening and running a business. For Howard that business is a bakery featuring dessert pops that are customizable, convenient, and portioned controlled.

Howard was active in several campus organizations: Usher Core, Beta Gamma Sigma, Mortar Board, and Best Buddies, an organization that creates one-to-one friendships, integrated employment and leadership development for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

"These organizations gave me the leadership skills necessary to excel in the business world," she said.

When she wasn't at school, Howard was busy working in the bakery department at Festival Foods. Her post-college plans include going to culinary school either in North Carolina or Chicago. She is well on her way to achieving her five year goal of owning a bakery in where else—Howard, Wisconsin!

When thinking about her college experience, Howard counsels students to "find a balance between school, work, and social time."

Tyler ChristiansenTyler Christiansen, an economics and history double major, gained practical experience while expanding his knowledge of economics by conducting research with economics professor Eric Jamelske, PhD and psychology professor Lori Bica, PhD.  

Christensen, one of five student members of a collaborative research team, worked on two studies that examined the impact of the USDA Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program (FFVP) on Eau Claire area elementary school children and their families. Both studies tried to determine if incentives—small toys and adult modeling for children and coupons for adults— changed each group’s consumption and/or purchasing behavior for fresh fruits and vegetables. The student team presented their results at the university's student research day held May 2-4, 2011.

Christiansen says the experience taught him how data is collected in the real world. He also learned how to create a database for statistics. He encourages other students to get involved in collaborative research.

"If you like a professor, ask if they are doing research and if you can help. Take the initiative."

The knowledge Christiansen gained working on these research projects will be especially useful to him in the future. After graduation he plans to work for a few years before going back to school to pursue a master’s degree in economics. One day he hopes to become a high school teacher or technical college instructor.

Michael McElhinneyMichael McElhinney has always strived for excellence—first as a soldier and now as a student. He will graduate with a degree in information systems with a focus in business analysis. He also has completed certificates in computer science web design and advanced business communications.

Before coming to UW-Eau Claire, McElhinney served four years in the US Army. He was deployment twice, traveling to Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan, Qatar, Dubai, Bahrain, and Djibouti to work on technical projects he isn’t at liberty to describe in detail. During one of these deployments, McElhinney discovered he wanted to pursue a career in information systems.

McElhinney’s military experience helped prepare him for a career in IS. It also prepared him to lead.

“At 19 I was made responsible for 1.5 million dollars worth of satellite equipment. When I came back (to the United States) I was placed in charge of six soldiers and ran a repair shop for classified communications equipment. More than anything I was thrust into responsibility and given the support I needed to excel”.

As student, McElhinney worked as a UW-Eau Claire LTS help desk representative and a Best Buy Geek Squad technician—both part-time jobs further developed his problem solving and interpersonal communication skills.

Soon he will be using the skill set he developed as a soldier and a student in the business world. He has accepted an offer from Target to join its Technology Leadership Program.  He attributes his job success to the fact that employers value other qualities in addition to good GPAs.

When asked what these qualities are, he explains:

“Proving you understand complex problems and can break them into smaller, more manageable ones, and that you can take problems without easy solutions and improvise workarounds to ensure that the mission can succeed—these are things that employers value. Personality is also incredibly important, and being able to quickly build rapport with the interviewer is critical.”

Shaley Muska Kristie O'Brien Brady Zwiefelhofer

From left to right: Shaley Muska is a senior accounting major from Cadott, WI; Kristie O'Brien is a senior accounting major and economics minor from Lake City, MN; and Brady Zwiefelhofer is a senior entrepreneurship and sales double major from Bloomer, WI. They wrote this article for their BCOM Advanced Writing class.

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