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Taking the Leap

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Alumni share career-change inspiration and advice

by MaryAlice Bitts-Jackson

It takes imagination to make a big career leap and strategy and versatility to land on solid ground. That’s the very stuff Dickinsonians are made of. So in an era when more people are switching careers than ever—and, in some cases, doing so several times—we asked alumni to show us how it’s done and offer their career-reinvention stories and advice.

Lynn Waldo Smiledge ’75:  Keep Learning  

Early in her career, Smiledge pivoted within her industry. Then, at age 50, she crafted an entirely different career. 

Education: Art history and biology major. B.S., medical arts, University of Toronto. 

Careers I, II: Created animated films and educational programs for pharmaceutical reps. Transitioned to medical marketing, communications, public relations and advertising. Worked on rollout of a cancer drug and on one of the first UVA sunscreens on the market.  

Inspiration I: “I needed to keep learning.”  

Inspiration II: After renovating her historic home, volunteered for several historic-preservation and local-history societies.  

Careers III, IV: Earned a historic-preservation certificate from Boston Architectural College. Served an internship. After 10 years at an architectural firm, founded Boston House Histories, researching and telling the stories of historic properties. Also researches buildings considered for the National Registry. 

Biggest challenge: “Employers sometimes have a narrow vision of what they’re looking for. I think my liberal-arts background helped. It allowed me to move with some comfort in different directions.”  

Advice: “There’s some serendipity involved, but you also need to get yourself out there. What do you have to lose?”

Kyle Carter ’99: Embrace the Fear

Carter had a great job with excellent benefits and a house in the city. Then she was offered an exciting position at a small family startup in Central Pa. Was she willing to take the risk? 

Careerfeaturestock1 dickinsonmagazinew2021 300x300Education: Psychology major, Spanish minor. 

Career I: Nonprofit work for a variety of Baltimore organizations, then director of development at the National Aquarium. 

Impetus: A 10-day culinary tour of Italy, led by friends  who owned Caputo Brothers Creamery, a two-person operation. Offered a job combining two of her passions—travel and food. 

Career II: As executive director, manages the creamery’s culinary tours and events. Has worked in all aspects of the fast-growing business and pre-COVID led 10 tours to Italy annually. Planning a future Dickinson alumni trip to Italy; has helped bring her company’s cheese to the Dickinson College Farm.  

Biggest challenge: “It was completely terrifying. I am not usually a risktaker, so there was a lot of soul-searching.” 

Advice: “Be strategic and brave.”

Alan Bronstein ’66: Life Is Unpredictable—Adapt and Repeat

A tip from a fellow alum launched Bronstein’s career in international marketing. A recession and a serious accident spurred two more major pivots. His adaptability and people skills guided him safely through uncertain times—and ultimately toward rekindling a long-lost dream. 

Careerfeaturestock2 dickinsonmagazinew2021 300x300Education: Chemistry major. MBA, international business, Temple University. M.S., chemistry, Arcadia University. 

Career I: Was a grad student and substitute teacher when fellow Mermaid Player Robert Warren ’68 alerted him to a dream opportunity in international marketing. Oversaw operations across South America and traveled the world.  

Career II: During recession, proactively changed gears, opening a video store.  A year after a serious accident, he retired. 

Career III: Realized retirement wasn’t for him and, drawing on his personal network, became a teacher. After working at another school, taught chemistry at his old high school—a childhood career goal. Retired (for good this time!) after 24 years. 

Highlights: Sponsored the school’s drama society. Earned two teaching awards. Remains in touch with former students.  

Biggest challenge: “I was one of those substitute teachers who was all over the classroom and threw some theatrics into the mix. Now I was in a wheelchair.  I had to learn to modify what I was doing.”

Advice: “Networking is important! And so is working for passion and enjoyment. I was lucky, because I was able to have two dream jobs.”

Michael Eber ’91: Play to Your Values, Strengths

A search for meaning and challenge led Eber to the developing world. A call  to return home sparked  a new chapter.  

Education: Psychology major, education/ economics minor. MBA and MPA, Willamette University. 

Career I: Marketing and economics researcher.  

Careers II, III: As grad student, served as business advisor in Zimbabwe through Emerging Markets Development Advisors Program. During leave of absence from postgraduation job at Deloitte, returned to Africa to direct program installing cellphone towers in Uganda and supporting cellphone-card startup ventures for impoverished rural women. Left U.S. job to continue microfinance and technology work in developing world. 

Impetus: “I need to find meaning and passion in my work. I move toward change when a project is complete or if I no longer feel excited about what I do.” 

Careers IV, V: D.C.-based international consultant. Then moved home to Colorado, working first in real estate and economic development and now at a consulting firm helping organizations develop values-driven strategic plans. 

Advice: “Play to your strengths. Make sure that the work you do is in tune with your values.” 

Amy Shelley Impellizzeri ’92: Appreciate the Journey

Impellizzeri was living her dream. Then she witnessed a tragedy that spurred her to reevaluate. 

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Education: English and philosophy major; took a creative writing class. J.D., George Washington University. 

Career I: Partner-track lawyer at a major NYC firm. 

Impetus: Reexamined life goals after witnessing the Nov. 11, 2001, fatal crash of American Airlines Flight 587 across the street from her home (all on board the plane and two neighbors perished; at her intersection, hers was the only corner house undamaged). Realized her job was no longer a good fit. 

Career II: Explored career options during sabbatical year. Volunteered, did pro bono work; joined executive team at a startup. Rediscovered creative writing. Secured first book contract before launching full-time writing career.  

Highlights: 2015 book, Lawyer Interrupted, contracted by the American Book Association. 2017 novel, The Truth About Thea, selected as inaugural Francis Ford Coppola Winery Books & Bottles Pick. Foreword Reviews Book of the Year, National Indie Excellence Award, Ms. JD’s Road Less Traveled Award.  

Advice: “I’m careful to appreciate the successes and struggles and, frankly, the journey itself.”

Jill Graby Shuck ’93: Openness, Patience, Faith

When an opportunity in Kenya came knocking, Shuck recognized a chance to put years of varied experiences to work toward the greater good. 

Careerfeaturestock4 dickinsonmagazinew2021 300x300Education: German and sociology major, teaching certificate. M.A., teaching, University of Virginia. 

Careers I, II, III: Teacher, then mom and executive assistant at her church. After her baked goods generated rave reviews at church events, founded The Country Cookie, a home-baking business.  

Career IV: Developed the baking program at Missions of Hope International’s Kariobangi Technical Training Institute. 

Impetus: Took a missions trip to Kenya, visited a nonprofit providing training and resources for Kenyans to launch handicraft businesses. They needed help launching a baker-training program. 

Highlights: Wrote the nonprofit bakingprogram proposal. Fundraised. Developed Nairobi-palate-friendly recipes using available ingredients. Travels to Kenya (COVID permitting) several times annually to teach new recipes and discuss progress and goals. Proceeds from her booming cookie business support the program. 

Advice: “Write down your goals. Look for ways to combine the things you love. Be both open and patient. Have faith that what you’re doing now can prepare you to do something down the road that you can’t even imagine yet.” 

Read the sidebar "Pivoting in the COVID-19 Era" for six tops for Dickinson's Director of Career Development Annie Kondas.

Read more from the winter 2021 issue of Dickinson Magazine

TAKE THE NEXT STEPS

Published February 15, 2021