October 2015: Mary Harman Parks ‘11

There are so many opportunities (though I would argue they are also privileges) that Concord gives its students. Yet, I did not see them as that until after I graduated. When I think back on my time at Concord, there are three things I wish I had done. 1) I wished I conducted undergraduate research. 2) I wish I did study abroad. 3) I wished I had taken advantage of the technology/software.

When I was applying to graduate programs during my senior year at CU, three out of the four schools I interviewed with asked me if I had undergraduate research and study abroad experience. Fortunately, I was able to make up for these gaps using an internship and the fact I was double majoring in geography and sociology (and great recommendation letters thanks to my advisor and other professors). However, once I was accepted into my program at Virginia Tech, I realized I was one of the few who lacked these experiences and I felt less qualified because of it.

Since I majored in geography, I used GIS software often at Concord. For sociology classes, I also used Access and SPSS. Thinking back at those in-class experiences, I realize that I only learned the software “enough to get by” with my school work. I didn’t truly explore it and try to get a deep understanding of their functions. “When am I going to use this stuff again?” or “I doubt I’ll use this in the real world” were statements I would hear in my head.

But I was wrong.

My GIS and social science experience were put to the test in graduate school when I had to design research methods using both of these fields, apply them internationally (study abroad would have been helpful here!), and make them scientifically sound to write a thesis and publish a paper in a peer-reviewed journal. While I was able to successfully do all of these tasks, I wonder if I could have made my research better had I utilized the privileges that Concord once offered me.

After graduate school and working at Virginia Tech for two years, I moved to Denver, Colorado where I finally landed a research job after three months of applying to over 30 organizations/institutions. I would estimate that three out of four jobs I applied to (in a research track), required either SPSS, Access, and/or GIS experience. Although I used SPSS and Access sporadically in graduate school, I mainly relied on my undergraduate credentials to get the job I have now. Once again, I was thankful for the skills I gained at Concord but wondered how my situation might have differed had I taken advantage of those opportunities while I was there.

Despite whether I truly took advantage of these privileges, there was one thing Concord offered which made me competitive in grad school and beyond: support. After four years in small classes with professors who truly care about your future, and alumni who will help you network, I left knowing that these people will not let me fail. I got into grad school with great recommendation letters, my professors invited me back for guest lectures and Career Day (which make great CV lines), and my sorority helped me network once I moved across the country.

I’m sure big universities in big cities have their own way of supporting their students and alumni, but I doubt it’s with the same genuine effort that is at Concord.

My advice would be to take advantage of the privileges that I did and did not while I was at Concord. But I would go beyond that. I not only urge students to make the most of of these opportunities, but to make them better. Concord has a lot of resources, but there could be more. It’s no secret that funding for higher education in West Virginia has people concerned. The more resources students have, the more skills they gain, and the more competitive they are in the workforce. If I had known then, what I know now, I would have gone on every study abroad trip, asked for more software experience to put on my CV, and asked to help a professor with part of their research. Despite my missed opportunities, when I graduated from Concord, I didn’t know how far my degree from Concord would take me. Now I know it can take me anywhere.