Profs, staff share stories of early job adventures
With graduation rapidly approaching, many seniors are preparing for their first post-college jobs.
The Varsity News took the opportunity to ask a variety of Detroit Mercy faculty and staff about their early jobs.
Dixon, administrative assistant to the dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Education, went to Ferris State before transferring to and graduating from Detroit Mercy as an undergrad studying finance and business administration.
She was excited after graduation because she felt a sense of accomplishment.
Going through a temp agency, Dixon landed her first job at an insurance company. She was a disability claims analyst.
“I learned different aspects of processing claims – short- and long-term, medical terminology, how to process payments and customer-service skills,” said Dixon. “I was there for nine years until the company downsized and eliminated my position.”
There was not a downside for Dixon, aside from her position being cut.
It offered her a great learning experience about proper etiquette in the workplace.
“It was difficult at times managing the workload, depending on the number of claims I had to process. I would have to stay late a lot,” said Dixon. “I felt overwhelmed and stressed at times, but it was easy following the steps to process the paperwork and update information electronically.”
Folson’s career path started with a job at General Motors after receiving his associate’s degree in marketing and advertising.
He worked at GM until his termination in 1979 after, he said, he fired someone the company saw as valuable because his father was a union representative.
His next job took him to Lafayette Clinic, a mental health clinic where he worked with children who had psychiatric behavioral issues.
To advance in this field, Folson, now an adjunct professor at Detroit Mercy, went to nursing school at Highland Park Community College in 1981 to get his associate’s degree in nursing.
He worked at Detroit Receiving Hospital in the emergency room.
While there, he was completing his bachelor’s in nursing at the University of Detroit in 1984 and soon went to work at a state psychiatric institute in Northville.
Initially, when he had started working with the mentally ill, he had misconceptions.
Now he sees those in his students.
“When my students come into a psychiatric unit, they think it’s going to be like ‘A Beautiful Mind’ or ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,’ ” said Folson. “Some even think psychiatric hospitals still have straight jackets.”
Majoring in statistics and mathematics at University of Michigan, Isaksen got to work right after getting her bachelor’s degree.
She started as an underwriter making a great salary at Delta Dental, an insurance company. The only problem was she didn’t feel fulfilled at the end of the day.
A benefit besides the pay was that Delta Dental paid tuition for classes related to the career field.
She stayed at the job a little under two years while completing her master’s in mathematics in 2007. Having a master’s allowed her to teach at the college level.
She applied for part-time positions anywhere there was an opening in metro Detroit.
Detroit Mercy was the first to respond. She has been teaching here for about eight years.
Now she is a full-time lecturer.
“I love teaching math. I love working with students, so I’m fulfilled in that part,” said Isaksen. “The part I don’t feel fulfilled from is that half of my teaching is online, so I don’t get to connect in the way I want.”
“At 14 years old, I was beat up by the police and from that point I decided to be a police officer so that other men of color wouldn’t have to go through the same thing,” said Dr. McKinnon, associate professor of education.”
McKinnon joined the police force in 1965 and got his degree in history and law enforcement in 1967 from Mercy College.
But he didn’t stop there. McKinnon attended the FBI Academy in 1977 and the Secret Service Academy to better educate himself and others in the career field.
In 1981, he completed his doctorate in education. He worked on the force from 1965 to 1984, never with a shred of doubt that he was in the right career.
He retired for nine years before being asked to be chief of police by Mayor Dennis Archer.
As chief, Mckinnon said he felt he helped improve race relations and educate police officers.
Now, McKinnon is in no rush to retire full time. He is again teaching at Detroit Mercy after a stint as deputy mayor in Mayor Mike Duggan’s office.
He wants to write another book. He said he is currently working on trying to get more men of color into education.
As a high school student, Vivian Dicks worked as a store clerk in a small grocery store.
“There was one counter and people would come to the counter and I’d ring up people and make change and all that kind of stuff,” said Dr. Dicks, chair of the communication studies department. “It was the very first job that I had.”
She greeted customers with a smile as they came into the shop and checked them out before they left with their purchases, everything from lunch meat to laundry soap. She said she enjoyed the people she encountered.
When the store was not busy, she was often bored.
“It was just a slow place…,” she said. “The best part of it was the people. Talking to the people – that was nice. But the worst part of it was waiting for people to come in.”
Dicks believes that her work as a store clerk helped her to want to work with others, as a professor.
“I still like people,” she said.
History professor Daniel Kroupa worked his way through college as a member of a grounds crews maintaining golf courses and cemeteries.
Fresh out of college, he landed his first real job related to his field of expertise – as an historical interpreter at Henry Ford Museum in Greenfield Village.
At times, the position required Kroupa to show up early to milk a cows and feed chickens and hogs.
His favorite part of the job was being able to dress in historical costumes and act as a man doing chores in different time periods, such as the 1700s.
Milking a cow came with his field, and it was something Kroupa remembers fondly at the start of his career.
“It was a lot of fun, except when a cow would try to kick me,” he said.
Harry Veryser, who attended the university, had numerous jobs before he became an adjunct professor of economics here.
He once delivered beer as a college student.
He sold sporting goods for the famous, now-defunct Detroit retail giant, Hudson’s.
He even had a job as a substitute teacher.
For many years, Veryser owned an automotive supply company, but teaching was always a passion he pursued.
His first serious job out of college was as a high school teacher in Mt. Clemens.
“I taught at a small Catholic high school,” he said. “It doesn’t exist anymore. It was a good job. I enjoyed it. I loved the kids. It was a lot of fun.”
Boglarsky attended the University of Michigan Dearborn for her undergraduate work.
Studying psychology and sociology, she felt relieved to be moving on in a desired direction after college.
“I was unsure what I would do if I didn’t get into grad school,” said Dr. Boglarsky. “I was and am a professional student.”
Her first job after earning her undergraduate degree was to teach a cognitive psychology class, although she had no experience teaching.
It paid a small stipend and offered health insurance.
She also had a part-time job doing market research.
The teaching position was assigned as part of her financial aid at Wayne State University.
Staying there for eight years until she finished her doctorate, she learned not only about cognitive psychology but how to talk in front of people and how to teach a class.
The downside to her first job was that it was stressful, because she had never done anything like it before.
And she sometimes felt embarrassed.
Now working as a psychology professor at Detroit Mercy, Boglarsky realizes that you won’t die of embarrassment.
“I feel I can do anything classroom-wise,” said Boglarsky. “If (the department chair) asks me to teach a class, I say, ‘OK’ without hesitation.”
Assistant director of Residence Life, Manusa found that when he traveled abroad it helped him to decide to work with students in Detroit, his hometown.
Manusa received his bachelor’s degree in pharmacy and special education at the University of Toledo and later received a master’s of education in college student personnel.
He admitted that leaving school was tough, because of his involvement with the college community. But after graduation, he decided to do service abroad.
“I spent eight months abroad before returning to graduate school. It helped with my transition and deciding to continue my degree,” he said. “I now know the value of that experience abroad – something that I didn’t quite understand at that point in life.
“As you get older, life comes at you fast and unexpectedly,” he said. “I tell students who are making a decision to go abroad after graduation to do it.”
Manusa’s first job after receiving his master’s degree was as a resident director of a student-assistance program called Upward Bound at the University of Dayton.
He ran staff meetings, created after-hours programming and hosted homework, study and mentoring sessions.
“I worked with inner-city youth from the Dayton area in their transition to college through residential experience,” he said. “It was an amazing experience and a great stepping stone into my current career in Residence Life.”
Coming from a blue-collar, factory-worker background and being a first-generation college student, Novak said he worked hard to become a Detroit Mercy recruitment and retention coordinator.
He received his bachelor’s degree in sociology and American ethnic studies and a master’s degree in sociology and systematic and institutionalized racism at Central Michigan University.
Novak has been in a school environment ever since he began.
“I really discovered myself in the college environment, so I stayed there to work,” he said. “I didn’t know what to do and didn’t know what was supposed to happen next.”
He found out about an opportunity with Michigan Campus Compact AmeriCorps VISTA, working as a professional staff member.
His primary role was to coordinate anti-poverty initiatives and other programs.
“I supervised the America Reads tutoring program, Michigan Service Scholars program, Lunch Buddies mentoring and Adopt-a-Grandparent program,” he said.
Novak now works in liberal arts recruitment, retention, faculty advising support, graduation, alumni engagement and some enrollment management.
His first job didn't pay well but it did lead him to his first professional job in multicultural affairs before coming to the university.
“Sometimes we want it all and we develop a sense of entitlement with a college degree,” he said. “However, we often have to make short-term sacrifices for a long-term benefit.”
An assistant professor of communications studies, Abisaid studied English at Michigan State University as an undergrad. He knew that he was going straight to graduate school.
In grad school, his first job was as a teaching assistant for seven years.
“It was unique because it was not a ‘job’ in the strict sense of the term that anyone could do it, but I was provided a small stipend in return for helping out with a class,” said Dr. Abisaid. “I was fortunate to have received funding. Otherwise, I would not have been able to afford graduate school.”
He taught a few discussion sections, went over lecture material, graded papers and held office hours for students.
He assisted the faculty member who taught the course.
The position taught Abisaid that it is hard work to put together a class.
He said he benefited greatly from being a teaching assistant.
“It helped by giving me a lot of teaching experience, which not everyone has,” he said. “Ultimately, (it) made me a more attractive candidate on the job market.”
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