Conversations with the K-State Alumni Fellows: Here’s my advice for a successful career

Posted March 07, 2023

Alumni Fellows

Cultivate relationships with other K-Staters in your industry. 

Stay curious.

Don't be afraid to fail, and use that failure to teach yourself something.

These are just some of the wise lessons this year's group of K-State Alumni Fellows have learned throughout their journeys after graduating from college and entering the workforce. 

Although there isn't a singular path to success when it comes to developing your career, these K-Staters are ready to share some of the overarching principles that have helped them along the way. 

Since 1983, the Alumni Fellows program has brought distinguished alumni back to campus to meet with students and faculty and to share their expertise in the classroom and at informal settings. We asked this year's group of honorees to offer advice for both young alumni about to start their careers, and for mid-career K-Staters. You can click the banner for each Fellow to read their full bio and learn more about their careers. 

Alumni Fellows

"I've discovered that the bond between graduates from Kansas State University is incredibly strong. In all my interactions with the different parts of the agricultural industry, there is typically a Kansas State graduate in every company that I have dealt with over the years. Cultivate those relationships for the betterment of your career as well as the careers of those graduates that you will certainly deal with throughout your industrious journey."

Alumni Fellows

"My advice to young alumni is to follow your passion. Opportunities rarely arise from pure luck: you can put yourself in a position to be lucky. If you work hard and position yourself for opportunities, you will be successful.

My advice for mid-career K-Staters is to continue learning. Remain curious, read daily, look to learn from senior as well as junior colleagues. Approach challenges with curiosity."

Alumni Fellows

"For those just starting out — fail. Fail again and fail better. You'll keep doing this until you are at the top of everything. 

"For those in mid-career — take risks. Calculated risks are the only path to achievement."

Alumni Fellows

"For young alumni, be willing to take on tough projects and be willing to put in the extra time necessary to complete those projects in a timely manner. Learn as much as you can by asking probing questions of more senior members of the organization.

For mid-career K-Staters I would say, surround yourself with people who are smarter than you. I have been very fortunate over the last 25 years to work with incredibly talented scientists, engineers and business people. Second, if you want people to follow you, never ask anyone to do something you are not prepared to do yourself. I have climbed 700 ft. smokestacks even though I am terrified of heights, because that is where my customer was and my employees needed to be there."

Alumni Fellows

"Start by being confident that you have an excellent foundation of knowledge, work habits, technical skills and experiences from your time at K-State. You are as prepared to begin your new professional career as anyone, anywhere. Build on this foundation by continuing to have a ‘learning mindset’ — a desire to never stop learning for the rest of your life. Become the best at whatever processes or roles you are given the responsibility to execute. Also, keep an eye on what it takes to be given more challenging roles, both technical and leadership, and find a mentor to help guide you forward. 

"Work hard and be a world-class team player. Demonstrate your commitment to getting your work done, while finding new ways to get it done better. Focus on positive outcomes for your firm, business unit, teams and finally, you. In that order. People will notice. Don’t let your career suffocate your personal interests. Continue developing non-work skills and hobbies. Guard your personal and family time from encroachment by your work to-do list. 

"Advice for mid-career K-Staters? Every 3-5 years, take a step back from your busy life to reconfirm you are on the right path and consider any changes needed to continue advancing to where you want to go in the future (e.g., new skills, role, company, location). Discover your personal and professional strengths. There are many great tools available to assist you and you should use them. Invest the majority of your learning time developing those strengths. Understand the strengths of others on your teams to leverage them in your work and assist others in their development. 

"Lead people authentically. Be yourself and demonstrate your personal commitment to your organizations’ strategy and business plans every day. Leave roles and processes that you steward better than when you inherited them. Mentor others to be the best professionals they can be. Communicate a bit more than you think is necessary — that is usually about the right frequency for the people who care about what you are thinking or planning."

Alumni Fellows

"When you start any new endeavor, remember to use what K-State showed you, and relationships across your organization, and be willing to do things [you're scared of] at first. You will have opportunities when you are ready and flexible to try something you may not have done before. Innovation and creativity happen when you stretch and see how your gifts and talents can be used in your organization.

"For any mid-career K-Stater, it is vital to be a way-maker. Way-makers create opportunities for others to succeed and bring others along in the organization, allowing for more talent and perspective used at the proverbial table. Our legacy will continue through the relationships we create and who we can positively impact for as long as we can."

Alumni Fellows

"I think it is important for people to realize it is OK and sometimes very good to take jobs that aren't necessarily what you want. Get experience and build a foundation. Then you can figure out what your true passion is and pursue a more long-term career. Regardless of where you are in your journey, be willing to work very hard, make mistakes and always learn."

Alumni Fellows

"First and foremost, it’s not about you. You would have thought I would have understood that at an early age as my parents selflessly served this nation and the numerous communities we lived in along my childhood journey. My dad was a career soldier, and I eventually followed in his footsteps. My mom worked administrative jobs and kept the home fires burning as we supported and followed my dad around the world.

"That said, I ignorantly allowed my initial success, first college graduate in my family and a commissioned officer, to go to my head. I recall very ignorantly and arrogantly stating, “He who dies with the most toys, wins!” How simple and foolish as a young man. Now much of that was said in jest, and likewise because I was out to prove myself in a massively competitive institution, the United States Army; there is much to be said about humility. Because I had a solid foundation, and good mentors as I began my career, it was not long before I figured out that what I was doing was a calling, and I began to emphasize that what I was doing was not about me but more so, about the greater good and about those I had the honor of leading. As Simon Sinek asks, what is your purpose, what is your why? Allow your purpose to drive you. My purpose and my why, 'I exist for the success of others…'

"Let me also offer: Be the subject matter expert. Be the one who does not shy away from the difficult work. Become the 'go to' when something needs to get done. But do not do these at the expense of others! Be a team player."

For mid-career K-Staters: What is your legacy?

"Build your team. And your team is a lifetime team. Whether you choose to stay with one company or organization your entire career, or you choose to move around, build your team! Develop those in your charge to eventually take your position as you move up the chain or you eventually move on. Those you develop to move up will seek you out as you will eventually become their mentor, a tremendous responsibility, and a true honor!

"Invest in professional development for those in your charge. Likewise, take the time for your personal professional development. I was blessed that the Army provided much of my professional development. I also took on educational opportunities as a lifelong learner, thus my current pursuit of a Ph.D.  

"Understand leadership versus 'likership.' You’ll move your organization in amazing directions when your workforce respects you versus liking you!

"Know the standard, policy and requirement and hold yourself, and those in your charge, to each! Once you’ve violated one, it’s hard to go back. Once you’ve violated one, you, as a leader, have now created a new standard and by your action, you have told your team it’s OK not to adhere to rules, policies and directives. Be accountable and show your people, by leading, that you are accountable and expect the same from them. Lead from the front."

Alumni Fellows

"Put your best foot forward and take advantage of all available resources to get maximum training and exposure during your program at K-State. Actively discuss your projects with your fellow students, you will be surprised to see what you can learn from others' experiences.

"Have some vision and think about what you want to be in the next 5 - 10 years and take steps. I know this can be hard to predict but having a plan always helps. Be flexible to learn new things and always open to challenging opportunities outside of your comfort zone."

Alumni Fellows

"For young alumni about to start their careers, I encourage them to be prepared to continue their education despite not doing so formally. This may be to continue to be a student in your new role with a new company and or to seek out additional opportunities that keep you sharp on whatever you plan to do for the next 30 years. For me, this meant seeking professional licensure to be a financial planner. I did this prior to starting a family and getting involved in the community to allow myself the time to fully commit and complete the education and testing.

"I also encourage young alumni to get involved in their community with other young professionals and to seek mentorships from older professionals. I got involved in my local Financial Planning Association Chapter and joined the local Rotary Club. Both allowed me to connect with others inside and outside of my industry and I developed relationships and mentorships with others who helped steer me toward continued success both personally and professionally. To stay well connected and meet like-minded friends, I also encourage young alumni to get involved with the local Kansas State University Alumni Chapter. I’ve had great times meeting with contacts at the watch parties as well as enjoyed volunteering to help at the events. 

"For mid-career K-Staters, I encourage them to seek out an accountability partner(s). This can be done in a formal way with a professional coach or informally with personal mentors. These relationships can help you address where you are and where you could be in the future by providing an outside perspective to you. By this time in a career, you are busy, likely have a family and think less about the long-term and more about how to get through the day. The right contact will motivate you and encourage you to think differently about your current position and where you might want/need to grow and improve. I’ve worked with my coach now for seven years and continue to look for new mentors while maintaining current mentors. It has been a joy to stay in contact with these people over the years! I also don’t rule out mentoring younger people as it has allowed me to reengage and learn from them despite their lack of experience. You get what you put into all relationships so make sure to make them a priority. What younger professionals lack in experience, they make up for in questioning the status quo and pushing ideas for change."

Alumni Fellows

"Look for the people around you, both at work and in your personal life, that can challenge you and provide opportunities for you to grow. A big factor that will influence your future success will be what you learn from the people you associate and interact with throughout your career. Also, remember there is a big difference in being successful and being happy. Take the time to look back, reflect, enjoy and appreciate what you have worked so hard to accomplish."

Alumni Fellows

"Include altruism in your curriculum. Begin volunteering early on, it's great clinical experience and will prepare you for the 'real world.' Study abroad or take an externship somewhere you've never been. 

"Mid-career — you are now prepared for some serious challenges and your knowledge is desperately needed in the developing world or underserved areas. Your clients will love you for doing it and many will support your work."

The K-State Alumni Fellows program is sponsored by the Alumni Association, the President's Office and the Deans' Council.

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