Following a Meandering Career Path

Career Advice

graduate on path to career success

Illustration by Cara Petrus

Dreaming of making a career change, but feeling risk-averse? Here are words of wisdom from fellow alumnae who’ve taken the plunge—and are glad they did.

Look at your experiences as a whole—a much more holistic view—rather than just a list on a resume. Keep looking for places that will benefit from your meandering career.—Gretchen Schmelzer ’87

Remove yourself from your comfort zone for a short time. If you’ve only got three weeks of vacation a year, take it and go somewhere. You don’t have to go on one of those volunteer vacations, but don’t go on a safari either. Go someplace and dig into a country a little bit.—Ellen “Ellie” Skeele ’75

Try different things. Keep an open mind. Work some connections; network through alumnae/alumni associations and Facebook. Do internships in different fields, if you can afford it. Don’t be afraid to change your mind. It’s never too late.—Ellen Malmon ’88

You never know how your previous experiences will come into play later. Nothing’s a waste of time if you’ve learned from it.—Olivia Velez-Benenson ’98

Part of being a writer—or being whatever you want to be—is saying, “I am one.” Just say it. Say it to yourself and say it to everyone and start thinking of yourself as that. Just say, “This is what I do. This is what I am.”—Mary Reed Kelly ’75

The first time you step off the defined track, it’s the hardest and the scariest. But once you do it once and see that the world does not implode, then it’s easier to do it the next time.—Barbara Maclay Cameron ’90

When I came to Mount Holyoke a fellow [Frances Perkins scholar] said to us as a group, “Dream big, because no matter how big you dream, Mount Holyoke has even bigger dreams for you.” That empowered me to believe that I could make changes, and regardless of the cost, I could see them through.—Amy Gracey FP ’07


Recommended Reading

• If You’ve Raised Kids, You Can Manage Anything: Leadership Begins at Home by Ann Crittenden (Gotham, 2004) Recommended by economist Nancy Folbre as the best accessible source on this topic

• Composing a Life by Mary Catherine Bateson (Atlantic Monthly Press, 1989; Grove Press, 2001) Recommended by Gretchen Schlemzer ’87 as a book-length testament to the fact that women tend not to have linear career paths


More About Alumnae Quoted in “Unexpected Destinations”

Ellie” Skeele ’75Himalayan Wild Fibers is her most recent enterprise; it aims to bring nettle fiber to the international textile market and income to her impoverished neighbors in Nepal.

Mount Holyoke College’s Career Development Center 

Ellen Malmon

Ellen Malmon

Ellen Malmon ’88 founded Ellen Malmon Architecture, LLC, a full-service design and architecture firm specializing in residential and commercial design.




Gretchen Schmelzer ’87 is a senior consultant at Teleos Leadership Institute in Elkins Park, PA.

Olivia Velez-Benenson ’98 is a postdoctoral research fellow at Columbia University in the field of biomedical informatics.

Mary Reed Kelly

Mary Reed Kelly

Mary Reed Kelly ’75  took a worldwide sales-training assignment this past summer with Global Bridgebuilders.





Nancy Folbre

Nancy Folbre

• Economist Nancy Folbre’s “Economix” blog for the New York Times “explores the science of everyday life.”  She is an economics professor at UMass-Amherst. Here is her UMass Web page.





Barbara Maclay Cameron

Barbara Maclay Cameron

• Barbara Maclay Cameron ’90 directs the Carolina Global Breastfeeding Institute.





Amy Gracey

Amy Gracey

• Amy Gracey FP ’07 is part of Loyola University Maryland’s graduate program in pastoral counseling.





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