Despite uncertainty, graduates remain optimistic about future


More than 1,000 students poised to complete their studies at PNW are taking their last look at the campus. Despite concerns about COVID-19 and their job and continuing ed- ucation prospects, students remain optimistic about the future. Photo by Pioneer staff

Some students graduating this week are struggling with their next steps as a surreal cloud hangs over a masked world gazing blankly into a new year.

Job posting activity is down 12% from last year, according to the Career Center. That makes it more challenging for the 1,009 graduating students who, combined, will receive 810 bachelor’s degrees, 198 master’s degrees, and a doctoral degree.

Some of the graduates have doubts about the future.

“I’m a little nervous because I don’t have anything lined up yet,” said Josh Travis Balcerak, who is a graduating Communication major studying public relations. “I have ideas I want to pursue and just recently joined Handshake,” an app that connects students with jobs and internships.

Balcerak was supposed to graduate in May, but COVID-19 disrupted his advanced public relations course.

“My client cancelled a lot of events,” he said. “I was supposed to write press releases for those. I was supposed to come up with other ideas when the events were cancelled. My mind kind of spiraled and it was hard to focus.”

Russell Mayo, director of the PNW Writing Center, said many seniors have wandered in, seeking the center’s help.

“Most of them are looking at graduate school options, but they are worried and uncertain. How could you not be?” he said. “It’s to be expected, given that they are living through a once-in-a-century pandemic event.”

Reshuffling and adapting are everyday routines for everyone right now. Mayo is tasked with revising the writing major to include more interdisciplinary courses so students will be prepared to engage in problems like climate change and public health. His aim is to make the writing and the humanities come alive for students, to show them how people in humanities look at traditionally STEM topics. Pending approval, these course changes are planned for the Fall 2021 semester.

“All of this is irrelevant to any of those graduating right now, of course,” he said. However, he explained, employers want the skills that those courses teach: critical thinking, intercultural competence, and effective communication skills.

The Career Center is optimistic about job opportunities available for students.

“We are actively contacting December graduates right now to see how things are going for them and offering help,” said Natalie Connors, who works at the center.

In the past 30 days, employers that posted jobs included: Verizon, Tesla, IBM, Procter & Gamble, Unity HealthPoint and Sandia National Laboratories. More than 260 employers have reached out to students via the Handshake platform in the past three months.

“Employers are hiring,” Connors said. “Some industries are hiring more than others i.e. education, healthcare, manufacturing.”

Communications senior Hannah Sawyer uses for job searching, but is unsure what job to look for.

“I don’t want to start a new career to only possibly lose the job due to the pandemic,” Sawyer said.

She does not plan to participate in the school’s graduation celebration due to the restrictions on the number of guests.

“I would rather have all the people I care about and love with me and not be separated,” she said.

When the pandemic hit this spring, it affected Sawyer’s job.

“I lost my job at a dealership. It made me worry and stress like crazy,” she said.

But she said that she’s learned to adapt.

Before pandemic troubles even hit, DeAndrea Moore was forced to adapt to continuous grief as each of her college years has been marked by loss. Before her freshman year, her brother died.

Then she lost her mother, grandfather, uncle and in February, her grandmother died.

Compounding the challenges, Moore caught COVID-19 mid-semester.

“I had to take a break from school because of the impact the virus had on my body,” Moore said. “Fortunately, I have a great professor who has given me more than enough assistance to get back on track.”

Moore is one of the lucky graduates. She landed a position in human resources for a home healthcare agency. She counts her blessings.

“Even though graduation is almost nonexistent, I’m just grateful that I made it to this achievement,” she said.

Though unemployed so far, Balcerak is philosophical about the impact COVID-19 has had on his world.

“It was still a good experience, a window to the world,” he said. “I think in due time I’ll find a job.”