Hi readers! My name is Jennifer Karekos ’14, MBA ’15, and I attended college at the Clarkson University for both my Bachelor’s degree in Biomolecular Science and the residential, one-year Masters in Business Administration (MBA).
Currently, I am the Associate Director of Program Management at Akron Biotech in Boca Raton, Florida. I oversee project management of our custom ancillary raw material projects from development to commercialization for the cell therapy, gene therapy and regenerative medicine industries. I work closely with Manufacturing/Operations, Quality Control, and Quality Assurance to make sure the client’s requirements are met and the final product is delivered on time.
As a former Clarkson student, I want to share with you some of my college experiences, and offer advice to students who are thinking about attending Clarkson University, especially in the sciences.
One of the first things I noticed while visiting the college campus is the collaborative nature among students with their academic work studying for exams and completing homework. Sure, we compete in university, regional, national and international competitions for sports, academics, research and more, but overwhelmingly, we work together on the college campus. Additionally, as you advance in your studies you get to know the professors and students within your program quite well. Do not be afraid to ask for help. Chances are if you are struggling with an assignment, others are too. Work with other students in your class to study and get through the tough homework questions. The emphasis is collaboration, not competition.
Connections! Connections! Connections! At Clarkson, you aren’t just a number. Your professors notice when you miss class or when you visit office hours. As you become more involved in your academic work and the Clarkson community, the administration and your professors get to know you as a person and this is so valuable. Opportunities to be involved in research, projects, etc. come your way when you know people and people know you. Make sure you get to know your professors and don’t be afraid to go see them during office hours or by scheduling an appointment.
Pay Attention to the People
Since the moment I was accepted to Clarkson, I felt welcomed. Unlike many other colleges, my Clarkson acceptance letter contained a handwritten personal note (which I still have today) from Brian Grant, the VP of Admissions. When I visited during Open House weekend, Don Dangremond from the Alumni Office spent hours with me and my family answering my questions about Clarkson.
From the very beginning, I was treated with warmth and respect. Those at Clarkson went the extra mile to add that personal touch or spend a few extra minutes with me before I was even a student. Throughout my time at Clarkson, I built close relationships with students, faculty and administrators that have continued to grow since graduation. The people I have met at Clarkson – professors, other students, campus safety officers, deans, etc. – taught me so much and supported me through my years in Potsdam. When you look at attending a college, look at the people. It will tell you a lot about the character of the college.
Be Ready to Work Hard
Anyone that knows Clarkson knows that it is rigorous, but Clarkson also provides you with the support to succeed. When I am traveling, I wear my yellow Clarkson sweatshirt in the airport. Frequently people stop me and say “Did you go to Clarkson?” and when I reply, “yes”, they remark, “That is a tough school.” This is Clarkson’s reputation, but it’s a tough school with a huge support system. Everyone at Clarkson cares – professors, fellow students, administration and alumni.
Clarkson teaches you so much – strong work ethic, perseverance, networking, critical thinking and problem solving. Clarkson alumni know the rigor that Clarkson students go through and see the value in it once they start working in industry. In my first year, I was able to start taking General Chemistry I, Physics I, and Calculus I which is not very common at other schools. My education at Clarkson gave me the hands-on experience, problem solving, and professional skills I needed to translate into industry success. For me, the toughness of the school tested and reinforced my determination. I am very proud to say I went to Clarkson.
Find Your Passion
One thing that makes the rigor of Clarkson (and college in general) easier is doing something you love. When I visited Clarkson, I remember attending Dr. Jim’s Chemistry Magic Show. It wasn’t like anything else I saw. I said to myself “This is what my first-year chemistry class will be like. Wow!” Watching Dr. Jim’s Chemistry Show really renewed and confirmed my interests in the sciences. At the end of my first year of being a Science Studies major, I chose the Biomolecular Science program. This particular science program allowed me the flexibility to choose electives that helped me find my passion. Take your time finding what interests you and take advantage of the variety of academic courses, programs and flexibility in your curriculum. Sometimes figuring out what doesn’t interest you is just as important as figuring out what does. Stay open minded and hopefully you’ll find your path, if you haven’t already!
Get Involved – As a Student and an Alum
College is full of opportunities to try new things – student clubs, study abroad, lab-based research, and more. As a first-year student, I joined a themed floor, something not offered at many other colleges. On the Women in Science & Engineering (WiSE) floor, I was able to meet other girls who shared my interests. My sophomore year, I was a Biology lab assistant (recommended by my professor) and a Resident Advisor for third floor of Powers House. My junior year, I was an Organic Chemistry grader (recommended by my professor) and a Resident Advisor in Cubley House. My senior year, I was the Resident Director for Moore House and Graham-Price Hall.
Upon graduation with my Masters, I started an alumni chapter for Southeast Florida. We have over 300 alumni from Vero Beach to Miami! I have recently been added to the School of Arts & Sciences Leadership Council and I am serving as the Council Chair. Try lots of things, find “your thing(s)”, and have fun in the process. Overall, these experiences taught me how to collaborate with a variety of people, how to create a sense of community, and how to make an impact as an alum.
Embrace the Seasons
During my childhood I visited the Rochester, New York, area to see my extended family. We would usually visit in the fall or in the summer. Growing up in Florida, I had only seen snow “flurries” once when we visited up north.
By attending Clarkson, I experienced the seasons and everything that comes with it. I tried skiing, snowboarding, sledding, snowshoeing, hiking, picking apples, making a snowman, campfires, attending hockey games, and more. I learned how to dress warm, very quickly! In my opinion, the cold weather helped students, including myself, stay focused and study. Looking back, I really appreciate the experiences I had at Clarkson that I would not otherwise have had – even with the snow and cold weather! If you’re not from the Northeast, I highly recommend attending college in the area so you can experience all four seasons at least once in your life!
Use the University’s Resources & Networks
One of the reasons I decided to attend Clarkson was because of the job placement rate, ~95% at the time. I knew when I graduated I would have a job in my field and this was really important to me. Now their placement rate is at 97%!
After graduating with my Masters, I knew what field I was interested in and that made my search a little more focused or challenging some might say. The Career Center staff helped me critique my resume and search for a job. They offered interview practice and helped me network with alumni. I attended career fairs every year which attracted a lot of companies and potential employers (+180 companies).
As an alum, I have been able to network with other Clarkson alumni in the biotech, pharma and cell therapy fields. These Clarkson alums have always been very welcoming and supportive. If you have a career goal in mind, be sure to utilize all the resources available to you. Don’t be afraid to reach out to an alum for career advice!
Go With Your Gut on Picking the Right College for You
Picking a college can be really challenging. For me, it was the first time I’d be so far away from home (~1500+ miles) by myself and I was nervous that I would make the wrong decision. Just like it was yesterday, I remember my dad saying to me “Put all the colleges on the same street. Now which one would you choose to attend?” If you ask yourself this same question and the answer is Clarkson, from my experience, you won’t be disappointed.
In summary, some of the experiences that helped me make my decision were the following:
- The people at Clarkson and the personal touch. I would not be a number!
- The tough curriculum but supportive, collaborative environment at Clarkson.
- When I graduated, I would be able to secure a job in my field due to Clarkson’s reputation.
I always say if I had to do it all over again, I would choose to attend Clarkson in a heartbeat! Every time I go back, it feels as if I never left.