Dr. Shirley Raines, president emeritus at the University of Memphis and commencement speaker at East Tennessee State University’s afternoon graduation Saturday, delivered a positive message to students as they received their diplomas in their respective fields of study.
She emphasized that students should take advantage of the opportunity to connect with forward-thinking creative people in their professional endeavors, and pursue innovation to make the world a better place. Having said that, she stressed that it would take some effort by the students themselves to reach their goals.
“It’s said that opportunity knocks, and that you should answer,” Raines told the crowd. “But, seldom does opportunity knock. And it’s you that should do the knocking.”
ETSU handed out nearly 1,500 degrees this time around, with about two-thirds going to students who earned bachelor’s degrees.
ETSU President Dr. Brian Noland echoed the optimism of Raines and the other speakers with his video message to the graduates. He said he regretfully wasn’t in attendance due to his recovery from a recent car accident, but said students should set their sights high.
“Set bigger goals and dream bigger dreams,” Noland said.
Noland also stressed that students should be ambassadors for the university and higher education experience in general, saying that students should endeavor themselves to talk others into applying to college to better their levels of education.
Ifeanyichuwku Chinedozi, or, “Ify,” as he’s known — a 24-year-old Imostate, Nigeria, native was one of those graduating Saturday from the College of Nursing. He said he’s recently been accepted into the college’s nurse practitioner program, but plans to defer his opportunity so he can work a little more and work on missionary work with the ministry he started a few years ago.
He’s been working as an intern at Indian Path Medical Center in Kingsport, knowing that while it would help his future job prospects, the general hospital consensus was that they just don’t hire new graduates, he said.
Well, call Chinedozi an innovator in that sense. He was recently offered a full-time position there, and notes diversity in medical training as the reason, saying these can best be achieved through internships and as many medical exposures as possible in developing different skill sets.
His overall college experience at ETSU couldn’t have gone better, he said. It was on this part of his journey that he met his first girlfriend, who became his wife, as well as adding many new friendships and connections.
As for the general trends in the employment market, Saturday’s graduates will face a gradually improving economy and better job prospects than those receiving their diplomas during the previous economic recession, ETSU Director of University Career Services David Magee said.
A survey conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers found that employers plan to hire 7.8 percent more graduates in the 2013-14 academic year than in the year before, indicating an upward trend.
“The market for new graduates is continuing to expand, and although it’s a slow growth, at least things are moving in the right direction,” Magee said.
Some professions usually fare better than others, both nationally and locally, he said.
For example, the need for health care workers and educators is continuing to expand, as it has in years’ past, and candidates for positions in local government are also a hot commodity.
“In terms of general categories, the STEM careers — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — those students are in demand,” he said. “And when we talk about public services, all of our students who graduate with social work degrees have a lot of opportunity.”
Magee said some degrees, like computer design and animation, don’t garner many positions locally, but graduates often understand the need to relocate.
Others, with some of the degrees in health care or STEM careers, can find local jobs, or can stay within the Southeast, moving to Knoxville, Asheville, N.C., or Roanoke, Va.
“Some have a preference for staying in the region, and they do, but we just can’t absorb all of the graduates locally,” he said. “It requires some flexibility on the part of the graduates, and they’re usually willing to relocate.”
According to the Project on Student Debt, a nonprofit organization that tracks and compares indebtedness of college students across the nation, 58 percent of Tennessee’s students will graduate with at least some debt, and the average amount owed is $21,775.
Another ETSU graduate whose future is looking up is 22-year-old Kaitlyn Leah Franklin. She grabbed her bachelor’s degree from the College of Business & Technology and is moving directly into a position as an accountant.
She was one of four recruits to a company in Johnson City in which her focus will be to audit one local company.
At the charge that her job is boring, she shrugs that off, and says how interesting of a career it is for her, and that it’s ever-changing. Contrary to popular belief, Franklin says she’s not working in a cubicle all day, crunching numbers. She’s working with upward of 10 others to achieve their goals.
Chattanooga native Alexandra Shaik, 24, earned her bachelor’s of science degree in dental hygiene, finishing up at ETSU after starting off in an online program. Already having been working as a dental hygienist, Shaik said the bachelor’s will help her move toward her master’s degree and help her progress professionally.
Her future husband is in the Air Force and the two are planning both their wedding and the next portion of their lives in Dayton, Ohio, where he’ll be stationed. Her experience at ETSU has been somewhat short compared to other students’, she said, but she’d recommend the school to anyone.