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Crossover Careers

By Julie Riddle '92

New students often arrive at college bearing a weight far greater than the gear they've hauled to campus. They shoulder the assumptions that they must quickly choose a major, leading to a related career, and that this daunting decision will set the course for their life. They worry they'll make a mistake and be stuck. 

Whitworthians, worry not. 

Here, three alumni share how they put their Whitworth education to work in fields that appear unconnected to their studies, and they share useful advice. The opportunities, as Rich Caldwell MIT '95 discovered, "are endless, and they're everywhere." 

Meredith Vandebunte '20

B.A. in English | Senior Business Development Representative for Tinuiti | Spokane

I started as pre-med at Whitworth and quickly discovered that plant bio is not where my passion lies. I will work really hard for something if I love it, and I did not love it. When I became an English major, I had no idea what the future looked like. I loved the foundation of what being an English major was – engaging with the reading, doing research, finding the meaning in deeper subtleties, and empathizing with characters. It turns out that is exactly what the business world is. 

My senior year at Whitworth, I had interned at Ortega Group [later acquired by Tinuiti]. My internship supervisor let me know that Tinuiti was hiring. I applied for a lead position, a job I was underqualified for. They said there might be another position I was more qualified for opening soon. So I kept emailing them for updates, and I got in. 

We are the largest independent digital marketing agency across streaming TV and with Amazon, Google, Facebook and Instagram. We're also partners with Snapchat, Reddit and TikTok. We are a completely remote company, so I work from home. 

My day to day is mostly doing outreach. In my job, no one’s going to answer a salesperson who’s coming off just with sales. As an English major, I learned to write an eloquent argument without it sounding argumentative. What makes me a good saleswoman is when I’m having conversations with potential clients after all the good emails have been written. I genuinely want to hear, "Do you think this is going to be a good fit? Do you need us right now, or would it make sense to revisit down the line?" You have to make people feel cared for, and they appreciate that. 

Oftentimes we feel so tied to our experience. When you graduate college, no one is looking at your experience – they know you just graduated. They’re looking at who you are and what you’re going to bring to the table. A high percentage of women and people of color won’t apply to jobs that they don’t check all the bullet points for. There is an onboarding time when the company will train you to use the tools and do the job. 

A big misconception is that English majors only teach. I am passionate about encouraging people who come from a creative background to get into corporate spaces. There are so many avenues to go down. We are sometimes our own biggest roadblocks. 

Rich Caldwell '95

Master in Teaching Degree | Associate Technical Fellow, Chief Curriculum Developer for Boeing | Seattle

I had been a private pilot since age 16. In the early 1990s I became a commercial pilot, then a multi-engine and instrument flight instructor for an airline academy. In the mid-'90s the airline industry was in a lull. I realized I had an interest in teaching, and I thought, "What can I do to move in that direction?"

After I graduated from the Whitworth MIT program I moved to Dallas, where I taught at an inner-city grade school for five years. From there I worked in training and operations for American Airlines and I taught with AmeriCorps for a year. At the end of that year, I walked into a recruiting office and they said, "We've got an aviation job in curriculum development and technical writing – is that something you'd be interested in?" 

I thought, "I've got an aviation background and a master's degree in teaching. Why did I not make that connection earlier?" I hadn't realized that my teaching degree is very relevant to a job as a curriculum developer or, as commonly known, an instructional systems designer. It was just a matter of changing key terms, such as on a résumé, that helped people make the connection to my skills. 

As chief instructional system designer for Boeing, I design pilot training for the three main fleet types: Next-Generation 737 and 737 MAX, 777X, and 787. I design the initial analysis, conceptualize the course, and design the curriculum. I work with a team of subject-matter experts to compose training content. 

In aviation companies such as Boeing, trained school teachers provide needed skills. Even though they're not technically skilled in aviation, they have curriculum development experience, and they've been adept and insightful for our work teams. 

We have satellite training campuses internationally, and I travel to provide training to instructors. I talk to them about teaching strategies, classroom management, objectives and assessment, and how to train in various platforms. All of this comes from my MIT background. 

I encourage teachers to consider curriculum development for corporations, medical fields, aviation companies or the military. Whitworth students' learning is tied to all kinds of opportunities. The opportunities are endless, and they're everywhere. 

Linh Aven '09, Ph.D.

B.S. in Biology | Chef, Farmer and Founder of Dandelion Forest Farm | New Hampshire

I started as a biochemistry major at Whitworth, but I didn't have a clear idea of what I wanted to do. I toyed with stained glass, and finally chose biology, the study of life, which seemed broad enough to encompass just about everything. 

During Jan Term my senior year, I took Christian Spirituality at Tall Timber Ranch. The course itself was impactful, and surpisingly so was the food – fresh bread, made-from-scratch meals, even a full Seder dinner. The summer after I graduated, I went back to Tall Timber to learn how to cook for a crowd. Although I had always been interested in food, I never considered it as a career. 

That fall, I moved to Boston to continue my scientific studies, and earned my Ph.D. in molecular medicine. I was good at bench research and I was publishing journal articles, but I didn't want to stay in academia. After a few years at a biotech startup, I started working for fun at a French bakery. Before I knew it, I was making croissants full time. Later on, I worked as the executive chef of a 78-unit restaurant chain. 

There are a lot of transferable skills between science and the food industry like precision, problem-solving, and working wth my hands. The broad thinking and research skills I started developing at Whitworth provided a jumping-off point. I felt like I could enter any field and just figure it out as I went along, so that's what I did. 

After COVID began, my husband and I became stewards of land in New Hampshire and started an agroforestry farm. Dandelion Forest Farm is our journey to grow food in a more natural way and to revitalize our local food systems. We are exploring edible perennial plants that grow well in our region, and we hope to inspire others to do the same. 

Some of my time is still in the kitchen, making products from the ingredients I grow and hosting a seasonal farm-to-table dinner series. And I employ lessons learned from my biology classes at Whitworth on a daily basis as I study the health of my plants, animal behavioral patterns, and the soil microbiome. 

In college, everyone asks, "What's your major? What do you want to do when you graduate?" It's stressful. I think it's more important to follow your intuition and figure out what you are interested in right now. Someone once told me that whenever an interesting opportunity comes along, take it. I took that message to heart, and it's been really rewarding and fulfilling. I could have never predicted this path, but I am so happy to be here.