First-Generation Students Find a Network on Switchboard

Graduating from college into the unknown is daunting, especially if you're a first-generation student without a personal network or financial safety net.

Switchboard makes it easier for students to find their way. New graduates use Switchboard to connect with their school's alumni network and find jobs, career advice, and places to stay.

Eric '14, the first of his family to graduate college, felt overwhelmed after graduating from Reed College. He turned to Switchboard for help.

Why did you start using Switchboard?

I'm a first-generation college graduate (class of 2014) from a low-income family. I grew up in a rural area in economic decline, and beyond my high school English teacher, I had no network to speak of, knew few people who had been in any line of work in which I might be interested.

That's how it seemed for a long time, at least. Networking through Switchboard has helped me learn how to reach out to a community when I need help or guidance. I've turned to Switchboard for everything from jobs leads to advice to hosts.

I've greatly appreciated the informality of Switchboard, as well as the fact that it operates as an online community forum allowing Reedies like me to efficiently see who's out there offering help and who out there needs it. I have been touched by the kindness, generosity, and hospitality of Reedies. Those values have been integral to my success in finding and pursuing professional and personal opportunities.

You posted an ask for career advice. Could you tell your story?

I've been considering going to graduate school one day to become a therapist. I was pretty indecisive about choosing a major at Reed, and only managed to settle on one when I hit my junior year and was required to do so!

I went to Switchboard seeking advice from Reedies who had gone on to become therapists in order to get as realistic a picture as possible of the "helping" professions: working conditions, the interface between theory and practice, the merits of different degrees that lead to certification, financial considerations, and using volunteer work or entry-level jobs to build therapeutic skills and quell (or confirm) any reservations about pursuing a career in mental healthcare.

I exchanged emails and Skyped with two Reed alumnae (thanks to you both!), and will be able to make wiser, more informed decisions about my career because of the insights they shared.

Taking the initiative to talk to them left me feeling empowered in my decision to slow down, to avoid rushing to fill that hole that graduating from college can leave in one's life, and to take as much time as I want to understand the different paths I can follow towards professional security and fulfillment.

Would you recommend Switchboard to your friends?

I would recommend Switchboard to anyone who hasn't tried it. I did not apply to Reed with a career in mind, by which I mean the idea of one day leaving Reed to start a career was never part of the fantasy that drew me to the college.

It was tough when I started feeling those structural pressures to prepare for graduate school or the labor market, since I felt compelled to plan, plan, plan before I really understood what I needed and wanted from my work. And as someone who knew I wouldn't be able to turn to family for my economic security, there were moments when I felt overwhelmed, disempowered, and shut out of whatever channels people followed to find fulfillment in their careers.

A lot of that fell away as I grew and learned more about my needs and priorities. Yet along the way, Switchboard gave me the chance to step into a network of big-hearted, community-minded Reedies that was there all along.

Switchboard has not only been key to finding concrete help at times when I needed it, but also empowering and confidence-boosting, a way of taking initiative without losing sight of my ties to a community.