For as long as he could remember, senior Ari Davanelos has wanted to work in the media, an institution that he reveres as a “vanguard of culture.” But instead of having his major land him his dream job at SiriusXM, Davanelos is letting his extracurricular activities do the talking.
“My focus is getting a job through my extracurriculars,” Davanelos said. “That’s why I got involved with the radio.”
For the past two years, he’s worked at the university’s radio station, WUSB 90.1 FM, where he is both the station’s program director and president. Though he is very much, in his own words, a “behind-the-scenes” type, he still maintains an active presence on the airwaves through his own program, “The Ari D Show,” a smattering of “mod, bubblegum and new indie” that airs on Monday nights.
Since his freshman year, Davanelos has cycled through three different majors. After initially coming to Stony Brook University as a journalism major, he switched to English, citing that he learned very quickly that he was “a bad journalist” and that “journalism was no substitute for communications.” He grew disillusioned with poring over what he saw as irrelevant texts and switched to his current major, cinema and cultural studies. His passion, however, still lay in the airwaves.
Davanelos is not alone; other students like him are branching out into activities and prospects beyond their area of study. Senior history major Jonathan Gottfried, for example, regularly participates in and has won prizes from “hackathons,” events in which developers race against the clock and each other to build a piece of software.
“My whole life I had been a programmer, and it was something I was fairly good at,” Gottfried wrote in an email. “Though when it came to the mathematical and research aspects of computers, I simply wasn’t interested. I felt like pursuing this sort of degree would actually dissuade me from being interested in technology, since it turned it into a chore rather than a fun hobby, and I had no interest in working for large corporations or enterprise development firms.”
Though he entered Stony Brook as part of the Honors Computer Science program, Gottfried only remained in the program for three semesters and took two classes before switching into history, a subject he had long been interested in and had already earned a few credits in. So far, his strategy has earned him a job with a Boston-based music startup, The Echo Nest, as well as multiple job offers from companies both large and small. Gottfried said he thought that being proactive by taking risks and pursuing interests outside of school and one’s major was essential to having a variety of prospects in the job market.
“In general, my sense is that advisors, clubs, societies and departments on campus are very focused in how they deal with students, generally easing them towards activities that are somehow related to their major to help improve their job chances in the area they studied,” Gottfried said. “Personally, I think that people learn much more and have much better job chances if they do the opposite of what is recommended and get involved in activities that have absolutely nothing to do with their majors.”
Joanna Durso, an internship consultant with the university’s Career Center, which advises students in choosing careers and obtaining employment, says that while many experienced professionals have jobs that do not relate directly to what they majored in, some career paths are more rigid in their requirements regarding major. Engineering is an example of a rigid career path.
“For example, the Occupational Outlook Handbook says that ‘a bachelor’s degree in engineering is required for almost all entry-level engineering jobs,’” Durso wrote in an email. “So, if you graduate with, say, a journalism major and then decide to become a mechanical engineer, you’ll probably have a hard time unless you go back to school.”
However, other career paths, such as law, are fluid in their requirements. Though a multidisciplinary is recommended for law, someone who graduated with a mechanical engineer degree could, according to Durso, potentially become a lawyer if he or she chose to do so.
“Many students, on the other hand, choose their majors without a particular career in mind, and in that case, I don’t think they’re ever stuck,” Durso said. “Even if you choose a major that focuses heavily on a particular career path, you can always add experience in a different field — through elective courses, a minor, or perhaps second major, extracurricular activities, or a job or internship, etc.”
While Durso said that experience in the form of internships, jobs and extracurricular activities are significant when it comes to the different elements considered by employers, factors such as the students major, minor, elective courses and natural talents are also taken into account.
“Even if, hypothetically, you could know now that your eventual employer would hire you without even looking at what you’ve studied in college, your coursework is still going to occupy the better part of four or five years of your life,” Durso said. “If you choose courses and a major that you’ll like, chances are that you’ll be happier while you’re here and that you’ll get better grades.”
Junior psychology and pre-med major Nicolas Luzino, however, does not think that his position on the Chinese Association at Stony Brook’s Dance Team would net him a dance career or be something that he would want to do professionally.
“This has become my way of de-stressing due to the workload from class,” he said. “Every day, I’m given the opportunity to share precious time with people in the same position. We dance to express, not impress.”
He did, however, offer a few words of wisdom.
“Many times, going with the flow will lead you to novel and interesting places,” Luzino said. “Not everything in life can be planned, and there is a beauty to that.”