Class brings dreams to life

While in college, there are two big questions every student must answer: what they want to major in and what career they want to pursue after graduation.

Rafael Delgado, assistant director for Career Services at the University of Washington Bothell, said the latter is often more challenging. “Most students haven’t been exposed to many career fields before coming to college, so they need to do some research,” he said.

To help with this process, he teaches Career Exploration, a course that provides students with knowledge and tools they need to obtain satisfying careers. While the course has consistently prepared students for work after graduation, for Mari McMenamin, it directly facilitated her first job.

From pain to passion

Mari McMenamin, IAS alumna

McMenamin, a single mother and immigrant, aspired to have a career in human resources. Her passion for the field stemmed from her own experiences.

“A lot of times, people from different backgrounds like myself can have a hard time speaking up because we lack confidence. It is hard when there is no one else in the room that looks like us,” she said. “Working in HR would allow me to make sure everyone’s voices are heard.”

She came to the United States at age 18 from Venezuela. “I feel like I am both 100% American and 100% Latina,” she said. “I want to use my insight and positionality to make safe and accommodating environments in the workplace.”

These goals are how she ended up in Delgado’s class in summer 2021. Set to graduate at the end of that quarter, she wanted to strengthen her resume and overall candidacy. Little did she know, this course would serve as a direct catalyst to getting her first job.

When aspirations align

It started with an assignment Delgado has used many times before: an “informational interview” that asks students to meet with a professional in the career field of their interest.

For McMenamin, the choice on who to speak with was clear. “I was inspired by Devi Sandhu, one of the guest speakers Rafael brought in to speak to the class,” she said. “Her work in human resources and focus on integrating diversity, equity and inclusion into the workspace mirrored my own ambitions. I was eager to learn more.”

Sandhu, a UW Bothell alumna, former talent manager at UW Bothell and now HR operations manager for Snohomish County, said she was equally impressed with McMenamin and happily agreed to be interviewed. “Mari stood out to me for several reasons,” said Sandhu. “First, she actively engaged in my presentation, and second, when it was over, she asked well-formed questions that made it clear she had been researching this career option. I was excited to speak with her one-to-one.”

Their conversation went so well that by the end, Sandhu asked for her resume. At first, she planned on just reviewing it but instead decided she wanted to do more. There were no open roles in HR at the county, so she offered McMenamin a temporary role that would leverage the skills she already had in the HR environment.

In September, McMenamin started as an HR assistant where she is gaining human resources experience performing audits, preparing internal correspondence and processing teleworking agreements. “I am so grateful to Rafael and his course that connected me to Devi. Because of them, I have the tools, experience and knowledge to make the career of my dreams a reality,” she said.

A ripple of achievements

McMenamin graduated at the end of summer 2021 with a degree in Media & Communication Studies and minors in Human Rights and in Public Policy. She says that coming to UW Bothell is the best choice she has ever made.

“It’s not college that is the best thing, it’s this University,” she said. “My professors were so invested in my success, and I could feel their genuine care for me in every interaction I had with them. They pushed me to achieve things I never dreamed I would be capable of achieving.

“Many Hispanics have not gone to college, and now, as a first-generation graduate, I can help my kids, my nieces and nephews, and my community navigate the system. I hope that by seeing me do it, they will realize they can do it, too.”

Along with receiving her bachelor’s degree, McMenamin was also accepted into the Master of Arts in Cultural Studies program at the University and plans on attending in 2022-23. First, she wants to get a year of experience in the workforce to confirm she is on the right path.

To UW Bothell she says, “Thank you for giving me a life better than I dreamed possible.”

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