Meet Your Major
Alumni share winding paths to success
Life sometimes has a funny way of leading people down unexpected paths that end up being the right ones all along. Stories of these experiences were highlighted during Bluffton University’s Meet Your Major Alumni Forum held in Centennial Hall’s Stutzman Lecture Hall Feb. 21.
During the presentation, five Bluffton alumni spoke to students, faculty and staff about the paths they took after graduation and how a liberal arts education from Bluffton helped them succeed despite veering away from their major.
The five presenters included: philosophy major Mitch Kingsley ’71, who now serves as an attorney; music major Audwin Jones ’87, who works in college admissions; music major Jason Wellman ’06, now pastoring to the Methodist community; business major Lori Pongtana Burrows ’03, who is a non-profit fundraiser; and accounting major Lisa Pongtana Bradley ’08, now a credit analyst.
Kingsley practices law in Bluffton. At the beginning of the presentation, he listed 15 or so jobs he held as a young person. “Every one of those jobs is something I put to work in my practice of law. My experience there helps me in my practice of law today. Whatever you are doing today, I suspect will help in a later career,” said Kingsley. “I use the liberal arts and my past experiences to build a relationship of trust and high expectations with my clients. That’s the magic.”
Jones is the director of admissions at Wright State University’s School of Professional Psychology. He planned to be a music teacher until a mentor at Bluffton suggested admissions work. Jones was an admissions counselor at Bluffton for 17 years before transitioning to Wright State.
“My music teacher helped me connect the dots in high school, and I liked talking to kids,” said Jones. “Turns out in admissions that’s all I was doing was talking to students about their futures.”
Burrows works for The Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption. A mentor also drew her into development work, first at Bluffton. She says professional development shaped and advanced her career.
“I would not have gone as far as I have gone without professional development organizations. The people I met through those organizations have helped me with my professional journey and with questions concerning both my life and my career,” said Burrows. “Professional conferences are like an in-person LinkedIn. Personal connections are important.”
Like Jones, Wellman planned to be a music teacher until a job in college led him down a different road. During college he became the music director at a Methodist church in Findlay.
My senior year I felt a change in direction. I stayed at the church for a year after graduation, it was clear to me that pastoral ministry was what I was called to do.”
Now, with a $3.5 million church budget, he uses the math classes taken at Bluffton and the breadth of education gained through the liberal arts, every day.
Upon graduation in 2008, Bradley had a difficult time finding a job. It was the height of the recession, so she settled on a low paying position as a credit analyst.
“I just started doing extra projects and those projects became part of my responsibilities. I taught myself jobs skills that have translated into my current position and my depth of knowledge developed,” said Bradley, who now works on projects ranging from $20,000 to $20 million.
In closing, four of the alumni shared advice for success with the students.
Bradley: “Be a young active citizen; be involved in your community.”
Burrows: “Don’t let others persuade your path. Be hungry.”
Kingsley: “Go deep. Do research, learn as much as you can.”
Wellman: “Never discount how faith impacts what you do.”
The Forum was sponsored by Bluffton’s alumni engagement office which holds monthly networking sessions called “Meet Your Major” which connects alumni and current students.
“I use the liberal arts and my past experiences to build a relationship of trust and high expectations with my clients. That’s the magic.” -Mitch Kingsley ’71