From school to a career

As this year’s class of Portland State graduates emerges into the working world, many will encounter a better hiring environment than their classmates who graduated last year. Average salaries for new job market entrants under the age of 24 rose 5.2% this year, according to the payroll processing company ADP. The National Association of Colleges and Employers says that the highest paying industry for bachelor’s degree graduates is management consulting. Information, finance, insurance, real estate and engineering services also pay well.

Many PSU grads have jobs waiting for them after graduation or have already started working. And they’ve found their jobs in a variety of ways, including internships, PSU career fairs and through their own research. Portland State's newly minted grads will be taking new positions with local employers from industry giants Intel and Daimler Trucks to startups like Puppet Labs to social service agencies like Central City Concern. Here are four of this year’s graduates and how each found their new job.

Jackie TranJackie Tran

Major: Graphic design and art history (with a minor in business)
Employer: Artslandia

One day, early in Jackie Tran’s time at Portland State, she was waiting to meet with her advisor when she noticed a copy of Artslandia, Portland’s guide to the performing arts, among the magazines in the dean’s office. Having always loved the arts, she was intrigued by the publication but didn’t imagine she would launch her post-college career there.

Tran grew up drawing, and when her high school offered its first-ever course in graphic design, she immediately signed up. “My passion for graphic design started there,” she says. She studied it further at Foothill College in California but transferred to Portland State in 2015 because she’d heard that Portland was beautiful, and that PSU had one of the best design schools on the West Coast.

Soon after arriving at Portland State, Tran found a paid job as manager of PSU’s student-run Graphic Design Center, overseeing a studio of five people and supervising everything from customer service to finance. But even with that job, she decided to look for an internship in late 2017. Recognizing Artslandia on the list of possible internships, she applied and started working there as an intern in December. At the end of March, Artslandia hired her as a full-time graphic designer.

Tran has already created a 125-page Artslandia magazine for the Portland Opera, and she says that 30,000 copies are being distributed to opera patrons this year. She’s now working on a series of publications to be handed out at Oregon Symphony concerts next season. “I always wanted to be involved with the arts,” she says. “Now I’m doing it. I’m living the dream.”

Advice: “Don’t be afraid of hard work. Just keep putting yourself out there. Someone will recognize that, and they’ll reward it.”

Mackenzie DeaterMackenzie Deater

Major: Book Publishing
Employer: Storey Publishing

Mackenzie Deater came to Portland State from Grand Valley State University in Michigan, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in English and communications. She knew that she wanted to go into publishing, and after researching all the available options for master’s degrees in the field she found her way to the Book Publishing program at Portland State.

The heart of the program is Ooligan Press, a publishing house that releases four to five books a year and is entirely run by students. “What I love about Ooligan is that it seems more like an apprenticeship than a graduate degree,” says Deater. “Of course you’re still going to classes, but other half of our education is publishing books.”

As a first-year student, Deater worked on a project team that put out two books in the same term—a 25th-anniversary edition of the young-adult novel Ricochet River by Robin Cody and the debut novel At the Waterline by Brian Friesen. In the publishing program, Deater specialized in marketing, so working on two books at the same time gave her great opportunity to introduce books to the public.

When Deater heard about a marketing job at Storey Publishing in Massachusetts, she was able to support her application with references from Ooligan alumni working at Portland’s Timber Press, a sister company to Storey. After advancing through the first levels of interviews for the job, she was asked to create a comprehensive marketing plan for one of the company’s manuscripts. Her experience at Ooligan and her coursework in the publishing program made it easy for her to put the plan together, and she was offered the job.

“The hands-on nature of the press helped me go into the workforce,” says Deater. “I’m so glad that I came to Ooligan. There isn’t anything like it anywhere else.”

Advice:  “Network with everyone in your classes and in your program. Those connections are more valuable than you realize when you’re sitting in class. Those are the people you’re going to working with for the next 20 to 40 years.”

Andrew VignolleAndrew Vignolle

Major: Logistics, Materials and Supply Chain Management
Employer: Oracle

Born and raised in Oregon, Andrew Vignolle started his college education in PCC’s program for radiography, learning to use X-rays to create images of the human body. But the deeper Vignolle got into the program, the less he felt that it was right for him. When an advisor visited one of his classes to talk about how to transfer from PCC to Portland State, he arranged an appointment with her. After analyzing his strengths and weaknesses, Vignolle decided not only to transfer to PSU but to change his focus to business.

Initially, Vignolle thought he would specialize in finance, but when he took the introductory supply chain course required of all business majors, he realized he had found what he’d been looking for. “When I was in high school, working my first job, I was always thinking about eliminating waste and making my job easier and better. Supply chain talks about that a lot.”

The Supply & Logistics Management program has its own career fair. Two hours before this year’s fair, Vignolle’s program director, Daniel Wong, asked whether he was going to talk to Oracle. “I was hesitant,” says Vignolle. “I didn’t feel I was necessarily qualified for Oracle. Daniel reassured me and said 'go talk to them.'”

Vignolle did. A week later he had his first interview and a month later he was offered a full-time job as a material planner. “The people in my department at Oracle use a lot of technical terms, but I’m able to keep up with their conversations and understand what they’re talking about. That’s all thanks to PSU and all the groups I joined.”

Advice: “It’s okay to switch majors. It’s never too late. If you find something you’re passionate about it, get out and go for where your calling is. It can take a while to find that calling. And build a strong community on campus, because when you build that community, it makes everything so much easier.”

Erin SchmidtErin Schmidt

Major: Mechanical Engineering
Employer: Accion Systems

Before arriving at Portland State, Erin Schmidt did a variety of things, including working in forestry and as a bike mechanic. He didn’t enroll in college until he was 27. At Portland State he started in anthropology, thinking that he’d work in the cultural side of the field. But not sure how to make a career out of that, he transferred to mechanical engineering. “You get to learn a little bit of everything, and I liked the jack-of-all-trades aspect of it.”

Schmidt didn’t pick a major until his third year, when he took a class in fluid mechanics, the physics of how liquids and gases and plasmas behave. “It was very mathy, and I didn’t think I’d like it, but I fell in love with it.”

After finishing his bachelor’s degree, Schmidt stayed on at PSU to get his master’s. He worked in the Dryden Drop Tower Lab, researching how liquids behave in low gravity. “When you take gravity out of the picture, other things take over. It’s a weird and interesting thing to study.”

Schmidt also became involved with the Portland State Aerospace Society, an interdisciplinary group that strives to democratize space technology. He contributed to OreSat, a project to launch a small satellite built entirely in Oregon, which will send videos from space to high school students in the state.

His work on satellites led him to the job he has now—research and development engineer at a startup in Boston called Accion Systems. When he started his job search, he looked for small companies working on space technologies, where he could see an alignment between the company goals, the company culture and his own values. Accion develops propulsion systems for small satellites. “It’s a pretty perfect fit,” he says.

Though Schmidt has moved to Massachusetts for his new job, he still has one close tie to Portland State. “My brother Connor completed his B.A. at PSU after getting out of the Army, and is now close to finishing an MBA there.”

Advice: Schmidt says that if students are passionate about a particular major, they shouldn’t be intimidated by its prerequisites. “I knew math was my weak area. It was hard, and I didn’t do very well at first. But a lot of things get easier and more fun with practice. I’m glad that I went for it, because I thought I wasn’t good at math, but I’m actually good at it.”

Stories by Stephanie Argy
Front page photo: School of Business alumni Yelena Ibadul MIM '13, Nikol Marinova '13, Stefanie Lechner '13 and Scott Sutton '08.