Alumni Share Experiences with Undergrads Homecoming Weekend

Success stories excite those who chose geography degrees

The Department of Geography held a MU Geography Alumni Roundtable Friday, Oct. 8 from 3:30-4:30 pm in Stewart 216, featuring former alumni Madeline Bloss (BA ‘20), Wiley Howell (BA ‘13), Abby Hunt (BA 21), and Colton Kimminau (BA ‘19).

All show success since their departure from the university. Bloss works with the Boone County History and Culture Center in Donor Relations; Howell serves on the Missouri GIS Advisory Council; Hunt is in law school at Washington University; and Kimminau is with Conexon as a GIS analyst.

“Each uses geography somehow, someway, but they are doing it in very different ways,” says Doug Hurt, director of undergraduate studies. “It’s important to know students aren’t locked into a narrow career path and that geographic skills can be applied to many different career goals.”

The reasoning behind the roundtable was two-fold: To share the experiences of recent grad students, and to give current students a behind-the-scenes look at how others made the transition to success after graduation, says Hurt.

“All of the alumni are very successful in whatever they are doing,” he adds. “They are all recent graduates, and very relatable to students today. A year ago, two years ago, or three years ago … they were doing the undergrad life. Now they are success stories and we wanted them to tell their stories to our undergrads.”

More than a dozen individuals showed to the on-site presentation, and the program was also recorded for use in classes, on YouTube, and the like. “It was meant to be a small audience since we were recording,” Hurt explains.

He says students were interested in the panelists’ relationship-building activities that helped with resume-building – taking advantage of clubs and organizations; getting to know fellow students and professors; learning outside the classroom through internships and study abroad programs.

“All the panelists emphasized that students need to think ahead,” Hurt says. “They need to plan ahead what they want their life to look like in a year, five years. They need to be planning now on what they want to do in the future.”

Hurt says this program, one of many planned for the year, is one of the most impactful projects to students because it bridges the gap between campus and the real world. “Hopefully we’re getting students thinking ahead about the future and understanding how their experiences here can make transition to their work lives easier.”

Panelists took time to answer questions for the Geography Department, to glimpse further into their life as a student, and how they felt returning as alumni.

Geography: How did the Department of Geography prepare you for the next step in your life?

Clarke: The geography department helped me grow into the individual and the professional that I am today. Particularly influential was the mentorship of Dr. Hurt throughout my undergraduate career. 

Howell: The geography department prepared me for the ‘next steps’ after college by providing both the education and confidence needed to enter the workforce. But the most important thing I received was a built-in professional network. The ability to reach back to contact former classmates, mentors, and faculty was by far the greatest resource I received. None of us have all the answers, especially in a field of study as broad as geography and the limitless applications of GIS. So, proceeding into the workforce with the professional support of colleagues from across the state was (and still is) invaluable.

Hunt: The geography department helped me discover my passions and how I can use my skills to pursue them. It gave me a supportive community to explore my interests and have the freedom to explore what works for me. I did a cultural emphasis and I find that my education in the ways places, cultures, and history connect is immensely valuable as I approach my legal studies. It is very useful to me to be able to animate my law school readings with the meaningful context of my geography education. Geography/MU allowed me to build a really strong educational and personal background to tackle my passions in environmental advocacy.

Kimminau: Mizzou's department of geography established a sense of educational/career professionalism and motivation that a student wouldn't find in most other programs. I now pursue as many work, social, life opportunities as possible, the geography department being a key influence in providing a great foundation. During your college years, it is vital to find positive influences to help with your life plans and outlook, and Mizzou geography was very formative in shaping my outlook during my recent life. 

Geography: What did it feel like to come back to campus as an alumni/alumna?

Clarke: I was excited to come back to visit campus as an alumna, especially since the pandemic cut my campus experience short so unexpectedly in 2020. I looked forward to the homecoming festivities with geography and the university. 

Howell: I received and accepted my first job offer before even graduating because of the strength and comradery of the MU Alumni network. Employers across Missouri and elsewhere are seeking motivated and qualified MU graduates to invest in. I am humbled to have had the opportunity to come back and contribute in this capacity and hopefully provide insights into professions that utilize applied geography.

Hunt: I unfortunately was not able to return to campus for the panel/homecoming (boo law school), but I can imagine it would have been a great, albeit surreal experience. (Note, she attended virtually.)

Kimminau: Coming back to campus as an alumnus always brings back a feeling of pride and refreshes memories for myself. It is always a joy to come see past friends, acquaintances, and mentors. It feels like a second home.

Geography: What advice do you give to other students in undergrad or graduate studies?

Clarke: I recommend students take advantage of any internship or professional networking opportunities they can while still a student, regardless of whether it’s a graduation requirement. It’s important to set yourself up for success in your career and internships really can lead to jobs.

Howell: Whether you choose to pursue a graduate degree or decide to enter the workforce with your undergraduate degree, your academic career is just the beginning of lifelong learning. Professions in fields utilizing modern geography and geographic information technology are diverse. Take advantage of this: applied geography is in demand across both the private and public sectors. Use the academic foundation you receive here at the geography department and find an opportunity you are passionate about.

Hunt: Use the time you have in undergrad (trust me … you have time!!!) to really explore who you are and what is important to you. Do some spelunking into your soul and figure out your values. In my experience, law school will try to suck out your soul at every chance it gets, and it is so important to enter it (or the workplace, I imagine) with a really strong sense of who you are and what you want to achieve in the world. Use your classes to detect what your best skills are and then find a way to apply those skills to your passions. Reach out to as many potential-mentors and advice-givers as possible and be prepared to forge your own path if you don’t see a way to get where you want to be right away! Basically, follow your heart!

Kimminau: Advice I would give to other students is to enjoy college life as much as possible, and to fulfill as many opportunities that are provided to you as you can accomplish. Life provides many opportunities and chances every day, and we only capitalize on a few of them taking risks is one of life's greatest pleasures.