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Alumni Reflect on Navigating Professional Careers After Howard

2022 Howard University Commencement Ceremony. Photo courtesy of Howard Magazine.

The prospect of graduating excited Maia Regman more than anything. Having been involved in content creating and influencing since the age of 16, she felt more than ready to apply these skills in the “real world.”

A 2021 graduate from the School of Business, the former management major and Bronx native had been creating influencer marketing campaigns for HBCU students since her freshman year, allowing her to work with brands such as Fenty Beauty and Jansport. She also developed a platform through which former and current Howard students could connect with one another, which was formerly known as “150Bison” on Twitter. 

But in her tenure as a member of post-Howard corporate spaces, she has found that qualities such as her dedication to the uplifting of marginalized creatives are often appreciated more in theory than in practice. 

Predatory hiring practices, questionable marketing tactics and an overall disregard for employees’ mental health and well-being only scratched the surface of her experience in life after graduation.

This is certainly not the case for every Howard student, or for any student tasked with navigating professional careers after undergrad, but Regman urged students to consider how difficult and uncertain post-graduate life can be.

“I don’t know how many people are realistically setting expectations for the industries that they want to go into,” she said. “Especially because of what’s happening now in corporate America– and I feel like not enough people realize this because they love the glitz and the glam of seeing their favorite Howard alumni on Instagram and stuff like that… [People] are leaving their jobs within three months, or they’re getting fired just because they said things that white people don’t agree with.”

Gen-Z and millennials are becoming known for “job-hopping.” In December 2022, CensusWide and LinkedIn surveyed over 2,000 workers in the United States about their prospective career plans for 2023 and found that 72 percent of Gen Z respondents and 66 percent of millennial respondents planned to make a career change, according to CNBC. Reasons for leaving jobs include the desire for higher wages and work flexibility. 

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Since graduating, Regman has faced a number of challenges, such as cyber-attacks that led to the deactivation of “150Bison,” discriminatory experiences with clients and even health-related issues due to poor housing conditions– all while trying to maintain employment. 

Although some of her difficulties were communicated to the superiors at her fellowship, she was almost fired.

“It was a lot of crazy stuff that was just kind of coming into all at the same time, and they tried to fire me because I was– I guess– not answering the phone,” she said. “I had follow-up meetings with them and was able to get the proper accommodations that I needed; [eventually] they fired the old HR people because of what they did to me.”

These particular circumstances were eventually resolved, but she still felt as though there was a lack of understanding regarding not only her experiences but her goal to connect Howard students with more opportunities. In fact, she said the new HR team did not even know what Howard University was.

Regman’s experience is not indicative of how all prospective graduates will navigate the professional world. However, other alumni have had experiences in which they felt as though their expertise, their perspectives as young Black Americans and their Howard background was not fully appreciated or understood.

Devonte Brown (he/him/they) had a non-traditional path to graduation, as he started his undergraduate tenure in 2015, completed a deployment with the United States Army after sophomore year and returned to complete the final two years. Another 2021 graduate of the School of Business, the former accounting major and New Jersey native currently works as a consultant with a large accounting firm.

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Brown started working with this firm prior to graduating, consolidating a smooth transition into a full-time career. Although Brown enjoys the work, this did not lessen the blow of the initial culture shock.

“I’ve had trouble navigating corporate America,” Brown explained. “I think that a lot of people say that Howard puts you in a bubble where you’re surrounded by beautiful, intelligent, amazing, ambitious Black people, and then as soon as you leave that, you never see it again.”

On their first team, Brown was the youngest and the only Black person. “There are people 20 years older than me and they’re surprised that we’re doing the same work,” Brown said.

He offered praise to Howard, and particularly the accounting department, for teaching relevant skills and making the overall process of navigating the professional world easier. At the same time, though, they do not feel as though their perspective is fully appreciated.

“I often feel indignant in these spaces because I know that I have so much value to add,” Brown said. “I’m aware that I was properly trained and I do have the knowledge base to succeed. So it’s hurtful when they silence me. There is a glass ceiling that prevents people like us from climbing the ladder of corporate America’s success.”

For Black professionals, this “glass ceiling” often feels like a “concrete ceiling,” according to Forbes. A 2021 report done by The Washington Post found that only 8 percent of high-ranking corporate leaders, referred to as “C-suite executives” were Black. 

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Despite the recent push for diversity and inclusion in corporate spaces, some Black professionals still feel the brunt of racism, microaggressions and subtle displays of discrimination. Brown believed that there is room for much more change.

“I do love that there’s been a shift. I do love that there’s more talk about it. It’s more open and I can bring it up in conversation– I can say that there are racial disparities that affect multiple aspects of business,” Brown said. “But my hope is that the people who follow after– the Howard students who want to be in these spaces– won’t have to experience what we’re experiencing.”

Ty Scott, who is known professionally as “Vango Jones,” has experienced his own bouts of discomfort as being the only Black person in professional spaces. A 2014 graduate from the Cathy Hughes School of Communications, the former film production major and St. Louis native had the dual experience of working a traditional nine-to-five job and being a freelancer.

Now, working as a freelance production designer and set designer, Scott enjoys the flexibility to choose who he does and does not work with.

“I like the opportunity to kind of be my own boss in a sense,” Scott said. “When I started freelancing, there were many times when I was the only Black person in the environments that I was in, and it was definitely uncomfortable. [But] I don’t have to go back to any space that I didn’t enjoy being in.”

Scott shared that post-grad life can be a rollercoaster, but he encouraged students to adapt to challenging situations and not give up.

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“Being in the creative or entertainment field is not as solidified as dentistry or being a doctor, for instance, but you just have to stick with the ride,” Scott said. “The most difficult thing is just writing your own story. When I first graduated, some of the life moves that I made were never my original plan. There will be some roadblocks or challenges, but just push through.”

Scott also urged students to ensure that they maintain a balance between their work and their pursuit of post-graduate employment.

“When I graduated, I didn’t have any job lined up. I applied for a few, but that’s one thing that I definitely didn’t do as well as I could have,” Scott said. “Do your studies, of course, have the social experience, but [during] senior year– apply to positions.”

Carol Dudley, the Employee Relations Manager for the Center for Career and Professional Services, said that current and former students alike have access to the center’s resources, including the ability to attend job fairs and have staff look over their resumes and job applications. 

The center is also accessible for those facing difficult workplace situations.

“There are lots of ways to help them get around those situations and not offend the employer and not hurt their reputation in that industry,” Dudley, a ‘76 graduate of the Cathy Hughes School of Communications, said. “If they’re not sure how to handle it and it’s not something they don’t want to go to HR about, they should call the Career Center.”

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In Regman’s eyes, facilitating conversations between former and current students is key to ensuring that students are both well-equipped for their prospective careers and well aware of how experiences range among new professionals.

“When you are an undergrad, you are treated completely differently because it’s a completely different liability that you are to a company; if those same exact situations would have happened to me and I was a junior or a senior, I would not have had that experience,” Regman said. “So I think there needs to be more fireside chats. Multi-generational support is so necessary and multi-generational mentorship is so necessary.”   

Brown agreed that connecting with former and current students is important, but they also urge students to use their time at Howard University to their advantage.

“Find something you’re passionate about and give your time to it. Of course, your grades come first, but do something outside of your comfort zone because Howard University gives you the opportunities to learn about yourself and learn about others in a way that you may not be able to recreate elsewhere,” Brown said. “Growth is uncomfortable, but do it anyway. Try your best. And there’s no such thing as a loss. There’s no such thing as a failure– it’s all lessons.”

Copy edited by Alana Matthew

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