Admissions Blog: Young alumnae share their path to success

Sunset over campus. Sunset over vineyard

On Mar. 24, Career Services, Alumnae Relations and Development and Admissions hosted a Young Alumnae Career Panel. During this panel, prospective and current students had the opportunity to hear from and ask questions of six young alumnae in various professional paths. The panelists included:

  • Lydia Fleck ’16: Bachelor of Science in Engineering Science; Nuclear Engineer at Huntington Ingalls Industries Shipbuilding; US Navy Contractor, Newport News, Va.
  • Brittany Griffith ’14: Bachelor of Arts in Business; Director of Programming and Sales at the Academy Center of the Arts, Lynchburg, Va.
  • Emily Hawk ’18: Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Studies with a minor in Psychology, 2019 Master of Teaching; Kindergarten Teacher in Amherst County Public Schools, Amherst, Va.
  • Megan Johnston ’16: Bachelor of Arts in Environmental Studies and French; Youth Nutrition Program Assistant with Virginia Cooperative Extension, Charlottesville, Va.
  • Hannah Kowitz ’15: Bachelor of Arts in Government and International Affairs; Legislative Aid for Virginia State Senator Dunnavant, M.D., Richmond, Va.
  • Jessie Schuster ’17: Bachelor of Arts in History and Music; J.D. Candidate at the University of Florida, Levin College of Law, Gainesville, Fla.

Jessie Schuester ’17 was looking for a women’s college that she could call home. After finding Sweet Briar, she realized that there was no other place she wanted to go. Once Jessie arrived at Sweet Briar, she knew she wanted to pursue a career in law, and, perhaps more fervently, that she did not want or have time to be a music major. But, after talking with the music faculty, Jessie decided to declare dual majors in history and music. “After my first music class, I was sold, and it helped me when I decided to apply to law school because I had the creative side as well as the analytical side,” she said.

In contrast, Emily Dodson ’18 thought she had a clear vision of what she wanted to pursue. “The best part about going to a small liberal arts school is that you have a lot of hands-on experience, especially in introductory classes,” said Emily. She was set on becoming an elementary school teacher and was able to reflect on her path after an introductory education course showed her that “it was not my passion or what I wanted to do everyday.” She found a home studying business. She also decided to pursue a minor in environmental studies. “Sweet Briar is your laboratory! It was a really fantastic experience to balance business with environmental studies,” said Emily.

Internships and research are potentially the best experiences to test-drive your career and are a large focus of the Career Services Center on campus. Emily Hawk ’18/’19 spoke to opportunities in the education program, namely the master of teaching program. “We spent the entire year during the MAT program in one classroom with one teacher and one set of kids. You get to see the span of an entire school year, not just the blips you see when you do a ten-hour internship.” Emily had the opportunity to get to know the teacher and the children in the classroom, which helped her become a better and more reflective teacher. Additionally, she wrote an action research paper analyzing her own practice, which helped prepare her for her first year of teaching. 

Lydia Fleck ’16, an engineer and athlete, conducted research in materials science while at Sweet Briar and tested the materials and patterns of swimsuits in the pool. Additionally, she participated in an internship at Huntington Ingalls Industries Shipbuilding. During her time there, she worked in structural engineering and stress analysis. Then, she worked with components, vendors and ships. She now works at the same location on the waterfront, and appreciated the ability to try out the career pathways before deciding where she wanted to land professionally.

Brittany Griffith ’14 connected with KidsHaven in Lynchburg, a non-profit that supports children who have lost a parent, as part of her coursework in business. In addition, she worked with Benchmark Systems’ social media marketing, as well as assisting with the start-up processes of RubberArm and Nanotouch. “There were a lot of opportunities to find your own internship or independent study and take something that you have interest in and really apply it to the community and the businesses around us. Which was really a wonderful way to start your network earlier,” she said.

When asked to reflect on how Sweet Briar has changed them professionally and personally, the panel had great insight on the lessons they learned and how impactful they were beyond graduation. “You were taught to agree to disagree agreeably,” Hannah Kowitz ’15 stated. By working in the political and policy arenas, Hannah learned how to work alongside various groups while still being respectful and getting the work done. Brittany affirmed that Sweet Briar helps its students find a voice. “Personally, I was able to grow pretty significantly. I ended my senior year being in multiple clubs, doing multiple things in Student Government, I was DJing parties—it really was a complete 180 for me, and I 100% believe that it’s because the Sweet Briar environment really allows you to grow in that way and supports you while you do it,” said Brittany. This development has led her to the job she landed after graduation. “I started at the Academy Center of the Arts in Lynchburg as a Director of Communications, and I can tell you that I used to be terrified to give a presentation in front of a class my freshman year, and now I’ll stand in front of multiple cameras while we’re opening up a historic theater for the first time in 50 years, give a speech and not care,” said Brittany.

Unanimously, it was agreed that Sweet Briar changes lives. Regardless of how our panelists found Sweet Briar, they all experienced various opportunities for growth during their time here.