Erik Ortiz ’20 felt it first when he had to leave campus for the final weeks of his senior year – an unpleasant sense that he wasn’t sure how to proceed. And then, a brand-new graduate, he started to poke around in a job market that was reeling from the global pandemic.
“I was a little lost,” he admitted. “I was ready to take another route, resort to some backup plan.”
Then he got a call from Lauren Payne, director of Furman’s Malone Center for Career Engagement. Payne and the rest of the Malone Center staff had decided to reach out to every senior heading into the same daunting circumstances as Ortiz.
With Payne’s guidance, Ortiz refined his job search, fine-tuned his resume, practiced for interviews, leaned on his network and, in September, started working as research coordinator in the Recovery Program at the Addiction Research Center at Prisma Health. He’d been hoping to find work as a research assistant. To be in a coordinating role right out of college “was a big win for me.”
Ortiz is a first-generation college student. His initial exposure to Furman came as a Carolina High School student through the summer program Bridges to a Brighter Future.
He came to college planning to study neuroscience on a premed track. One of his earliest classes sent him to the Malone Center for the first time, to take a career interests assessment. The results suggested his interests and abilities might more closely match other fields.
“At first, I was hesitant to really pay attention to that,” Ortiz said. “Lo and behold, that was kind of what ended up happening.”
Ortiz changed his major to psychology his junior year and minored in Latin American studies. His goal now is to pursue a Ph.D. in clinical neuropsychology. He conducted research as an undergraduate and was eager to keep moving in that direction after completing his bachelor’s degree. But COVID-19 made everything more complicated. Payne said that’s exactly why the Malone Center decided to personally reach out to every senior, to make sure each of them knew what support and services were available.
“It worked so well that this year we’re doing the same thing with our seniors,” she said.
Ortiz said the call helped him acknowledge that he needed some extra guidance.
“It made it a lot easier, to be honest, once I had her help,” he said.
Part of Payne’s advice was to think about his network. In high school, Ortiz was part of a health sciences program in which one of the mentors was Christen Hairston ’01. She is director of Student Success Initiatives and a clinical assistant professor at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine Greenville.
“Not having someone remind me what other resources to use would have made it take much longer,” Ortiz said. Hairston made the connections that led Ortiz to the Addiction Research Center job opening. Within a few weeks, he was in the middle of the interview process.
The first phone interview “went longer than it should have, in a good way,” he said. Payne had helped him get comfortable with Zoom, and they practiced likely interview questions together. Ortiz is glad he took the help that was offered. There’s a part of him that wishes he’d been a little more receptive to advice the first time he walked into the Malone Center.
“Network, use your resources,” he said, “and really listen to the tips your resources and mentors give you, especially if it’s the Malone Center, your advisors. … Don’t let your ego get in the way.”