Where do you want to go? What do you hope to achieve? What do you want to do?
These are the questions prospective students are typically asked as they embark on the college decision-making journey. To help them find answers, Hiram College recently rolled out Hiram Connect, a program that helps students discover personal and professional success. As part of Hiram Connect, students complete an internship, research or study-abroad experience before they graduate. They then reflect on and articulate the ways that experience confirms and challenges ideas and theories taught in their courses and how it illuminates prospective career pathways.
We profile three graduates of the last decade who found their footing in the world, thanks to the connections Hiram College helped them forge between their classes, conversations, extracurricular activities and hands-on experiences.
Will Dalberg ’07
A college journey that built connections between experiences and encouraged learning at every juncture helped ensure Will Dahlberg ’07 never had to worry about the question, “What will you do with a degree in history?”
Between mentoring opportunities, interdisciplinary classes and practical experiences, Dahlberg, as a history student, wasn’t just learning historical facts; he was building a set of connections and experiences that would prepare him to pursue a meaningful life and career. Today, he works as the membership manager for WHBM 90.3, the NPR affiliate in Birmingham, Ala. He also is a personal historian and genealogist, a documentarian and freelance historian.
For Dahlberg, learning occurred in lots of places: in the classroom as a student, in the halls as a resident assistant, on the trails as a cross-country athlete and in the conference room as a member of student senate.
All of these experiences led up to a senior-year research project that allowed Dahlberg to put to the test the skills he was developing in his various Hiram roles. Dahlberg researched Hiram College student traditions and customs – an experience that left a lasting impact on him and on Hiram, as his final paper is now part of the College Archives. For this project Dahlberg interviewed many alumni; he recorded, compiled, presented and preserved their oral histories. These are skills that he routinely uses as a personal historian and genealogist.
When he is wearing his WHBM hat, Dahlberg works to bring in more than $1 million in contributions by juggling fundraising, event planning, solicitation roles and more. Thankfully, he is quite comfortable doing many things at once due in part to the adept juggling act he mastered as a Hiram student.
As he looks toward the future, Dahlberg hopes to do more radio reporting and documentary work – preferably as a full-time reporter. He took a step in that direction when he produced his first radio documentary in February 2014 on an unsolved murder in his hometown. In producing this project, he continued to draw from his Hiram research experience. Getting interviewees to talk in comprehensible, engaging and in-depth ways about subjects they are passionate about takes special kind of skills. In Dahlberg’s case these skills were acquired and then honed though his various Hiram projects. Luckily, these skills are directly transferable to the ones he needs today to advance his career.
“At Hiram you develop great writing and research skills and it opens the doors to a number of jobs and careers,” Dahlberg says. “Hiram understands that a major needs to lead graduates to a set of career practices and activities that bring satisfaction and joy, rather than to an exact position or title.”
Erin (Hoskins) Witthoft ’08
Hiram College’s study-abroad program drew Erin (Hoskins) Witthoft ’08 in, and she hasn’t looked back. During her junior year at Hiram, she took her first overseas journey, studying African professional life and nation building in Tanzania. She now works as a teacher in Kuwait, where the Hiram values of inclusivity, openness and social responsibility continue to frame her everyday life.
Though Hiram fostered her interest in worldly issues, Witthoft’s desire to study abroad first began at home.
“My parents did a really good job of talking about what was going on in the news,” says Witthoft, who majored in middle childhood education. “I really wanted to see what a Third World country actually experienced. Growing up watching the news, I saw so much devastation, food crises and natural disasters. I felt like I wouldn’t fully understand it until I witnessed it myself.”
She saw much of that during the three weeks she spent in Tanzania, and her time there confirmed an idea she had already been tossing around: Someday, she would like to work overseas. Her future husband and boyfriend at the time, Andy Witthoft ’08, also was open to the idea. The two had been classmates in Hiram’s education program. Andy, an American citizen, grew up in Hong Kong, so international travel was nothing new to him.
“Both of us were willing to move and be open-minded about teaching within the States or abroad,” she says. “I don’t know that either one of us would have been satisfied if the other wasn’t willing to travel.”
The two married shortly after graduation and worked in Colorado for a few years before taking the plunge and moving to Kuwait in 2013. Now, they both teach at the Universal American School in Hawally, Kuwait.
Witthoft’s study-abroad experience played an important part in helping her discover her calling, and both she and Andy say Hiram’s overall culture of inclusivity and exploration (of ideas, opportunities and places) reinforced their interest in global perspectives. The support from faculty and staff, the emphasis that many student clubs put on diversity programs, and the approach professors took in encouraging students to talk openly about divergent opinions made their current path an easier one to travel.
Andrea Wohleber ’09
A semester-long internship on Capitol Hill gave Andrea Wohleber ’09 the confidence she needed to move to Washington, D.C. shortly after graduation to follow her calling.
She entered Hiram College as a political science major and history minor. A combination of thought-provoking classes, stimulating conversations with professors and engaged participation in the Garfield Center for Public Leadership’s Scholars program fueled her interest in the legislative process. During her senior year, she secured an internship in the office of former U.S. Rep. Betty Sutton (D-OH, 13th District), thanks to partnership between Hiram College and the University of Akron’s Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics.
“I always had it in the back of my mind that I wanted to do something with the legislative process,” Wohleber recalls. “I didn’t know until my internship what that meant.”
After returning from her internship, Wohleber applied her hands-on experience to classroom theories in a senior honors project where she analyzed how much influence congressional staffers have on the policy process. At the same time, many of her classmates were struggling to identify what they wanted to do after graduation. This project helped things come full circle. She knew exactly where she wanted her studies to take her.
She moved to D.C. four months after graduating, taking on another internship that had been lined up and working part time at Home Depot to supplement her income. Soon, a contact she had made from her first internship with Rep. Sutton invited her to apply for a full-time job within the office, where she stayed until the start of the 2012 election.
At Hiram, Wohleber developed the skills and clarified the values that fostered legislative success both as an intern and employee. She credits Hiram’s interdisciplinary and writing-intensive curriculum and the exposure to and interactions with diverse people and ideologies with teaching her the hard and soft skills essential to her success.
“So much of what we do is communicating our position on proposals. This involves a lot of writing, and you really need to write well to succeed,” Wohleber says. “Sometimes I’m communicating with offices that agree with us, and sometimes I’m not. Understanding individual opinions and finding ways to work through disagreements is a big part of my job. I remember having those types of discussions in political science classes. That’s definitely a skill I use here.”
It’s been fewer than 10 years since graduation, but Wohleber feels confident she is where she is supposed to be – personally and professionally. Now, seven years later, she works in D.C. as a legislative and regulatory representative for the Transportation Trades Department, a coalition of 32 unions representing transportation workers. Here, she draws from her personal values and Midwestern middle-class roots, along with her academic skills and interests for analyzing legislation and policy, to make a difference in people’s lives. Her initial internship and Hiram College education are much of what led her to this point.