Adaptation: The case for professional versatility in a windy world

The evolution in you

All of us hold the capacity for dramatic transformation. (We wouldn’t be here as a species or as professionals if we didn’t.) And while Nebraska Wesleyan holds no patent on adaptability, we are particularly good at fostering its hallmarks—creativity, courage and concentration—in our graduates.

The flexibility NWU instilled is what Aaron Oppliger (’98) values most about his education. Over his short career, he’s worked in editing, publishing, consulting and marketing. “I couldn’t have done this without a strong, multifaceted education.”

Oppliger’s recent work marketing products in multiple industries has required several adaptations. “Learning to market everything from credit cards to fabric cutters to rubber ducks has definitely given me confidence.”

In each case, Oppliger said, it’s about understanding where others are coming from. “I’m able to think of quilting like a 55-year-old woman would. (How can I minimize my fabric cutting and get to the sewing?) Or I can consider party planning as if I had a 10-year-old daughter who really loves princesses.”

He links that ability to understand and relate to others directly to his liberal arts education. “The liberal arts exposed me to such varied topics as Native American history and organic chemistry,” he said. “Professors were constantly challenging us to look at things from many different perspectives.

“It’s not just what I learned in the classroom, though. The people I met while at Nebraska Wesleyan shaped my ability to relate to people different than myself,” Oppliger said. They often challenged me to think of things in ways that I might not have otherwise considered.”

While the value of that flexibility, understanding and openness is clear to him now, that wasn’t immediately the case. Alumni often absorb those hallmarks so completely that they’re slow to appreciate their value.

“Students struggle at times to recognize the connection between the skills they developed during their college experience and the needs and wants of employers,” said Andreini. “They often don’t realize how marketable they are because they don’t see the connection between their own skills and experiences and the position requirements.”

Despite this economy’s stark challenges, Andreini is heartened to watch students entering—and alumni reentering—the job market year after year. She sees “exactly what we want to see students and alumni doing—really being proactive and taking charge of their careers.” She said, “We know that it’s those people who are opening as many doors as possible, searching in the widest variety of arenas, and taking advantage of networking opportunities who are finding the most success.” Call it putting yourself in position to evolve.