February 18, 2021

  • “I’m worried I’ll constantly be struggling financially, and I’ll never really get to a settled place in life.”
  • “As a first-generation college student, I wonder if I am doing what is right for me because I worry that I am not following my own path.”
  • “I worry sometimes that I won’t be able to deliver in person what I have presented on paper.”
  • “I’m worried about the sacrifices I may have to make and if they will be worth it.”

These are just some of the fears students shared during the Break Through panel Let’s Keep Talking … With Alumni of Color: Facing Fears in Careers.

Alumni Tia Banks ’16, public relations and social media strategist, John C. (CJ) Williams ’17, associate director of admission at Perkiomen School, and Lisa Lim ’14, program coordinator at Penn State University, tried to assuage these fears by sharing their own experiences and the tips they’ve learned along the way. Viulka Arias Guzman ’15, English teacher with Camelot Education, moderated the panel.

On following your own path:

Banks entered SU with the intention of going to medical school, but trouble with chemistry caused her to rethink her future. “As a first-generation college student, I felt a lot of pressure to make a lot of money and to make my mom proud. But once I took chemistry, it went downhill from there,” Banks said. “I thought, how am I going to tell my mother?”

Banks changed her major to communications, and not works as an independent consultant in public relations and social media strategy, and added that she eventually told her mother of her major change, “and ultimately, she was happy for me,” she said.

Williams also faced trying to follow his own dreams while pleasing his family, leaving his home state of Pennsylvania to work in Los Angeles.

“When I told my mom I was leaving she cried,” Williams said. “But I had to bet on myself.”

On debt:

“Don’t rush moving out if you don’t have to,” Banks said. “Make the little sacrifices to keep yourself in a good financial position, like skipping the bar and lunches out.”

“Know your worth,” Lim said. “I think a lot of women don’t negotiate when they get to that salary point. The worst that can happen when you ask is they say no.”

On confidence:

Fake it till you make it, our alums advised – not the skills part, but the confidence part, until eventually the confidence is real.

“I went into jobs thinking I’m not good enough and that maybe I didn’t know as much as I thought I knew,” Banks added. “And people came in knowing less, but they were confident and management responds to that.”

On sacrifice:

After Banks graduated, she landed an internship opportunity – but it was unpaid.

“I had no car and had to walk to the train station every day – and it was a long walk followed by a two-hour commute,” Banks said. “But I knew this was what I was going to have to do to get to where I wanted.”

Lim also took some risk, leaving the comfort of living with her family and a secure job to pursue her master’s degree.

“I quit a job I was financially secure in to go do something I didn’t know was going to work out,” Lim said. “The risk is up to you to determine if it’s worth it.”