Student perspective on the Career Trek to D.C.

Cody Ferguson, [email protected], News Writer

A single trip often defines the childhood of many and for the students in D.C. there was a single trip to try and define our adulthood.  

The Career Center at UNC Asheville has revived the Career Trek program after several years of COVID-19 related roadblocks. This trip to D.C. is the first of many to come on a semester-by-semester basis for the students of UNCA. 

There were 17 students who attended, and all of us were taken by plane straight from Asheville to D.C. The flight was short, the wait in the airport was long and Reagan Airport was beautiful as the cherry blossoms were just blooming when we arrived on a Saturday afternoon during spring break. 

This trip was to last the entirety of spring break week at UNCA but there was no cost and no barrier to entry outside of submitting a good application. 

This trip was amazing for many of us and the great majority of students came home with stacks of business cards from all the amazing people we had met. 

“My favorite day of the trip was when we went through the rotunda and saw Capitol Hill in all of its glory. I saw so much history and the true colors of our country were displayed. From baptisms of Pocahontas to a bust of Martin Luther King Jr. sitting amidst a history told by slave owners. A lot of reflection took place in that building for me,” philosophy major and senior at UNCA Alessandra Sanders said.

Political science major and senior at UNCA Peter Manelski also loved touring Capitol Hill and being able to see a little bit of the ‘behind the scenes’ action from staff during our tour. A close second for him, however, was the alumni reception set up by Assistant Director of Engagement at UNCA Michelle Olson.

The alumni dinner was an opportunity for the students on the trip to see what UNCA students have already accomplished and to be assured that they can make it to D.C. if they want to.

There’s a secret to making it in D.C. according to alumni Adam Schnapp.

“You need a want for learning and good communication,” Schnapp said.

UNCA is a big university with a lot of resources people don’t take the time to use, and many alumni at the dinner mentioned wishing they had taken advantage of the resources.

“There’s no shame in taking an extra year and exploring everything at your fingertips,” alumna Chloe Gagin said.

Manelski was encouraged by seeing just how many former UNCA students had made it into D.C. after graduation. 

With a mix of majors going on this trip, the sites selected were for a variety of career paths and not every site was exciting for the attending students.

“I was not excited to see the Department of Labor, but it ended up being super interesting! They rolled out the red carpet for us and there are way more agencies in the DOL than I thought,” Manelski said.

This trip was something to remember for all of us and it made me realize the vast area of opportunity I have within my major.

“I didn’t think work would be as accessible due to stereotypes and stigma around my (philosophy) major. I was thoroughly impressed by the breadth of options out there,” Sanders said.

There was a department where everyone could fit in and no one would feel left out.

“I had a great time on the trip. It was great to get to know so many people and the number of sites we got to see was crazy. Between the capitol, the Department of Justice, Department of Labor, think tanks and universities, it is hard to see what could have been improved,” Manelski said.

Sanders felt supported by the university throughout this entire trip, and she said she’s never going to accept the criticisms of her major in the future.

“I feel a lot more confident as a person after this trip. I learned that I have been selling myself short. I felt discouraged by many people for being a philosophy major but the professionals and hiring managers were consistently adamant about me applying due to my critical thinking skills,” Sanders said.

There is no doubt the Career Center put a lot of effort into making this trip something special for everyone, especially the seniors getting ready to go out into the professional world.

“I’m very excited to be able to bring students into these opportunities” Associate Director for Employer Relations David Earnhardt said.