Where are they now? Recent college grads carve out new opportunities despite pandemic

As COVID wreaked havoc on the nation’s workforce, leaving many experienced people jobless, it also created an even more competitive environment for young adults struggling to land that first full-time job after our college graduation. 

To illustrate the experience, 83 Degrees checked in on six out of about 2,400 recent graduates from the University of Tampa as examples of next gen workers on the front side of finding their way in life despite the challenges. 

Here they share what they’re doing, their goals and aspirations for the future, some hardships encountered along the way, and successes and worries as they transition into this next chapter of their lives. 

Johannes Ali, Major in Biology, University of TampaJohannes Ali
Major in Biology 
Double minor in Chemistry and Psychology
Brother of Kappa Kappa Psi (National Honorary Band Fraternity); jazz band, wind ensemble, orchestra; two-year Resident Assistant; orientation leader; student member of the American Chemistry Society (SMACS).

Originally from Vienna, Austria, Johannes Ali arrived in the U.S. as an international student to attend the University of Tampa and graduated as one of UT’s first students from Austria, obtaining a bachelor’s degree in biology. With plans of eventually going to medical school to qualify him for his dream job working as a Doctor of Osteopathic medicine, the pandemic pushed back the process in his application, putting those plans on pause for a bit. He decided to take this year as a gap year. He’s currently working as a research associate at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, which he had set up prior to graduation.

He’s part of a lab that focuses on immunotherapy and COVID research. His end goal remains to become a physician. He has started applying to various medical schools for the next year but is happy he has a job in the field he enjoys in the meantime.

“The job market is terrible right now,’’ says Ali. “I don’t appreciate the ‘I need one to two years of professional field experience straight out of undergrad’ especially with the pandemic. A lot of the time this requirement isn’t met, and it demoralizes a lot of us.”

He attributes his fast turnaround in finding a job to his professors and all the guidance they offered.
“I went up to them almost every single class and they helped me look for different opportunities,” Ali says. The connections are what landed him on the right path. “Biology is already a competitive field with a smaller pay grade, most often I see my friends being forced to move into grad school to increase their chances of landing a job.” 

To manage his finances, Ali plans on working for a meal delivery service in his free time. 

“I am excited to be in a professional setting in something that I have wanted to work towards,” Ali says. “The next step for me is a steppingstone, however, I will work hard to make sure I can make it to the final step of med school.”

Sydney Rhodes
Major in Journalism
Minor in Sports Management
Editor-in-Chief of The Minaret, UT’s student newspaper; previous news editor, multimedia editor, and staff writer for The Minaret; recipient of the Communications Department’s Outstanding Journalist Award (2019-2020); previous student writer for both UT’s Office of Information and Publications and UT’s athletics website tampaspartans.com; women’s cross country and women’s track and field captain; multi-recipient of NCAA All-Academic awards.

Sydney Rhodes, Major in Journalism, University of TampaWorking a summer job as a server, Rhodes returned to UT this Fall to pursue her Master of Arts in Social and Emerging Media while continuing to compete in cross country and track.

“So far the program has been really great. The courses are very immersive and hands-on,” Rhodes says. “I love that the 20-25 students in the course stay together throughout the entire program. That way we’re able to build connections and professional relationships with one another. I’m really excited to develop my skills in content creation and digital marketing even further which will hopefully help me get a step further in my future career.”

After gaining her master’s, she plans on relocating to a new city to build her career working in digital marketing, social media management, overall content creation, or sports communications. 

With how the current job market is with the effects of COVID, she’s hoping that staying in school for another year will bring her more career opportunities. Originally from Phoenix, AZ, the main thing that drew Rhodes to Tampa was the opportunity she was given with the cross country and track team, however, the area also helped influence her overall career goals. 

“By being located in a city, I quickly realized how important marketing for any organization or business large or small is,” Rhodes says. 

In getting a position as a social media manager and graphic designer for a small marketing agency located in downtown, she also quickly realized her true passions. 

“I’m excited to grow and expand my knowledge in the digital marketing and media industry and am also looking forward to developing new skills during my studies in the MASEM program,” Rhodes says. “Studying journalism specifically allowed me to dip into many platforms such as writing, video, photography, and knowledge of online presence.” 

Although there are many job opportunities in the digital marketing, social media, and PR industries, the field has continued to become more competitive. “I’m hoping that completing a masters will help me stand out as well as getting as much experience in the industry as possible,” Rhodes says. 

Jacie Steele
Major in Marketing and Communications
Involved in volunteer organizations; the American Marketing Association; led a marketing agency; worked for the university as a tour guide; sister to Delta Gamma Fraternity; certifications in Google analytics, ads display, ads search, ads measurement, ads video, and ad shopping; and HubSpot inbound sales and digital marketing.

Jacie Steele, Major in Marketing and Communications, University of TampaGrowing up as a military child, Steele never had one designated place where she grew up or place that she would consider to be home. Tampa drew her in with its atmosphere, people, and weather, knowing that she could go to the beach, kayak, and explore the outdoors for the majority of the year. She’s continuing her education at UT to earn her Master’s in Social and Emerging Media, while she works as a Social Media Marketer for a nonprofit, SOFWERX.

“I love to learn and there is more knowledge and practice I know I have yet to gain. I am never done learning and creating stronger skills,” Steele says. “I have many different career aspirations and I know my business skills and creative mindset that I have practiced throughout my educational journey will play a large part in my occupational success.” 

Fortunately, Steele was able to work a few jobs throughout the pandemic. Although she says the job market is always going to be competitive to a certain degree, she believes that people should not allow that to discourage them. 

“There are so many opportunities arising currently and as long you are passionate about what you do and you have spent the time to build a strong skill set, you will be sure to find a practical and enjoyable opportunity, which is why I stand out,” Steele says.
Her professors have played a crucial part in helping her feel prepared for life after college as she’s earned not only internships, but roles throughout clubs and organizations within the university. 

The reality of paying more bills is what she’s most worried about. She’s saving as much as she can while, fortunately, still having her family for help. Working during the day, she makes sure to give herself time afterwards to do what she loves and spend time with those who matter most to her. Though the thought of finances is heavy on her mind, she’s most excited to get more involved within her career and have more time to give back to the community through volunteering. 

“People will struggle when looking for a job, that is part of the job search, but never give up. Keep looking,” Steele says. “Finding a job you love is never really easy, but if it was, then what would be the fun or reward in finding it?” 

Anna Sojka
Major in Accounting 
Resident assistant for two years; member of Beta Alpha Psi; Executive Vice President of Beta Alpha Psi senior year and will continue this position in grad school; member of Beta Gamma Sigma.

Anna Sojka, Major in Accounting, University of TampaDuring the spring semester of her freshman year, Anna Sojka, originally from New England, transferred to the University of Tampa after visiting the school for a weekend to see a friend. Already planning to transfer, seeing the campus made her finalize her plans to finish her schooling in Tampa. 

Sojka spent the summer working an accounting internship and is studying now to get her master’s in accounting to help her obtain her CPA license. She doesn’t have a job set up for when she completes her grad school next spring, but with accounting firms still having busy Spring seasons, she says she doesn’t expect that COVID will affect her job search very much.  

“I was very involved during my time at The University of Tampa and these activities allowed me to network with lots of professionals in the Tampa Bay Area, which helped me obtain my internships this year,” Sojka says. “I am just overall happy with where I am at and am extremely grateful for these past four years.” 

In terms of financing, working full-time during the summer allowed her to provide for herself. And while she’s in school, her family is helping her out. 

“My current career goals involve finding a position at a firm that I really admire and see myself at in Tampa. I am both excited and nervous as I am happy to be staying in Tampa with a great internship and plan to continue my education,” Sojka says. “I am a little nervous for what’s to come after that but know that when the time comes, I will be prepared to face it.”

“These four years have prepared me to start a new life here in Tampa and become a stronger and more independent person,” Sojka says. 

Preston Wimbish, Major in Journalism and Communication and Speech Studies, University of TampaPreston Wimbish
Major in Journalism and Communication and Speech Studies
Photo editor, photographer, and staff writer for University of Tampa’s student newspaper, The Minaret; tutor in the Center for Public Speaking; student researcher under the board of fellows; Black Student Union.

Preston Wimbish grew up in Maryland about 15 minutes outside of D.C. 

“I wanted a change, I wanted to move away from everything and see if I could find myself down in Tampa,” Wimbish says. “I just felt like I belonged here.” 

As the four years of college flew by, he’s now looking to settle into his career, before going back to school in a few years to get his masters and possibly work toward getting a doctorate degree to pursue becoming a professor. 

Wimbish recently moved to Colorado to start a new job with the Youth Sports Photography Network. He’s still working toward his goal of being a photojournalist, but he thinks he will spend a good amount of time with this new company to learn as much as possible. A few weeks ago, he had the opportunity to be on the ice at a pro hockey arena taking photos.

The most difficult part of finding his first job? Waiting to hear back after applying for the jobs he wanted most.

“I started to expand my job search to different jobs that I hadn’t necessarily been looking into at first,” Wimbish says. “I’ve been applying to jobs all over the country since I haven’t been able to find a job in the place that I want to be.” 

In terms of long-term goals, he sees himself as an anchor reporting on local news. 

“My overall college experience taught me something about resilience, coming in not knowing what to do and continuing to try out new things, I had friends dropping out, but I continued trying out new things until I found something that I fell in love with and stuck with it until I completed my degree,” Wimbish says. “Resilience was something that kept me here and what I learned throughout this experience.” 

Certain classes have made such an impact as he looks on toward the next steps in his life, making him not only a better communicator, but better equipped to exist in the world.
“Something I’m nervous about is just the uncertainty about it. So far in my life, it’s been ‘you’re going to school’,” Wimbish says. “But right now, it’s like what are you going to be doing in two weeks, three weeks, a month, six months, I have no clue.”

Amanda Zaino, Major in Marine Science-Biology, University of TampaAmanda Zaino
Major in Marine Science-Biology
Scuba and snorkel club; volunteer at the Florida Aquarium.

University of Tampa’s marine science program is what drew Amanda Zaino to Florida from her hometown in New York. With plans to work for a couple of years before deciding if she should do more schooling, she’s been working unrelated jobs while applying to jobs in Florida, hoping to stay close to Tampa. 

She’s found the whole job search experience to be frustrating, but it has taught her that it takes a lot of effort, passion, and time to get that perfect job.

With help from her parents, she’s been able to stay afloat while she figures out what's next. Although it’s a huge jump from being in school, she's happy and eager to be starting a life that doesn’t revolve around classes 24/7.

“It’s hard to say yet what my overall goal is, I would want to find a career I’m at least going to enjoy and want to wake up every day to go to,” Zaino says. “I have been trying to take the time to enjoy everything in Tampa [in case] I don’t end up staying and working here.”

Spending hundreds of hours volunteering with the Florida Aquarium in different departments, she’s gotten to meet people in her field and make professional connections.

“I try to make myself stand out because of all of the experience I’ve gotten over the years at different facilities,” Zaino says. “I try to do as much variety in my field as I can so I’m not limited.” 

Lauren Wong, also a recent UT grad, has taken a full-time time job as a travel writer and photographer for a PR firm in Arizona.
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Read more articles by Lauren Wong.

Lauren Wong is a graduate of the University of Tampa with a degree in journalism who is freelancing while she looks for a full-time job. Originally from the Chicago area, she enjoys travel and aspires to be a travel photojournalist. During the summer of 2019, she worked for Premier Travel Media in Chicago and as a correspondent for Input Fort Wayne, another Issue Media group online magazine based in Indiana. She loves spending time outdoors camping, kayaking, and taking pictures.