Risa Lynn Schloss Nielsen
Lives in: Munich, Germany
Attended: Westminster College
Degree: B.A. in English (2006) 

Risa infographicEnglish major. World traveler. Straight talker. Risa is currently living in Munich, Germany and working as a “Küchenhelfer” (a pseudo fry cook) at an American style diner. She says, “a successful life is one where, at the end, you feel satisfied with your accomplishments and at peace with all that you’ve achieved and haven’t achieved.” Risa points out that it’s difficult not to “fall for the classic misconception that your profession and your salary measure your success,” and that she prefers to measure success by deriving personal satisfaction from helping others.

On how college education helped her to achieve success:

it helped me accomplish my goal of a good education, as well as critical thinking skills and relatively good communication skills. It also helped me achieve success/personal satisfaction as it opened doors to new people and new points of view, which have influenced the way I live and think. On a side note, I also met my spouse at college, which was a different kind of education but has so far been very successful.”

How financial aid contributed: As with many students, Risa has experienced something of a mixed bag in terms of financial aid. It can be an advantage, but also a major responsibility to consider post-college. In her own words,

“I wouldn’t have been able to attend any college without financial aid. However, as much as I appreciated the financial aid/scholarships and loved the education I received, the remaining student loans have been a burden for almost 10 years now. The student loans have hindered my success as I have felt too overwhelmed financially to pursue further education, and I have not been able to find higher level employment based solely on my BA degree. It could be argued that the financial aid convinced me to attend a school that was significantly more expensive than other options, where I would have had a better start in life financially.”

What advice do you have for college students to help them have the most successful educational experience possible?

It’s important to find a focus for your education to help you into a place in the job market. As Risa puts it:

“Go to school and learn, but figure out a specific direction to shoot for and do all you can to focus in that area, molding your educational experience as you go…find the internships, the mentors, the shadow opportunities, anything you can to find your niche.”

Jason Shepherd
Lives in: Salt Lake City, Utah
Attended: University of Otago (New Zealand); University of California, Irvine; Johns Hopkins University; Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Degrees: B.Sc. in Neuroscience (with honors), 2002; Ph.D. in Neuroscience, 2008

Jason infographic

Neuroscientist. Native New Zealander. Avid hiker and talented photographer. Jason is currently an Assistant Professor of Neurobiology and Anatomy at the University of Utah, having earned degrees from several prestigious universities. His definition of success is highly individualized: “A successful life is one lived full and well. Set goals and dreams, achieve those personal milestones, and you are a success no matter what those dreams are.”

On how college helped him achieve success: It’s hard to become a professor without a formal education! Jason attributes his success to a strategic and well-planned progression through his college education; “I majored in Neuroscience as an undergraduate and stayed in this field/career path ever since.” Taking the time to carefully research and choose a major early can save you time, frustration, and quite a lot of tuition in the long run.

His experience with financial aid: As an undergraduate from New Zealand, Jason identifies a few critical steps where financial aid made all the difference for him.

“Receiving an Exchange Abroad scholarship as an undergrad allowed me to do research at the University of California, Irvine, which set me up for applying to grad school in the USA.”

Even more unusually, Jason actually turned down a final interview for the Rhodes Scholarship from Oxford University and a Prince of Wales Commonwealth from Cambridge (both in the UK), because he wanted to study for his Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University in the United States. As Jason puts it,

“Sometimes you need to choose the best place in the world for your needs/career, not because of name recognition or status.”

He credits his background from a small New Zealand undergraduate institution with keeping him humble and grateful for the scholarships and opportunities he was afforded.

Jason’s advice for college students: This is a great opportunity for insight, since Jason is a college professor at the University of Utah. He says that critical thinking is everything! Regardless of your specific major, be sure to focus on:

  • Acquiring critical thinking skills
  • Enjoying your undergraduate education
  • Seeking out all opportunities, academic or otherwise

Jason believes that “the most successful students are the ones that show gumption, curiosity, and humbleness,” emphasizing that hard work and consideration will serve you well in the end.

Well, that’s it for this week’s installment of our Education & Success series! Keep an eye out for next Thursday’s post featuring two more outstanding folks and their journeys to success.

Sumiko Martinez is a Community Outreach Officer with the Utah Higher Education Assistance Authority (UHEAA). Learn more about Sumiko at sumikomartinez.com, and connect with her on Twitter @SumikoMartinez.