Senior English major Juwan Guinyard interviews 2012 English alum John Burklew about working in local government, finding a path in budget and finance, classes with Dr. Chandler, and the importance of developing an understanding of others' experiences.
Juwan Guinyard: What were your career goals entering your freshman year of college?
John Burklew: I honestly don’t know if I had any specific career goals at that point. All along, I have had a limited criteria for what I want to do in life. I wanted to have a rewarding job and one that was generally beneficial to the public. I also knew that I wanted a job with a good work-life balance. I started as a Psychology major in college and loved it, but after a few core courses, I realized that I didn’t want a career in that field. It was only in my junior year that I changed my major to English Language and Literature. I always had a passion for reading and writing and I knew that the degree could help me in my future.
JG: How and/or did those goals change through your tenure from either new experiences, people, what was learned in the classroom, or any other methods?
JB: I was really open to anything during college. Like you, I had to complete an internship during my senior year. I was lucky enough to find a position at a local, growing corporation. It was a good experience and I’m glad the requirement was in place. However, I came away from it knowing that the corporate world was not for me. I wanted to do something with more of a purpose, and in a more laid-back environment. Still, it wasn’t until I was in the workforce that I really started to figure out what path I wanted to take.
JG: Is what you are doing now working with the Anne Arundel County Government as a Management Assistant where you expected to end up years after graduation?
JB: Not at all! My career path chose me. My first job out of college was with Harford County Government and I spent 4 wonderful years there. I started in Human Resources and ended up working on the Budget & Purchasing team for Parks and Recreation. I quickly knew that I wanted to follow a career working with budget and finance. The folks who work in local government are wonderful people and dedicated to making a difference in their communities. The jobs also provide excellent benefits and a good work-life balance that is hard to find in the corporate world. I’m happy I can do my little part in making a difference in my community.
JG: Were there any classes that may have had an impact your growth or even just memorable?
JB: More than anything, I appreciate my eyes being opened to a world I did not know. I remember reading The Street by Ann Petry in a literature class with Dr. Chandler. I grew up in Lancaster County, PA, and ended up moving to Baltimore when I was 19. It was definitely a culture shock. My time at Stevenson allowed me to experience brilliant authors such as Petry, Ralph Ellison, and Toni Morrison. Not only did the works by these authors allow me to see differently, but they made me think differently too. In today’s world, too many people like to talk about their own experiences without listening to the experiences of others. While no one can fully understand another person’s experience, I am a better listener and thinker for taking these literature courses.
JG: What were some of the personal challenges you had to overcome on your way to obtaining a career?
JB: I had a few different setbacks and disappointments. I waited a couple years for a promised promotion that never came. I finally decided I was more valuable than that and found another new position. Unfortunately, after a week at my new job, I knew it wasn’t for me and I abruptly left it. Maybe it wasn’t my smartest move. I spent the next four months unemployed and looking for a job I actually wanted. It was really the first time I felt like I could breathe, reflect, and decide for myself how I wanted my life to go. It was a personal challenge for sure, but I have zero regrets and am now grateful for that experience.
JG: On your LinkedIn, it says that you went back to school at UMUC (University of Maryland University College) for a second bachelor’s in accounting. Can you tell me more on why you choose to obtain a second bachelor besides of course a financial position, if any.
JB: I wanted the chance to grow into a position I loved. Having been told previously that there was little upward mobility for me, I knew I would need to strengthen my educational background. I decided for a second bachelor’s as opposed to a Master’s in Business Administration because I wanted to understand the foundational framework of the Accounting field since having an English degree was so vastly different.
However, I want to stress something important. Even though I am working toward another degree now, I have no regrets at all about being an English major at Stevenson. It opened my eyes to viewpoints unlike my own. I gained a greater sense of empathy and understanding. And it developed a set of critical thinking skills that only now I have come to appreciate--and so have my supervisors! It laid the groundwork for where I am today personally and professionally, and I am proud of that achievement.
JG: Any advice you would like to give to the class of 2019 who are about to enter the workforce and even the classes of 2022/2023 who have just started deciding their own career paths?
JB: This is a hard question, because there is no magical answer and the world has changed (and will change) so much between the time I graduate and when the class of 2022 will graduate. At 30, I’m still not 100% sure how I want my career to end up. It’s okay to not know what you want to do. I have found that the best opportunities arise when you least expect it.
My experience at Stevenson taught me that I could never be too prepared. One day you’ll be thanking your former professors for putting you on the spot in the middle of the class when you didn’t finish the reading the night before. Don’t back away from professional opportunities because something is challenging or you think you might not be cut out for it. That’s the only way to grow and learn. Nobody will tell you this, but you’re going to remain a student long after you graduate college. Embrace it!