STEM career panel features community college alumni for student success in professional world


Yane An

Former community college students give professional advice

Professionals in science, technology, engineering and math fields who were also former community college students shared encouragement and advice to students pursuing careers at the STEM career panel on May 3.

The program was planned in collaboration with Yvette Campbell, Director of the STEM Success Program, Helen Pang of Career Services and Ashley Phillips of Workforce Education.

Campbell said it’s important for students to understand their pathways, so they tried to get alumni from De Anza.

The most popular panelist was Erik Peterson, a De Anza alumni. He worked at a software engineer at IBM until working at his own company. He advised students not only to network, but follow up.

Peterson said attitude is very key, and to make sure companies’ cultures fit them. “Recognizing the culture and politics is something I wish I had known,” he said.

Panelist Alexa Jackson encouraged students to find and reach out to programs.

“You’d be amazed what you can find when you google something you’re interested in,” Jackson said. “Don’t limit yourself and think oh, I could never do that. If you actually reach out, you’ll find that a lot of people respond and are willing to help.”

Panelist Ashley Silva is a former Ohlone College student who works as an emergency nurse at Sutter Hospital. To students in nursing programs she said, “Don’t give up, and don’t listen to all the negativity that’s out there. … If you’re really passionate about it, just do what it takes.”

Silva also said to give it your all once you get into the field.

Speaker Henry Canon works as a clinical laboratory scientist at the El Camino Hospital of Silicon Valley. He emphasized that it doesn’t matter where one starts at a hospital. “You have to get your foot in there,” he said. He said people who started in the kitchen can prove themselves and end up in the lab.

“Students realize that these are the types of careers that they can achieve if they continue with their education,” Campbell said. “Now there’s so many different careers and so many different opportunities, and I just want to expose that to students.”

James Luther, 20, civil engineering major, said he came to receive as much help as possible from the panelists. “There were some very good advice from the people here,” he said.

Jennifer Alex, 19, biology major, said she attended because her math teacher gave extra credit to students who attended.

“It was really cool how all these professionals started out at community college. A lot of the times going to community college is looked down upon, and people think you can’t get places,” Alex said. “It was really encouraging to see how far these people had come.”