From Scholar Coach to "Corporate Life"

By Claire Reeder 01/13/2015

As my term of service as an AmeriCorps volunteer with Schuler came to a close in the summer of 2013, I reached out to my friends, my college alumni network, my LinkedIn network, and probably to a few random job postings, just for good measure. The search for “what’s next?” kicked into full gear. It helped to look around and learn from my Scholar Coach colleagues who were going through the same process, though we were headed in a many different directions: medical school, graduate school across disciplines, other non-profit organizations, global travel or other positions in educational access and success.

My two years of direct engagement with Schuler Scholars made a meaningful impact on me, both personally and professionally. In my next role, I wanted to seek out a new perspective on organizations to complement my direct service experience. While looking for a job, I aimed for positions at another non-profit, this time on the management side in development or community relations.

As things tend to go, my net snagged on a different opportunity all together—and in the for-profit sector, no less. I am currently a Practice Management Analyst at Axiom Law. Axiom is the world’s largest and fastest growing non-law firm provider of legal services and partners with corporate legal departments, including over half of the Fortune 100, across 16 offices globally. I focus on business development and client management with technology and professional services companies based here in Chicago and the Midwest.

My term of service as an AmeriCorps Scholar Coach taught me several important career lessons that helped me navigate the transition from Schuler to Axiom. I believe these lessons are helpful for young professionals in particular as you navigate the noisy route of your early career. I’ve used these learnings to not only move smoothly from the non-profit to the for-profit sector, but to help inform the next critical steps in my career development.

Here’s what I have defined as three important takeaways from my time with the Schuler Scholar Program:

1. Your colleagues are critical. Care about them, and for them.

Many of my Scholar Coach colleagues were not just co-workers but true friends, passionate teachers, and important mentors. They were sounding boards on program development or challenging situations. The Scholars Coaches with whom I shared Schuler housing were constant companions, from the commute to mealtimes. They were majority fellow liberal arts college alums and understood what it’s like to come of age at a school of around 1500 students, likely situated in the middle of nowhere. What I took away from this immersive experience with other young professionals is that your colleagues are critical: to happiness, to success, to influencing your professional network, to deepening your core values. My colleagues at Axiom still fill many of these roles in my life, and I learned from my experience at Schuler that it’s important to let them do that.

My experience at Schuler taught me to prioritize my colleagues when seeking a new opportunity and in my day-to-day work. My Axiom teammates strive to grow client relationships and hit revenue targets with similar drive to my Schuler teammates striving to best prepare Scholars for matriculation and success at top private colleges. No matter what your shared goals, find people with whom you’re excited to embark on a journey.

2. Know what gets you up in the morning, on a granular level. 

There is a lot of noise in the world (worthy noise, but noise nonetheless) about finding work that makes you happy, following your heart, doing what you’re passionate about, “if you find what you love then you never work a day in your life”….you get the point. This is easier said than done. Work is work—and it should be, or you aren’t in a challenging enough role. So start basic.

What do you care about, at its root? At Schuler, I realized in strong relief that I care about building and deepening relationships. I love advising and mentoring. I want to help people get better and reach levels of success they didn’t know they could. Working closely with Scholars was a clear way to translate my personal motivators into my everyday work. So when I was seeking a new position after my term of service, I kept coming back to the thread of relationships that I knew made me feel engaged and useful.

I’ve learned that business is based on relationships. At Axiom, I spend a large portion of my time working with my team to creatively grow and provide service to our client partners, managing and deepening those business relationships. Working with an innovative-model company, I get to go out and tell clients that there is a potentially better way to do things. I help support our stance as a trusted advisor to clients when selling Axiom’s services. The “client” may look markedly different in these two roles—an attorney versus a high school student—but the same ideas are there, and they keep me hustling.

3. Be part of something bigger than yourself.

At the Scholar Coach farewell luncheon, I joked that I was heading off to start my new “corporate life.” Moving from the non-profit to the for-profit sector required a certain identity shift for me, as someone who embarked on her career heading squarely in the non-profit direction. I realize now that my original view of the corporate space as a land of Big Business and suits lacked any nuance. What matters isn’t necessarily the sector you’re in, but the larger mission that you are helping to further in this world. Find a mission that resonates with you and makes a positive impact towards helping make that vision a reality. When I’m tired, stressed, sick of solving problems, driven crazy by tasks, that’s where I turn. I come back to what motivates me—doing things better and connecting with people—exhale, and get back down to business.

It’s in reflection that these lessons become clear. What I hope for both myself and for other Scholar Coaches (and Scholars as you move into the professional world) is that these learnings not only create clarity around the past, but drive the future. I hope to attend a top business school and earn an MBA (something I never thought I’d do before meeting Jack Schuler!) so that I can learn more about how organizations work, how to be an effective manager and leader, and how to influence positive change in people’s lives and work. I certainly didn’t plan to be where I am now when I first accepted my position as a Scholar Coach, but it laid the foundation for me to move forward with perspective and confidence. 

Claire Reeder graduated from Grinnell College in 2011 and spent two years as an AmeriCorps Scholar Coach at Round Lake High School, where she worked with Schuler Scholars and managed the Reading Enrichment Program for RLHS. Thanks, Claire, for contributing to the Schuler blog!

Claire (second from right) with her fellow Round Lake Scholar Coaches during AmeriCorps Week 2013.

Claire (second from right) with her fellow Round Lake Scholar Coaches during AmeriCorps Week 2013.

Claire (left) with AmeriCorps alumnae and former Round Lake Scholar Coaches at the AmeriCorps Farewell Luncheon in 2013.

Claire (left) with AmeriCorps alumnae and former Round Lake Scholar Coaches at the AmeriCorps Farewell Luncheon in 2013.

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