Venture for America

By Guest Contributor

If you’re currently a senior, a super-senior or an ambitious more youthful individual, you are probably beginning to have some existential thoughts as you look towards life after Middlebury. As Middlebury students, we spend our college careers in a place that is remote in all senses of the word. It is far in mileage and vibe from the hustle and bustle of big cities where post-college jobs seem most attainable and impressive. Its beauty and scenery set it apart. And, most dauntingly, what we spend our time thinking about seems light years away from the nebulous duties or requirement documented by any “real world” job description.

A recent article from Fast Company – fun fact: Fast Company Editor-at-Large, Rick Tetzeli, is a Midd grad – titled How to Get a Job of the Future with a Liberal Arts Degree quotes a dean from Pomona who says: “the liberal arts connect with a person’s authentic self.”

At Middlebury, the remoteness – again, in all senses of the word – compounds this experience. We dive deeply into this community and explore all corners of it, without a lot of distraction.

At Middlebury I followed my gut and pursued what interested me with some blind faith that it would lead me to a good place after graduation. I did MiddCORE and worked for Liz Robinson. I did projects in film and narrative journalism, worked in the costume shop and at Admissions. I spent a summer working for the Vermont Folklife Center in town. But despite how jam-packed and seemingly productive my college years had been, in the fall of my senior year, I was overwhelmed at figuring out my next steps.

I first learned about Venture for America the summer before my senior year, but I dismissed the idea of pursuing it. I was skeptical that it was for someone with my personality, interests and “skills.” I didn’t necessarily – or really at all – want to start my own business someday, and people from other schools had majored in things that sounded real and useful –  like “business” or “big data human capital systems management theory” – and it felt far away from my thoroughly liberal arts experience. I thought my background would weigh down the speed and progress of a startup or small company because I would have too much to learn to contribute.

But as the year progressed and I began to reconsider, I figured I might as well apply. As I got farther through the vetting process I was more and more hooked on being part of the program. Accepting my offer to be a fellow has proven to be the best decision I could have made.

It turns out that at small companies everyone is handling new things all of the time, and being an asset to your company is about learning fast and not being afraid to Google/Lynda/phone call your way to victory. At Middlebury, we’re good at this. We take classes among departments, learn from our friends and are not afraid to dabble. It turns out that having a legitimate sounding major is not necessarily all that helpful. The most important thing for the turbulent and fast-paced life of a startup is knowing how you learn best, and then learning as much as you can and putting it into action.

VFA is not for everyone, but it might be for you.  It’s for people who are eager to add value, contribute to community and learn with eagerness, humility and grace. If you’ve spent your Middlebury career exploring and dabbling and connecting to your true self I encourage you to apply.

Join me (and new Venture for America Fellow Brandon Gell ‘16) at Carol’s on Sunday, October 11th from 3-4:30 to discuss VFA, the application process and how your experience might translate to a life-changing experience as a Venture for America Fellow.

Joanie Thompson ‘14 is currently in the second year of her Venture for America fellowship working as Producer at Bluecadet Interactive in Philadelphia.

Other Middlebury Alumni VFA Fellows: Peter DiPrinzio ‘13, Astrid Schanz-Garbassi ‘12, Taylor Sundali ‘12, Alex Bea ‘12, Camille Seyler ‘14, Kurt Alles ‘14.5 and (almost alum) Brandon Gell ‘16