Preparation pays

When Sarah Stierwalt was a sophomore, she decided she would go to medical school after her four years at UIndy. That meant she had to make some adjustments to her academic path.

“Adding a major and changing my preprofessional concentration after sophomore year made for a crazy senior year at UIndy,” Sarah says. “But after taking too many credit hours and drinking more coffee than a human ever should, I completed a double major and pre-med concentration, on time.”

She knew she would need to add some experience to her résumé to impress med schools, but just felt she had too much on her plate to tackle a job search before graduating.

“Trying to survive my final semester with a GPA that would be acceptable for medical schools, I decided not to focus on finding a ‘grown-up’ job until after graduation,” she says. “Finding a job that would provide me with good experience for my medical school applications wasn’t going to be easy.”

She was glad in the meantime to have a job lined up in the UIndy admissions office for the summer. Sarah already had worked for three years as a Greyhound Ambassador for the office, volunteering her time to give campus tours, serve on student panels, and help with various campus events for new students.

Worry kicks in

Still, after graduating in May 2013, having double-majored in biology and psychology, Sarah started applying for related jobs. She quickly began to “stress out over the idea of never finding a job that would help me gain experience in the field and help me get into medical school,” she says.

By June she decided that she had to make a change. There would be no more worrying—“just going about my life and trying to be the best ambassador I could be,” she says. “A week later I gave a campus tour that would change my life.”

Sarah had long ago learned that working as a student ambassador in the UIndy admissions office was rewarding. She was good at it, and her enthusiasm was contagious.

“I met students every day who were trying to make one of the most important decisions of their lives,” she explains. “I loved having the opportunity to answer their wide-ranging questions about college and explain why, in my opinion, UIndy is one of the best universities in the country.”

Networking—without knowing it

sarah-microscopeThe day she met with prospective student Briana Finchum (now a UIndy student) and her family, she’d already led several tours, and “I was in the groove,” she says, smiling.

As they toured campus, Sarah happened to mention to the family that she’d just graduated and was hoping to find a job in the science or healthcare field for a year before going to med school to become a physician. Later in the tour, Briana’s father, Michael, told Sarah that he worked in engineering for Eli Lilly and Co., the global pharmaceutical giant headquartered in Indianapolis. He asked Sarah whether she had applied for any positions there.

“I told him that I had, but so far nothing had come of it and that I didn’t know anyone who worked for the company. ‘Well, now you know someone,’ he said.”

Early the following week, Sarah received a call. Michael Finchum said that his department was swamped and hoped to hire someone to help lighten the load over the next year.

“He knew I didn’t have a background in his area, so I was curious as to why he thought of me. He said that he’d been very impressed with me during their campus tour.”

Michael had noticed her strong work ethic, ambition, confidence, and polished communication and interpersonal skills.

Science major dream

“I guess my love of being an ambassador was really showing that day!” Sarah says. “Lilly is a company that many science majors dream of working for. This was an opportunity I was not going to pass up.”

After a few weeks of a whirlwind of phone calls, an informal interview, and another tour—this time of some of the labs at Lilly—it became official. Sarah would be a contract scientist for the firm, starting July 1.

I have been working at Lilly for six months now and have loved almost every second of it,” Sarah says. “I’ve learned more than I could have ever imagined. I get to work in several different labs doing a wide variety of experiments for insulin manufacturing. Every day I try to solve problems in order to make people’s quality of life better.”

The kicker?

“I was accepted into a medical school,” Sarah says, “but declined. For now, I feel like this is where I’m supposed to be. I don’t know what the future holds. Maybe it’s being a physician one day and maybe it’s not. All I know is that what I’m doing matters, and that is the best feeling in the world.”

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