By Traci Johnson

On May 13th at Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall, in the presence of family, friends, and the faculty of Carlow University, my degree was conferred upon me by our 10th president, Dr. Suzanne K. Mellon. Nothing could have prepared me for the overwhelming wave of emotion that I felt on that day. I wanted to laugh, scream, and cry all at the same time. I was nervous, yet tranquil. This had been a long, tumultuous, and fulfilling journey that had occupied a large part of my life. Now, this journey was ending, and the road map to my next adventure was in the midst of being crafted.

Yet as I reflect on my time at Carlow, I’ve been thinking about what I really learned. After all, I know that many of the individual papers, research projects, presentations and readings will eventually fade into memory, at least somewhat. So what did I learn that truly prepared me for my career, my work at Denny Civic Solutions, and the path ahead? I narrowed it down to five universal lessons:

    1. Build Your Skill Set – College is a great place to build your skills and learn new ones. All of those presentations, research projects, and papers are designed to help you add tools to your toolbox. Your skill set adds value to your team and/or a client you may work with. Demonstrating versatility enables you to fit in anywhere.
    2. Reading is Fundamental – I don’t recall any of my classmates being excited for college readings. Yes, some readings were boring or extremely difficult to understand. But tricky or not, you knew it would eventually be on the exam, or form the nucleus of a pop quiz, or be the subject of a 10-page paper. Yet regardless of where you are employed, reading is essential. On the job, your text won’t have the luxury of reading like a J.K. Rowling or James Patterson novel. It may be mind-numbing. It may be challenging to understand. But it will essential to having a job well done.
    3. Learn the Power of Listening – Listening is a powerful action. It’s through listening that we gain understanding and wisdom. If I chose not to listen in class, I missed instructions, assignments, deadlines, and important insights that I could only obtain from my professor. In order to excel on the job, it is necessary to invoke the power of listening. I can’t effectively meet the needs of my clients if I don’t listen to them (and often, what isn’t said is ultimately most important. Listening is the key to not only clear and effective communication, but also relationship building.
    4. Collaboration is Crucial – My professors seemed to love group projects. Many of my classmates were – to put it lightly – not fans. You always have that one team member who does nothing and another team member who tries to do everything. Every successful production takes a team that is willing to join forces to get a job done, no matter who gets the recognition. True collaboration is not interested in the spotlight, but in getting the job done right.
    5. Learn from Your Failure and Move On – Every student has had that one test, or paper, or class that they may fail. Some students dwell on their failure, while others simply don’t care. Failure will always be a part of your journey. But we have to be brave enough to learn from our failures and make the changes necessary to continue. The world doesn’t stop at failure, so why should we.

I use these five lessons daily in my role at DCS. I have been open and willing to accept tasks that challenges that allow me to continue to build my skill set. All of my client work involves reading and research – in just a few months, I’ve looked into everything from policy affecting children and women, to things like manufacturing, brain injury, and state budgets. I call upon the power of listening to meet the needs of our clients and the firm. Our client work requires a team of diverse collaborators, of which I am a part.

Finally, there have been many times when I’ve had to shift gears on a project, because something wasn’t working on my end – but I learn from missteps and keep moving forward. So, did Carlow really prepare me to be a part of the DCS team? As a proud alum I can say, with total confidence, that it most certainly did.

Traci Johnson has been an Associate at Denny Civic Solutions since completing her coursework at Carlow University in December, 2016. Since walking at Carlow’s spring graduation, she is now an official member of their illustrious Class of 2017! All of us at DCS want to express our sincere congratulations and pride in Traci’s accomplishments.

Also, in the interest of full disclosure: DCS Principal John Denny proudly served for nine years on Carlow University’s Board of Trustees.