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What's Next?

Christina Watson, Malia Aull, Kathleen Gardner, Scott Martin, Janelle Smith, and Andrew Keefe, members of the Class of 2003.

The Class of 2003 grew up fast in the face of a sour economy, domestic terrorism and war.
What does the future hold for WPI's newest alumni?

By Carol Cambo

Graduation must be near. See the way the seniors walk? It's not a strut; too arrogant. No, they saunter--but with more bounce--as they cross the quad on their way to final classes. It's a hopeful walk, a confident walk. A walk of conviction.

The Class of 2003 is optimistic, in spite of things. Resilience has been its trademark. Case in point: by March, the class was on track to topple the senior class gift record. By May, it had raised more than $13,300, with a record-setting participation rate of 37 percent, besting the school record by a full 10 percentage points. Even as some were unsure what life after graduation held for them, WPI's newest alumni generously gave back to their alma mater, and gave hope to the students who would follow.

"We had to grow up fast," says Janelle Smith '03. "When we came here as freshmen we were told engineering was 'it'--we'd be making gobs of money, we'd have a ticket to anywhere. Then September 11 happened. Next it was the Enron and WorldCom scandals. And then war in Iraq. It's been sobering." The numbers tell the story. Results of a 2002 nationwide survey by NACE, the National Association of Colleges and Employers, held that among 1,500 employers, hiring expectations fell 36 percent from 2001. This year, the same pool expects hiring to remain flat. As a result of the flagging job market, more grads are deciding to stay in school. Last year, WPI saw a 10 percent increase in students pursuing advanced degrees. While it's no time to be picky, according to NACE this year's graduates, perhaps jaded by the corporate excesses they've seen, are more discriminating than ever, citing an organization's integrity as the most important criteria for choosing an employer; business ethics rank a close second. (In contrast, last year's grads rated integrity seventh; ethical business practices barely registered at ninth.)

Grads without hot prospects have had to stay flexible. Katie Gardner '03 didn't interview for a single job until April. Her only promising offer was from a company in Amsterdam. Finally, in early May, she accepted a job with a pharmaceutical company closer to home, in Hawthorne, N.Y.

If anything can be said about the Class of 2003 as a whole, it's that its blinders are off. Idealism is the rightful currency of graduating seniors, but for members of this class, it is tempered with wisdom, the kind that comes only from experience. As Gardner put it in her senior class address at commencement, "just like college wasn't exactly what the brochure promised, the events that will shape the rest of our lives are sure to be beyond our imagination."

If life is like an elevator ride, WPI's newest alumni are poised at the control panel. They might find themselves making a few unplanned stops on the way up, but they are confident they'll eventually reach the top.

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