Future Proof

The job landscape in the year 2030 is a complete mystery. And that begs the question: How do you prepare students for careers that don’t even exist yet?

“You can always use creative thinking—always.” — Nicholas Bowers ’14 (Photo by Laura Totten) “You can always use creative thinking—always.” — Nicholas Bowers ’14 (Photo by Laura Totten)

We all start to say it at some point in our lives: It wasn’t that long ago, was it? Look at the typical career path in early 2008. It seems pretty clear, but it’s about to be turned on its head. If you’re mining for a career in finance, a job at Lehman Brothers, the fourth-largest investment bank in the U.S., is gold. It will go bankrupt by September, after more than 150 years in business. Most of us still know Amazon as an unconventional book and music retailer, and there’s no such thing as Uber or Airbnb because it’s ridiculous to think that a car-ride service and property rentals could be crowdsourced—whatever “crowdsourced” means.

And in the Orlando area, Nicholas Bowers ’14 is making plans to start his freshman year at Rollins.

“Looking back, any student in America should have been concerned,” says Bowers from his home in Seattle, where he works as a senior program manager for Amazon Flex, a now ubiquitous service that almost no one could have fathomed a decade ago. “Everything about the world economy was changing at that very moment. And no one, especially an incoming freshman, had any idea what it was changing into.”

As it turns out, Rollins graduates have been able to embrace the change as well as anyone. Which is a good thing because change keeps coming. In fact, a recent report from Dell Technologies estimates that 85 percent of the jobs that will exist in 2030 haven’t been invented yet. So why do Rollins graduates and almost-graduates view the unclear path ahead as an opportunity? Thanks to their interdisciplinary education, they’re poised to stretch past the boundaries of a major and adapt to anything.

“We know a student’s first love will usually be their major,” says Emily Russell, associate professor of English and associate dean of curriculum. “But look at credits. Students take 40 credits for general requirements and 48 for a major. The real difference is how we weave the entire education together and prepare students for an unknown future.”

The first group of students to complete four years in the Rollins’ new general education program—Rollins Foundations in the Liberal Arts—is about to take aim at the moving target known as the real world. But while looking ahead, they can also look at the stories of past graduates and be certain of this: As a Rollins graduate, they will be ready for anything, anywhere, and even anytime.

“You can always use creative thinking—always.” — Nicholas Bowers ’14 (Photo by Laura Totten) “You can always use creative thinking—always.” — Nicholas Bowers ’14 (Photo by Laura Totten)


Nicholas Bowers ’14

  • Major: Physics
  • Current career status: Senior Product Manager, Amazon Flex
  • Amazon Flex snapshot: Launched in 2015 as a mash-up of Uber and Amazon, where drivers use their own cars to deliver packages within hours of an order.
  • Career vision as a first-year: “I figured I’d be involved in physics research.”

It was a strange time for a lot of people when I was in school a few years ago. Technology was just starting to disrupt the status quo. It’s still like that. People who want to stay in their lanes and rely on what they know have gotten lost. At Rollins, we were breaking that kind of mindset. I remember a class where we were challenged to program Legos to do things that had never been done. Where else do you find that in a class?

The relevance of a textbook will expire. That’s why being trained to think innovatively is so valuable. You can always use creative thinking—always. There were so many times in school where we had to figure things out as a team, just like it’s done in the business world.

Amazon is like Rollins in a way. Curiosity is what drives a company like Amazon. We’re changing the concept of retail, delivery, even the checkout process. I love that.

At Rollins, you find what you’re passionate about and you pursue that zero to 100 with all your might. I took advantage of opportunities that helped me explore how things work, especially in different cultures.

I’d tell every high school senior this: You need to be in a college environment where you’re encouraged to work together and mentally explore, because if you think outside the box, you’ll find opportunity everywhere. To me, that’s exciting.

“Because of Rollins, I look forward to the future with anticipation, not fear.” — Mehdi Taifi ’07 ’10MLS (Photo by Scott Cook) “Because of Rollins, I look forward to the future with anticipation, not fear.” — Mehdi Taifi ’07 ’10MLS (Photo by Scott Cook)


Mehdi Taifi ’07 ’10MLS

  • Majors: International affairs and business
  • Current career status: Project Manager, Robinhood
  • Robinhood snapshot: Launched in 2013 to allow people to invest in the stock market and not pay a brokerage commission; the Palo Alto-based company opened a regional headquarters in Orlando in 2017.
  • Career vision as a first-year: “I had no clue until my junior year and then it was an ambassador for the State Department.”

My post-undergraduate life has been so unpredictable. I’d planned to get into foreign affairs after school. Instead I started out in sales for a financial services company (this after I told the hiring manager I hated sales … and got the job anyway, thanks to the word “Rollins” on my resume). Soon after that I became a licensed broker. My timing couldn’t have been worse because the economy was about to spiral in 2008. So I launched my own startup, which also fell victim to the economy, tried out for the Orlando City soccer team, wrote a book, eventually got into a Wall Street firm and then … made a bold move by joining this young company called Robinhood.

If I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t change a thing. My time at Rollins, including the classes outside my majors, trained me to be resilient in the changing tides of the business world. Philosophy? Religion? You think, “How do those classes help in business?” It isn’t just the content. The way the classes were taught helped me understand the world better. I wouldn’t be where I am without that.

This economy didn’t exist 10 years ago. No one had heard of fintech (financial technology) when I was in school. You know what? As new as this industry is, it might not be the same in two years, or in six months. But I’m OK with that.

There’s no point getting stuck in a comfort zone. The only thing we know for sure is that change will happen. And because of the way I was mentored at Rollins, I can look forward to the future with anticipation, not fear. No matter what lies ahead.

“You have to learn the value of having conversations with people from all kinds of backgrounds, not just people like you.” — Navreet Dhaliwal ’13 ’15MBA (Photo by Scott Cook) “You have to learn the value of having conversations with people from all kinds of backgrounds, not just people like you.” — Navreet Dhaliwal ’13 ’15MBA (Photo by Scott Cook)


Navreet Dhaliwal ’13 ’15MBA

  • Major: Biology
  • Current career status: Project Manager, HealthGrid
  • HealthGrid snapshot: Orlando-based startup launched in 2014 to simplify communication between doctors, hospitals, and patients.
  • Career vision as a first-year: “I thought I’d be a neonatal surgeon.”

It’s remarkable that I’m in the tech world, and as a manager of all things. My training was in health care, and I had zero IT experience out of college. To give a technical explanation to a technical problem, honestly, is beyond me. But I do know how to figure things out with people. Part of that comes from my mother. But a lot of it comes from Rollins.

Relationships can cover up big messes. Crisis management is all about relationships. But you have to learn the value of having conversations with people from all kinds of backgrounds, not just people like you.

Rollins is so different that way. When I was studying abroad in London, I politely questioned the teacher about some of our work. The other students were shocked. “You aren’t supposed to talk to your professor about that!” But it was common at Rollins. The professors know that dialogue is the way you grow in the real world.

General studies had a profound impact on me. When I decided to take accounting, my friends said, “What are you doing? That’s for business majors, not biology majors.” But I wanted a challenge. It turned out, I loved the class. It convinced me to go for my MBA. You could say I wouldn’t be where I am now if it hadn’t been for that class.

It’s been such a whirlwind with this startup tech company. I wouldn’t know how to handle it if it weren’t for everything I learned outside my biology major.

Liberal arts studies are the future. I’m a perfect example. A biology major with an MBA, managing people in the tech field. It’s a crazy thought, isn’t it?

“Learning to work together with people from all over the globe will always be a huge asset.” — Pierce Neinken ’06 ’08MBA (Photo by Angela DeCenzo) “Learning to work together with people from all over the globe will always be a huge asset.” — Pierce Neinken ’06 ’08MBA (Photo by Angela DeCenzo)


Pierce Neinken ’06 ’08MBA

  • Majors: Political science and international business
  • Current career status: Global Portfolio Manager, Airbnb
  • Airbnb snapshot: Launched in 2008 to make people feel at home anywhere in the world.
  • Career vision as a first-year: “I wanted to be an entrepreneur, start my own company.”

We have dogs in the office. It’s one of those quirks that makes you realize our company is fresh. We aren’t hindered by legacies or old ways of doing things. That’s what drew me here—the adventure of building something new for the good of everyone, every day.

A “sharing economy” seemed cool to me. Even 10 years ago, when it was just a wild concept. No one knew where companies like Airbnb might be going, if they were leading a new wave or not. I came on board in 2015 because it combined my passions for tech and real estate (I’d started my own company, CRE Tech, two years earlier for that reason). Turns out, shared economies have taken off.

Rollins allowed me to see the world. I travel a lot in my job now, and understanding cultures is really important. The time I spent studying in places like Sweden and China and Brazil gave me a jump start on most other people my age.

What we do know about 2030 is that we’ll be increasingly connected. To assume we’ll go back to being more isolated is incorrect. So learning to work together with people from all over the globe, like we did at Rollins, will always be a huge asset.

My motivation isn’t just a paycheck. The general-studies classes at Rollins instilled in me an interest in doing something good for the world. We’re in an increasingly divisive global environment, so companies like Airbnb are special because we’re bringing people together. That’s the same way I’d describe the experience at Rollins.

“In every class, I was taught not what to think but how to think.” — Lyndsey Lang ’14 (Photo by Scott Cook) “In every class, I was taught not what to think but how to think.” — Lyndsey Lang ’14 (Photo by Scott Cook)


Lyndsey Lang ’14

  • Major: Communication studies
  • Current career status: Managing Director, Fattmerchant
  • Fattmerchant snapshot: Orlando-based startup launched in 2014 to help small businesses save money on credit-card processing fees.
  • Career vision as a first-year: “I was going to be a broadcasting personality.”

How did I feel after graduating from Rollins? Empowered. It was a different type of confidence. In every class I’d been taught not what to think, but how to think. So I honestly felt I was ready for anything, including the most nontraditional career choice you could imagine.

Nothing went the way I planned. And I’m a serious planner. In high school, I knew I’d go to a big school, get a degree in broadcasting, and have my own opinion show on an established network. Instead, I went to Rollins, changed my major a couple of times, and took a job with a startup company with no assets and no paint on the walls. It was just the CEO and me, making an hourly wage that will go unmentioned.

I didn’t have to take this job. But I chose to work here because I saw past the empty spaces and knew what a difference we could make. Everything I learned at Rollins, whether it was in history or literature or any class that seemed to be unrelated to my career goals, it all trained me for this.

Where will I be in the year 2030? I have no idea. Look at my situation. Fattmerchant didn’t exist when I was in school. In less than four years, we’ve been mentioned as a game changer with the likes of Spotify and Netflix. Our team is up to 45 employees in Orlando and growing. All of which makes me feel blessed to have been empowered, rather than simply educated. No shift in job trends will ever change that.

A Future-Proof Foundation

At the same time fledgling companies like Robinhood and Fattmerchant were just starting to disrupt traditional ways of doing business, a group on the Rollins faculty was preparing to launch its own paradigm-breaker in the fall of 2015: A general-education curriculum designed to make students more career-nimble—inside and outside their majors. After 10 years in development, the curriculum launched under the name Rollins Foundations in the Liberal Arts.

As part of this innovative approach, students take seminars that integrate seemingly disparate classes like history and art and psychology to an overall theme. Students do more than memorize. They use critical thinking and creativity to identify and fix real-world problems while working in teams. In other words, skills that have always been valued and always will be. So now we ask a timeless question to the new curriculum’s first group of graduates: How’s it going?

Huda Awan ’18, Mollie Thibodeau ’18, Jamie Ngo ’18, and Neeraj Chatlani ’18 Huda Awan ’18, Mollie Thibodeau ’18, Jamie Ngo ’18, and Neeraj Chatlani ’18

Huda Awan ’18

Major: Political science

“I have to admit, the mere thought of taking an art history class did not excite me. But it wasn’t what I thought it would be. We looked beyond the art itself to analyze what might have been going on at the time, the meaning of each piece, and its relevance to today. Does any of it really matter to a political science major? Absolutely, and here’s why: Working with students from all types of majors and backgrounds has helped me to look at the world with a clearer lens. I’m no longer intimidated by the world, or the future.”

Mollie Thibodeau ’18

Major: Communication studies

“One class, Fantastic in Literature and Film, epitomized my experience and the profound impact it had on me. It challenged me to venture outside my comfort zone through writing, public speaking, and leading. That’s where growth happens. Working among peers also gave me the resilience and confidence to look ahead after a perceived failure. I think this tenant is pivotal in being prepared for the foreseeable, or not-so-foreseeable, future.

Jamie Ngo ’18

Major: Economics

“My major was biochemistry for two years. Like a lot of students, my plans for the future changed. Studying in Rollins Foundations in the Liberal Arts had something to do with that, because we’ve been encouraged to innovate and explore our true passions but from dimensions I never considered. It brings more real-life purpose to each class and adds more value to me as a person—no matter if I’m a chemist or a financial analyst. It’s given me confidence that I can contribute to positive change.”

Neeraj Chatlani ’18

Major: Computer science

“I came into Rollins with the goal of learning to code and create software, but I also found courses on philosophy and education that propelled me to the idea of combining education and technology. I learned how computers work, how to code, and how to engineer software, but I also got a broader education that helped me understand the things that I really want to focus on in my life. What Rollins does is help students discover what it is they’re looking for to have a fulfilling profession and a fulfilling life. College is no small endeavor, so you really ought to put it toward something as significant as finding something that you truly value and something that you want to push toward.”

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