Takeaways from the USC First-Gen Alumni Panel

On January 24, 2024, the USC Career Center hosted a First-Gen Alumni Panel to discuss pathways to post-graduation success. It provided a platform for USC alumni to reflect on their journeys, share insights, and offer valuable advice to current students. Spanning diverse disciplines and backgrounds, the panelists shed light on their experiences as first-generation college students, their obstacles, and how USC equipped them for their careers. 

Panelists included:

  • Lupe Llerenas, Music Entertainment Journalist, USC Annenberg (‘22)
  • Carmen Herrera, Entrepreneur and Fortune 500 Executive, Found of Sabi – Juice for Brain Health and Healing, USC Marshall (‘89)
  • Alina Coronado, Assistant Director, AME Student Affairs, USC Viterbi School of Engineering, USC Rossier (‘21)
  • Jessica Vela Guevara, Electric Motors Systems and Validation Engineer, Rivian, USC Viterbi (‘23)

Overcoming Adversity and Leveraging Support at USC

When asked how USC was able to prepare them for their careers beyond college, panelists shared their journeys of overcoming challenges to pursue their passions. They highlighted USC’s supportive community and faculty in fostering professional growth. Guevara emphasized the importance of using USC’s resources and extracurricular opportunities to secure internships and advance careers. She stated that she has gotten to where she is by leveraging USC’s many resources. “Viterbi also offers a lot of resources that I took full advantage of to ensure that… I had the right technical and soft skills to move up to the positions where I wanted,” Guevara said. The alumni highlighted the significance of building relationships with professors and peers, navigating financial struggles, and combating impostor syndrome as first-generation college students.

Diverse Experiences and Insights

The second part of the panel delved deeper into the panelists’ varied experiences in their respective professional realms and offered practical advice for navigating career challenges. Lupe Llerenas shared anecdotes of supporting classmates in the journalism industry amidst layoffs, showcasing the importance of community and solidarity. “The most recent one was yesterday,” she said. “The LA Times let go of 115 journalists… Five of those journalists were my classmates. So what did I do? I hit up my manager… [I said] ‘I know five of those journalists that are extremely talented and went to USC with me. If there’s any openings, let’s get them employed once again.’” With this powerful story, Llerenas exhibited the strength of the Trojan Family and the extent to which alumni can be a helping hand to another fellow alum.

Moreover, discussions revolved around navigating career trajectories, discovering passions, and overcoming self-doubt. From exploring diverse industries to leveraging transferable skills, panelists underscored the value of adaptability and persistence in the face of uncertainty in many industries.

Strategies for Success Post-Grad

In the final segment, panelists offered actionable strategies for post-graduation success. They emphasized the importance of staying connected with peers and alumni networks, utilizing platforms like LinkedIn for networking and job search. Coronado explained that she determined what roles she saw herself in and where she could be the happiest and then contacted recruiters directly. “I just sent [hiring managers] a very quick LinkedIn message saying, ‘Hello, I applied to this position; I think I am I best suited for this role because of XYZ, matching your job description.’ Because I could knock on their door directly, they would offer me job interviews very quickly, which I think is a method that we can all apply regardless of whatever department you are in.” Alumni also highlighted the significance of seeking mentorship and support from professors and colleagues. 

Additionally, the panelists suggested taking proactive steps toward honing career and life skills such as completing certification courses and volunteering to enhance professional development and expand career opportunities.

The First-Gen Alumni Panel provided invaluable insights into navigating career challenges, building networks, and fostering resilience. Through personal anecdotes, practical advice, and a spirit of community, the first-gen alumni exemplified the qualities of adaptability, persistence, and resourcefulness necessary for success in today’s competitive landscape. Attendees were able to get a glimpse of what post-grad life could look like and also use these stories as beacons of hope for their futures. As USC continues to empower its students and alumni, events like these serve as a means of inspiration and guidance for the next generation of leaders.

By Sarah Ju
Sarah Ju