Dream Jobs, Promising Realities - Young Alumni on the Rise

In the case of these five young alumni, the key to finding that ultimate job came down to a simple criterion – do what you love

By Sean Patterson

Justin Sweeney | Business Marketing and Economics (’09)
Broadcast Assistant, Utah Jazz

Justin Sweeney ('09)The seeds for Justin Sweeney’s dream job were planted in the summer of 1996, when the then-9-year-old Alaskan visited his aunt and uncle in Layton, Utah. A drive past the Delta Center, home of the NBA’s Utah Jazz, piqued the youngster’s interest and sparked a lifelong love affair with the team.

Fast forward to 2013: Sweeney is inside the very same stadium charting statistics for Jazz play-by-play announcer David Locke – one of his responsibilities as a broadcast assistant intern for the 2012-13 season. Ultimately, he hopes the opportunity leads to a career in broadcasting.

“This is an organization I’ve admired and strived to be a part of since the fourth grade,” Sweeney says. “I’m still asking the question, ‘How did I get here?’”

The answer: the “divinely timed situations I experienced at George Fox,” he says. Sweeney arrived on campus planning to major in computer science and get a job in the technology field. He left with a passion to become a sports broadcaster, thanks to a rewarding experience at KFOX radio – including calling games for a national title-winning women’s basketball team in 2009 – and the encouragement he received from professors and peers.

His love of the craft kept him in the KFOX booth for three seasons beyond graduation – a move he’s convinced helped land him the Jazz internship among nearly 100 applicants.

“What’s neat is that 100 percent of my broadcasting resume comes from what I acquired at George Fox, before and after graduation,” he says. “My possibilities feel endless now.”

Megan (Weber) Clark | Art (’06)
Owner/Graphic Designer, Clark & Company

Megan (Weber) Clark - ('06)Sometimes the greatest opportunities come out of adversity. Megan Clark knows that to be true from firsthand experience.

After graduating from George Fox with a degree in art, Clark landed a job at an advertising agency in Portland, then lost it when the company went bankrupt.

That only meant bigger and better things for Clark, who launched her own design studio, Clark & Company (clark-and-co.com), and two online ventures – hi friend., a boutique for stationery and invitation suites (hifrienddesign.com) and The Exceptional Creative, a resource center for entrepreneurial designers (theexceptionalcreative.com).

As head of Clark & Company, she designs signage, logos and marketing materials for clients ranging from boutiques and cafés to iPhone application developers and private business owners around the world – from Australia to Philadelphia to Portland. She also specializes in one-on-one coaching and large-group sessions for graphic design entrepreneurs.

“What I love most is the variety in my work,” says Clark, whose studio provides a full spectrum of design, art direction and branding services.

“Because I design for many different clients in different fields, I’m always researching something new and meeting really amazing people, many of whom are entrepreneurial themselves.”

While at George Fox, Clark conducted a senior graphic design project with a Canadian client that incorporated all facets of the business: in-person presentations, several rounds of revisions, estimates, invoices, deadlines and “everything else required to complete a real-life design job,” she says. It proved vital as she embarked on her career. “I learned more by simply digging into the real-world work than I ever would have, or did, working on fictional projects.”

Nicole Fitzhugh | Media Communication (’04)
Rapid Prototyping Coordinator, LAIKA Entertainment

Nicole Fitzhugh ('04)Not many will recognize her by name, but anyone who’s gone to the movies lately can appreciate her work.

Nicole Fitzhugh is just fine with that. Her reward comes in knowing she’s had a role in quality films like ParaNorman (2012) and Coraline (2009). As a rapid phototyping coordinator at LAIKA Entertainment, Fitzhugh is responsible for keeping the animation studio’s artists on deadline in creating the heads and faces for puppets used to render characters in the company’s feature-length stop-motion movies.

“I think I’m still amazed to have a career in the film industry at all,” she says. “The highest points have been seeing the finished films with the rest of the crew and watching each other’s names roll in the credits. Coraline and ParaNorman are both beautiful films that I am so proud that I was a part of.”

In media classes at George Fox, Fitzhugh always introduced herself as the girl who didn’t want to work on movies because she didn’t have the attention span. She envisioned herself working on fast-paced snowboarding videos and commercials.

Ironically, she found a job in the stop-motion film industry – “easily one of the most time-intensive types of movies you can make,” she says.

“I love that every day holds something different. Sometimes it’s a catastrophe, sometimes it’s a breakthrough, but it’s rarely dull. The people are amazingly talented and creative, and over the course of a film we become like a family – complete with crazy aunts and second cousins you only see at the holidays.”

Greg Johnson | Interdisciplinary (’05), Master of Arts in Teaching (’10)
Art Teacher, Tigard High School

Greg Johnson ('05)Teacher Greg Johnson’s love of art transcends the pieces he and his ceramics students create at Tigard High School. To him, the creative process goes beyond the kiln: it’s the key to unlocking potential, regardless of the arena.

“My heart is to re-teach students that creativity is the most important facet of intelligence,” he says. “I hope they take this from my classroom through college and into city councils, boardrooms and beyond.”

The nationalization and standardization of education has marginalized creativity because it’s not quantifiable, Johnson says. So he’s using his passion – working with clay – to convey a simple message: “I want students to see that their original ideas are valuable and always worth exploring.”

Johnson began Tigard’s ceramics program with “a few wheels and electric kilns” in 2010. To help jump-start the program, he organized 45 Tigard students and volunteers for an “Empty Bowls” fundraiser – modeled after the Mark Terry-organized events of the same name at George Fox – and sold 320 bowls in raising more than $2,000 for the purchase of a gas kiln.

The event’s success and the popularity of the program – 450 students enroll in ceramics classes each year – have convinced Johnson he’s in the right place.

“When you can make your job your passion, it’s so easy to excel and pour your heart into your work,” he says. “What I love most is developing the creative confidence of my students.”

Rachel (Cook) Lowe | Business Administration (’04)
Management Analyst, Department of Defense

Rachel (Cook) Lowe ('04)For Rachel Lowe, perhaps no job assignment has been as rewarding as the one she took on in March of 2012.

Lowe, a management analyst for a civilian agency within the Department of Defense in Washington, D.C., was tasked with making arrangements for eight relatives of 9/11 attack victims to travel to the nation’s capital for a briefing. “I was able to see firsthand the direct impact of our work and support people who had experienced this national tragedy in such a personal way,” she says.

It’s all in a day’s work for Lowe, whose agency oversees a range of federal initiatives that include the Federal Voting Assistance Program, which helps military personnel living outside the U.S. vote, and the Defense Language and National Security Education Office, charged with attracting, recruiting and training a future national security workforce. Lowe is responsible for budgeting, travel policy oversight and looking after all manner of other details.

The No. 1 reason she loves her job: The fact that she assists “so many of the brave men and women who are on the front lines protecting our country every day,” she says.

Lowe is also a professional photographer and works part time for an events company that hosts galas at embassies around Washington, D.C.

In addition, she is president of the U.S. Senate Youth Alumni Association, a group of more than 5,000 who participated in a weeklong educational experience that highlights public service excellence.