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On the job

Young graduates make it in the Great Recession

In a time of unemployment, you might think it would be tough to find success, especially with a liberal arts degree in, say, philosophy, sociology or religious studies. Check out what these recent graduates are doing with their Mizzou education.

Young Alumni

From left: Silas Allard, Lauren Ryan, Jared Cole, Lory Ellebracht, Christian Jensen, Robert Simms, Tony Baker, Lisa Driskill and Mike Maurer


The allegro life

Name: Christina Jensen Degree: BA ’01, BA ’01, music and communication

Current City: New York City

Job: Promoting classical music, Christina Jensen PR

Hobbies: Enjoying the Big Apple and music

Publicist Christina Jensen represents musicians who have hit No. 1 on Billboard’s classical music chart, signed with a major record label and played sold-out shows in New York City. But she used to make music, not promote it.

Jensen started playing violin when she was 3 years old. “Music seemed natural,” says the Independence, Mo., native. At MU, Jensen studied violin under Eva Szekely and graduated with degrees in violin performance and communication. After working behind the scenes with some of MU’s student ensembles and organizations, she realized a job in music was for her. 

“The classical music industry is like any other industry,” Jensen says. People work in everything from marketing and public relations to handling performance logistics.

After graduating from MU, Jensen attended Boston University, where she earned her master’s degree in arts administration. She then worked for organizations promoting classical music, and in her free time she promoted classical musicians she knew. Jensen knew enough musicians that she started promoting them full time the summer of 2007. 

“I’ve been very lucky and met some great people,” Jensen says. “All the business has come through word of mouth.” Now she represents more than 20 clients, including composers, conductors and performers.

“Right now is a very exciting time for classical music because so many people are working to present it, play it and listen to it in innovative ways,” Jensen says. “There is a lot of room for creativity and growth, and the field is full of people working on and off stage to take full advantage of that.”    — Josh Chittum

Environmental education in the Bronx

Name: Jared Cole

Degree: BA ’06, sociology and certificate in environmental studies

Residence: New York City

Job: Teacher, New York City Department of Education 

Hobbies: Birding and hiking 

Jared Cole loves the environment. That’s part of the reason P.S. X015 — also know as the Institute for Environmental Learning in Bronx, N.Y. — hired him. The school wanted to restore some curriculum that was true to its name, and Cole, who was already there through Teach for America, was the perfect person for the job. As a student at MU, Cole founded Sustain Mizzou and educated students how to think and act on behalf of the environment.

His teaching philosophy is simple. “Education should be a hands-on experience — it should engage learners,” he says. “Students should take what they’ve learned and apply it to everyday life.” 

And in a city of skyscrapers, Cole finds plenty of opportunities to teach students about the environment. He takes them bird watching, brings worms into class to teach composting, organizes hiking trips and park cleanups, and helps run a recycling program.

“It’s not that kids don’t care about the environment,” Cole says. “They’ve just never been exposed environmental issues. If I can raise awareness one student at a time, that’s one more kid in the next generation who’s going to value our planet.”       — David Wietlispach

Super job!

Name: Lisa Driskill 

Degree: BA ’03, interdisciplinary studies — psychology, sociology and education

Residence: Paul’s Valley, Okla. 

Job: Director, Toy and Action Figure Museum

Hobbies: Family and church

Lisa Driskill should never fear evildoers while she’s at work. Luckily for her, Superman, The Flash and G.I. Joe live right down the hall. No, she’s not secretary to the Justice League; she’s director of the Toy and Action Figure Museum in Paul’s Valley, Okla.

“It’s absolutely the most fun job I’ve ever had,” Driskill says. She promotes the museum, organizes daily tours, runs the gift shop and plans the museum’s special events, such as Elves, Fairies, & Friends and the Hot Wheels Double Dog Dare Derby.

“It’s great how the people who come in are really happy and nostalgic,” Driskill says. “I once had an older man say, ‘Thank you for letting me visit my friends from long ago.’ ” 

The museum has 12,000 pieces in its collection including a Bat Cave, World War II G.I. Joe memorial and a diorama of an adult collector’s bedroom filled with 5,000 action figures. Also featured are original prototype sculptures of action figures that took weeks to create. This is part of the museum’s efforts to increase appreciation of action figures as pieces of art.

A native of Paul’s Valley, Driskill toured the museum in 2009 with her friend and museum curator, Kevin Stark. She told Stark what a good time she had, and then she asked for a job. Soon Driskill was working as director, making sure the 15,000 guests the museum attracts every year have a great time. 

“I had no idea how much fun it would be,” Driskill says. “It’s just a happy place.”   — Josh Chittum

010000010111001001110100 = Art

Name: Mike Maurer

Degree: BA, BS ’05, graphic design and computer science

Residence: St. Louis

Job: Managing the digital practice group in charge of Flash design and development Fleishman-Hillard

Hobbies: Watching the St. Louis Cardinals

If you go to Mike Maurer’s website, prepare to have fun. In addition to navigating the site with a mouse, you can play a version of Space Invaders and shoot at content you want to see. Creating such fresh, fun ideas is what Maurer does for a living. 

Maurer started at MU as a computer science major, but soon he wanted more than long hours in the computer lab. “I decided I’d try the other side of my brain — I’d try art,” Maurer says. 

Ric Wilson, professor of art, and Eric Landes, a former faculty member, steered him toward his current path. “Landes got me excited about art, and Wilson nurtured the idea of going into interactive media,” he says.    

Maurer’s degrees in graphic design and computer science are what set the St. Louis native apart from others in his field. “Programmers usually have no artistic ability or care,” Maurer says. Instead of just plugging in the numbers, Maurer is concerned with how applications look, move and work. At Fleishman-Hillard, Maurer oversees Flash development in the digital practice group. 

So, swing by Maurer’s website. Just don’t let your boss catch you playing games on the Internet.  http://www.mikemaurerdesign.com/— Josh Chittum

Happy at Hallmark

Name: Lory Ellebracht

Degree: BS ’01, MA ’03, economics

Residence: Kansas City, Mo.

Job: Analyst, Hallmark

Hobbies: Violin and soccer

Working at Hallmark gives Lory Ellebracht a chance to do work she loves for a business loved around the world, because even greeting card companies have to crunch the numbers. 

Ellebracht didn’t know what she wanted to study when she came to MU. But she knew she liked numbers. “I was debating between engineering and math — stuff I knew about,” she says. Ellebracht ended up with an economics degree that has taken her all over the country. 

She has preformed various economic analyses for the Congressional Budget Office, Tennessee Valley Authority and Sandia National Laboratories. Now the Liberty, Mo., native is working for Hallmark’s analytic group and getting what she calls “real world” experience. “They do some really great research, both from statistical and qualitative work,” Ellebracht says. 

For example, she helped conduct a large retail test to determine the attributes of cards that consumers value most. The results of the test led to stores changing the products they offer to better suit consumer preferences.

“It’s a great company; I can see why people stay,“ Ellebracht says about the 100-year-old business. “Being an economics major has been a great fit. — Josh Chittum

Peace Corps helps alumnus find peace of mind

Name: Tony Baker

Degree: BA, BA ‘03 religious studies and philosophy

Residence: Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

Job: Technical adviser, HakiElimu

Hobbies: Gardening, bicycling and going to the beach

It is common for people to upgrade their computer’s operating system with the latest software. But it’s not often that a person goes though such a change. For Tony Baker, going from Jackson, Mo., to the eastern coast of Africa gave him a chance to reboot. 

Baker joined the Peace Corps after graduating from MU and spent two years in Tanzania. During that time, he reconstructed his perceptions and values. “My programming of what the world is, why it is the way it is and what is important became uncomfortably compromised,” Baker says. He became aware that his upbringing centered on competition, resource manipulation and domination. Having a chance to reflect on how other cultures operate, he now appreciates things such as communal values and the release of control. He’s also reconsidering certain Western values such as to-the-minute punctuality.

After leaving the Peace Corps, Baker worked for service organizations in the U.S., but when he got a chance to go back to Tanzania, he took it. 

Now he’s technical adviser of budget advocacy for HakiElimu, a group that expands education in Tanzania. Baker tracks public expenditures to uncover inefficiencies and corruption in Tanzania’s government. He disseminates the information to Tanzanian citizens so they can hold their government accountable. 

This gives the people of Tanzania a better shot at success and allows Baker to breathe a little easier knowing he’s fighting the problem, not fostering it. 

— Josh Chittum

Religion and law from atop a bicycle

Name: Silas Allard

Degree: BA ’04, religious studies

Residence: Atlanta

Job: Student, editor-in-chief of the Emory International Law Review

Hobbies: Bicycling and backpacking

For Silas Allard, cycling is a meditative experience. The former religious studies major from Neosho, Mo., once rode his bicycle from the Pacific Ocean to the Mississippi River, giving him ample of time to reflect. That journey led to graduate school and a chance for Allard to study his passions — religion and law. 

Currently attending Emory University, Allard is working toward degrees in law and theology. He wants to work in social justice, bringing equality to marginalized and underserved groups. “If you do social justice, you’re going to run into religious issues,” Allard says. 

During the 2010 summer, Allard interned with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Geneva. There, he began writing his master’s thesis about comparative religious ethics and refugee policy. 

Thinking about big issues such as religious ethics is just part of Allard’s personal mission of exploring the world, which he says you can do a little easier from a bicycle than from a car. “There are so many more things you see moving at 12 miles per hour instead of 70.”            — Josh Chittum

Oh, the places you will go!

Name: Robert Simms

Degree: MA ’04, classical studies

Residence: Oman, Birkat Al-Mouz 

Job: Assistant professor of English literature, University of Nizwa

Hobbies: Going to the beach and trying to learn enough Arabic to be polite

Traveling is a way of life for Robert Simms. In his youth, he lived in Alaska, North and South Carolina, Germany twice and even exotic locations such as Kansas. 

So it’s not surprising that Simms traveled to New Zealand to earn his doctorate and now teaches classical studies and English literature at the University of Nizwa in Oman. The one-time parking lot attendant enjoys living in Oman with his wife and three children. Teaching classics in Oman allows him to continue his exploration of antiquity, while he takes in a contemporary, but equally unfamiliar, culture.

 “Omani are hands down the warmest and friendliest people you will ever meet, and I say this coming from New Zealand, where people are almost pathologically gregarious,” Simms says. 

And he’s learned to expect frequent surprises, such as a girl in an abaya and shayla reading The Bell Jar for fun.

But living on the southeast coast of the Arabian Peninsula does have its down sides. Simms says it’s a real exercise in patience to run out of water when it’s 120 degrees outside. Especially hard is the no showering for a week while you make what seems like a customary three efforts to get your problems sorted. But it’s all part of the experience, he says.  

Simms isn’t the only one enjoying his time in Oman. His children are reaping the benefits of growing up abroad. “Omani women love children, and students will often grab my daughters, take them to the shops and stuff them with candy,” he says. “What kid wouldn’t love that?”  — Josh Chittum

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