Advice for college graduates: Local business leaders share their experience and the advice that helped them when exiting academia

From the experts

Advice for college graduates

Gary Collins

“Volunteer — find clubs or groups you can align with for enriching and possibly applying your book learning and classroom experiences.”

“Try new things — try everything — there will be so many opportunities to learn and grow in and out of the classroom.”

“Consider your summer terms as an opportunity to enrich your semester work — try a job you may not have considered, like working at a camp, aligning with a nonprofit organization or traveling to a new place to put your classroom skills to work.”

Alex Dixon

“You can be great here. Greater Dubuque is a great place to start your career and even better place to call home. Look for opportunities here.”

Chad Chandlee

“Become a great critical thinker.”

“Trust that your manager has your best interest in mind and you will take their comments constructively.”

“Volunteer for everything.”

“Let your career take you where it leads you. Don’t get too caught up in what you thought you wanted, pay more attention to where life is leading you.”

Andrew Butler

“First of all, follow your heart, look for experiences, and most importantly, embrace the fact that you will never stop learning.”

“As you begin the next phase of your life, look for a career that is meaningful and challenging. Also, work hard.”

“There is so much to learn. By being a lifelong learner, you will always find satisfaction and reward in all that you do.”

As the class of 2023 prepares to graduate from college and go out into the world, they most likely will receive advice from professors, family, friends and commencement speakers about what their next steps should look like.

Gary Collins, CEO at Crescent Community Health Center, shared one of his favorite pieces of advice, which is from American professor, lecturer, author and podcast host Brené Brown.

“When a courageous person chooses to enter the arena, they are greeted with rows of seats and people,” Brown said. “The three seats that will always be filled in the arena are: shame, scarcity and comparison. The fourth seat is reserved for a teacher, family member or co-worker. Save a seat for yourself as well.”

Collins sees Brown’s advice as emblematic of a trap too many people have fallen into.

“This advice reminds us of how easy it can be to only listen to the negative people in the arena that will always be there, and to not ignore them, but honor that the others are there too — and take the feedback from all the people in the arena as an opportunity for future success,” Collins said.

He has had experience mentoring college students from a program in Cleveland, Ohio, that matched professionals with inner city youth — pre-college seniors and first-year students. Mentees arranged to meet with the mentors a few times each year and stay engaged via email to encourage the mentees to stay focused and identify any challenges the professionals could assist them with.

“In many cases, the students had a challenging home life with one or both parents missing,” Collins said. “Or there may have been bullying in school that created challenges for them. Our role was to keep encouraging the student mentees to try everything and keep focused on what success would look like for them.

“Time management, confidence, communication were items that seemed to come up and we would talk through examples. We were also given other tools the students could utilize through the organization that coordinated the mentor/mentee matching.”

Collins said that what he learned most from the students is that it is very challenging to be a young adult today.

“Between immense peer pressure, financial pressure and distractions, it is easy to sometimes get knocked off course temporarily by giving in to the various pressure they observe and endure,” he said. “Staying the course will pay off and lessons will be learned along the way to those that we encouraged.”

Collins received his bachelor of arts in accounting and business from Muskingum University and his master of business administration from Baldwin Wallace University.

He offered the following advice for college grads.

“Time moves faster than you think,” he said. “Find something you truly enjoy because in a blink of an eye, you will be looking back wondering where those years went. Meet with others that are in the career you are interested in to find out if it is what you expect to be doing when you graduate.”

Finding passion

When he graduated from Howard University with a degree in finance, Alex Dixon, president and CEO of Q Casino and the Dubuque Racing Association, was advised to develop a skill, then find his passion.

“I recently spoke with a business class at Loras College and encouraged them to find mentors who just conquered the life experiences in which they plan to pursue,” Dixon said.

The DRA co-sponsored a college night at the Dubuque Fighting Saints where Dixon had the opportunity to engage local college students.

“Later this year, University of Dubuque, Clarke University and Loras College will unveil an exciting new initiative supported by the DRA to encourage students to stay in the community post-graduation. I look forward to engaging this cohort,” Dixon said.

Finding your calling, despite the challenges

Jobs were hard to find when Chad Chandlee graduated from the University of Northern Iowa with a business management degree.

“I was told to take whatever job I could get, find a mentor at the company, listen to them and learn everything I could while I was there,” Chandlee said.

Chandlee, who is COO and president of Kendall Hunt Publishing and CEO and president at Great River Learning, advises graduates to worry less about what their major was and more about what they want to do.

When he was newly graduated, he was given this advice, “If you are too big to do the small things, then you are too small to do the big things,” and likes to share it with recent grads.

Putting in the work

“The best advice I’ve given in a mentoring role is, ‘Understand that you can do anything you want to do, you just need to put in the work and understand that it will take time, nothing happens overnight,” said Andrew Butler, executive chair at Cottingham & Butler Inc.

One of Butler’s favorite quotes is from Winston Churchill: “Endeavor to persevere.”

Butler graduated from Babson College with a degree in finance and received this advice at the time: “Work hard and understand that, while you just graduated, you have a great deal to contribute. But approach all tasks from a position if inquiry.”