Lewisburg, Pa. – Their final semester of college should've been a celebration — a time to look back with pride and look ahead toward a bright future.
But for the members of Bucknell's Class of 2020, that senior spring ended during a period of global uncertainty. The pandemic raged as these graduates transitioned from college life to careers, graduate programs and volunteer endeavors.
And yet, they triumphed.
An impressive 94 percent of Bucknell's Class of 2020 graduates reported a "successful outcome" within nine months of graduation, meaning they were employed, in graduate school, both employed and in graduate school, preparing for graduate school or volunteering. That's just one percentage point lower than the 95 percent rate for the Class of 2019.
"Our 2020 graduates encountered many challenges and obstacles, as well as delayed decisions and postponed start dates as they searched for opportunities in ways we have not experienced in recent times," says Pam Keiser, executive director of Bucknell's Center for Career Advancement.
"Industries felt the impact of the pandemic in different ways, with most pausing hiring and onboarding activity for some period of time. This required much patience, diligence and determination as our graduates searched, applied, interviewed and awaited decisions," Keiser continued.
That determination led Bucknell's 850 Class of 2020 graduates to locations across the U.S. and around the globe.
They're working in a range of industries as varied as the graduates themselves, thriving in high-paying positions at companies like Accenture and Amazon Robotics, Citi and CNBC, Microsoft and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.
While some companies slowed or stopped hiring and pay increases during the pandemic, Bucknell's 2020 graduates earned an average starting salary of $61,948 — about $10,000 above the national average and a 2.3 percent increase over the same figure for the University's Class of 2019.
About 16 percent of 2020 alumni are continuing their education in graduate school, law school or medical school at places like Columbia University, Harvard University, Pepperdine Law School and the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine.
Meet the Class of 2020
These are just six of the brilliant students who exemplify the triumph of the Class of 2020.
Current role: Medical student at Dartmouth's Geisel School of Medicine
What he does: As one might expect, a med student's schedule is jam-packed. Pawelczyk is in lectures from 8 a.m. to noon and spends 1 to 5 p.m. in more lectures, anatomy labs, team-based learning classes, case-based learning classes and problem-based learning sessions.
"These last three are designed to be interactive and in a team setting, much like health care is in the real world, so that we can experience working with and learning from others," he says. "What I haven't mentioned yet is the hours of studying, reviewing and practice necessary to be successful in medical school."
After medical school, Pawelczyk will begin his residency — a three- to seven-year program. Then he'll serve as a physician for four years in the U.S. Army, fulfilling a commitment made while in ROTC at Bucknell. Once that's complete, Pawelczyk plans to be an attending physician working in a hospital system or private practice.
How Bucknell prepared him for med school: Pawelczyk says Bucknell provided him with a support system of professors, friends and mentors who cared about his success and helped develop his networking skills.
"One of the things that surprises me most about my transformation from a newly matriculated Bucknellian to a Bucknell grad is my ability to interact with others and really learn how to have a conversation with anyone about anything," he says. "This may seem like an inconsequential skill to have, but when interacting with patients, it has served me well."
What he'd tell his younger self: Be open-minded in all areas of your life, and don't overlook the utility of the diverse experiences available to you at Bucknell.
"You have so much to learn, see and do while you are in college. You do not want to pigeonhole yourself too early on," he says. "Take that class that's outside of your major. Go to that show your friends invited you to. Go to the football game. Sign up for that club — even if it doesn't align with your post-grad goals. I promise you it will, in some way, serve you well in the future and will set you apart from others."
Why he chose Bucknell: The formal decision came during a Bucknell open house during Pawelczyk's senior year of high school. As a first-generation college student, he remembers sitting in the Weis Center feeling a bit of "impostor syndrome."
"I was quite intimidated by the others around me as I sat there by myself waiting to hear from a few students and faculty members," he says. "But after listening to the panel speak about all that Bucknell had to offer, I immediately fell in love. It wasn't even the words they said but the way they said them that piqued my interest. I could tell these individuals — namely, the students — were educated, and I wanted to be like them."
Major: Art history (with minors in French and arts entrepreneurship)
Job: Gallery assistant at Bridgette Mayer Gallery in Philadelphia, whose founder and owner is Bridgette Mayer Johnson '96
What she does: Much of Carita's work so far has been preparing the gallery to reopen to the public, which happened June 1. There's no "typical week" in the art world, so Carita does something different each day — coordinating artwork deliveries from an artist's studio, writing press releases for a gallery event, managing the gallery's online presence and more.
"I love that I get to do a little bit of everything, especially when it all revolves around beautiful art," she says.
How Bucknell prepared her for the role: Carita says her major, plus her job at Bucknell's Samek Art Museum in downtown Lewisburg, helped her learn to think about art in different ways and communicate about art with people from different backgrounds.
"I didn't realize how many soft skills I had gained in college — from managing deadlines and balancing multiple projects to communicating my ideas clearly," Carita says. "I really felt confident stepping into a professional setting based on the things I learned at Bucknell."
What she'd tell her younger self: Trust your instincts and have confidence in your abilities.
"When I first decided that I wanted to major in art history and pursue a career in the arts, I was so nervous about finding success in the field," Carita says. "Now, I know that was the right decision, and I'm so glad that I followed my instincts and made it happen."
Why she chose Bucknell: "Everyone I spoke to genuinely believed that I would love Bucknell as much as they did," she says. "There was so much school pride and a feeling of community, and I was really excited about going to a school where everyone seemed fun, interesting and happy to be there."
Major: Cell biology/biochemistry (with a minor in economics)
Job: Analytical chemist at Eurofins PSS Insourcing Solutions in Gaithersburg, Md.
What she does: Her company finds talented scientists to support drug development initiatives at the top pharmaceutical companies in the world. This year, she's been working in late-stage drug development to support the creation of COVID-19 vaccines.
"In a typical week, I set up studies and run tests and biological assays on drug candidates," she says. "I also analyze and compile the data to validate the drug and submit it for regulatory approval."
How Bucknell prepared her for the role: Kanyabwero says she gained hands-on lab experience that helped her approach the job with confidence.
"I also did undergrad research during the summer, and my research professor was working on a project to identify and characterize a chemical for pharmaceutical use," she says. "This gave me important insight on pharmaceutical research."
What she'd tell her younger self: Take advantage of every opportunity that Bucknell has to offer — academically and socially.
"I think it's better to experience college the way you always wanted so that you can look back and be proud of your journey — rather than just focusing on academics and missing out on meeting people, going abroad, having conversations with very smart professors and creating long-lasting memories," Kanyabwero says.
Why she chose Bucknell: She wanted to attend a college with a strong STEM program and a highly ranked engineering school.
"I kept seeing Bucknell in the top rankings, and when I checked out the campus, I was impressed at how beautiful it was," Kanyabwero says. "The culture was more than just academics, and the people were friendly. And orange is my favorite color."
Major: Civil engineering
Job: Project engineer at The Whiting-Turner Contracting Company in Washington, D.C.
What she does: Echeverria works entirely on the project worksite, managing a handful of the many subcontractors on-site, creating budgets, keeping track of the project schedule and working closely with co-workers to solve the many issues that pop up daily.
"As a construction manager or general contractor, most of our role on the construction site involves working directly with the owner, architects and subcontractors to ensure safety, quality, meeting the schedule, staying within budget and sometimes keeping up with changes," she says.
How Bucknell prepared her for the role: Echeverria says she learned the importance of having strong communication skills.
"Through my two engineering-based writing classes, I learned the importance of clear and concise technical writing," she says. "Learning how to break down complex topics and communicate them clearly has been a huge asset in the workforce."
What she'd tell her younger self: The memories you carry with you the most are never the ones you expect.
"I hardly remember the grades I got or being overwhelmed by homework and studying, but I do remember the long bus rides with my lacrosse team going to away games, late-night breakfast sandwiches in the Caf and the Lewisburg sunsets," she says. "Cherish every second you have, because you will be shocked that what seems like a big deal in the moment ends up only being a fraction of what makes your college experience."
Why she chose Bucknell: Echeverria wanted a small school with a strong engineering program — but not a school that only offered engineering.
"Being a liberal arts school, Bucknell allowed me to take classes that I never would have considered," she says. "My sophomore year, I took Humanities 100, and found a passion I did not know I had."
Major: Managing for sustainability
Job: Business analyst at Deloitte Consulting in Los Angeles
What he does: Each week, Chen, who is a fully remote worker, completes some combination of collecting, organizing, analyzing, synthesizing and presenting information on a problem he's been asked to solve.
"This entails interviews with clients, crunching numbers in Excel and internal team meetings to discuss how to best communicate our findings," Chen says.
Beyond that, he also makes sure to participate in happy hours and networking calls, which help him "feel connected to the firm in this remote-working environment and further explore my professional interests."
How Bucknell prepared him for the role: Chen says Bucknell taught him how to work effectively in cross-functional teams, ask good questions and have confidence when interacting with those in positions above him.
"When I get nervous before joining a networking event or speaking with someone senior, I think about the interactions I've had with many of the successful alumni who return to campus and how those conversations have prepared me," he says.
What he'd tell his younger self: Relax and have fun.
"But don't take shortcuts," he says. "The work you put in now will save you a lot of time and effort down the line."
Why he chose Bucknell: For Chen, the answer is simple. He was drawn to Bucknell's management program, especially its managing for sustainability major — something few other colleges offer.
Current status: Prevelige has been doing field research, seasonal work and outdoor adventuring since graduating, with plans to pursue a Ph.D. in ecology in the fall of 2022.
Until then, she's been traveling — safely — "and gaining some amazing life experience in the meantime."
National parks have become her office as she works on scientific publications, field research and grad school applications. She spent a month in Ecuador, worked for a ranch near Zion National Park in Utah and worked at a lodge in Alaska.
How Bucknell prepared her for the role: Prevelige says Bucknell prepared her to deal with the unexpected — "whether it's sleeping in my car in freezing weather so I can snowboard the next morning, spending a month in an area where no English is spoken or working tough seasonal jobs that aren't seen as 'real' jobs back where we live."
Beyond these academic lessons, Prevelige says her experiences with Bucknell's Outdoor Education & Leadership program taught her to "chase this discomfort and personal challenge."
What she'd tell her younger self: Take time for experiences that won't end up on your résumé.
"Nobody ever knows what they are doing, but the whole point is to enjoy the journey," she says. "Don't rush into things — embrace the discomfort, look for new experiences and don't feel obligated to follow a particular path toward whatever you currently define as success."
Why she chose Bucknell: Prevelige initially chose Bucknell because of its location and proximity to her sister at a nearby college. While she entered Bucknell in a different major, she switched to biology because of its faculty and staff.
"I had research opportunities that inspired me to become a professor so I could pay forward the mentorship and support I met at Bucknell," she says. "I cannot emphasize enough how grateful I am to have had such amazing professors, research opportunities and communities within the biology department."