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The Go Anywhere initiative helps students explore career and academic opportunities. A recent Women’s Leadership Forum and Networking Reception connected students with alumnae from diverse fields. (photo by Donn Young)

Go Anywhere

A new Honors Carolina initiative is high-tech and high-touch.

Every time Amazon makes an announcement, career paths change, said Todd Ballenger ’88, director of alumni and career networks for Honors Carolina’s Go Anywhere initiative.

“Millions of jobs that exist today won’t be around in five to seven years,” Ballenger said. “And jobs that will be common in the future don’t even exist today. We have to teach students how to be flexible and adaptable as they move from college to career.”

Back in the days when a career path was like a highway you could drive on for 30 years, many college students didn’t begin thinking about a career until their senior year. At UNC today, the Go Anywhere initiative begins laying the career-choice groundwork the summer before students enroll in Honors Carolina.

Alumni Chad and Blake Pike, who both graduated in 1993, made a gift that supports a team of experts and an online platform where students can explore experiences and opportunities, connect with faculty and industry mentors, find internships and jobs, and reach out to students with similar interests.

“The idea was simple — for Carolina people to help Carolina people,” Chad Pike said. “We hope Go Anywhere will allow students to identify an industry and sector they are passionate about and to secure better internships and ultimately full-time jobs via the alumni network. We also hope students will actively participate in that network post-graduation.”

Honors Carolina staff say students are motivated and curious, but often overwhelmed by choices about where they want to go in life and how to get there. The Go Anywhere initiative balances high-tech with high-touch. The online platform showcases the opportunities and resources, and new career and professional development coaches help students decide what to explore.

The structure of Go Anywhere covers five career areas: finance, technology, health care, business and law/government/nonprofits. Each area is headed by an advisory council of alumni who are leaders in that particular sector. Each council is aided by industry ambassadors — alumni who open doors to internships and jobs, counsel on key industry trends, and mentor students toward career and life preparation. Each sector also has a coach — a full-time staff member who works directly with students to help them explore career opportunities.

Go Anywhere worked just as it was designed to for Kyle Asher, who will graduate in May. Asher came to Carolina intent on following in the footsteps of his father, a surgeon.

Early on, he met with Go Anywhere coach Chad Collins, who recognized that Asher wasn’t enthusiastic about the pre-med courses he was taking. Asher had signed up for Chinese to fulfill UNC’s foreign language requirement because it sounded like fun.

“I got my worst grade ever in Chinese 101, but it was my favorite class,” Asher said.

Collins let Asher know about the Phillips Ambassadors program, which enabled Asher to spend a summer in Beijing, where he learned a year’s worth of the language in two months. That fluency inspired him to add Chinese as a major, and Collins encouraged him to apply for Honors Carolina’s William D. Weir Fellowship, which sent him to China for a six-month intensive language program and a summer internship with a Chinese startup.

Collins helped Asher plan a couple of different career paths. Eventually, he switched to computer science, a major that better fit his interests and talents, and combined it with continued study of Chinese. Asher has been accepted into UNC’s dual bachelor’s/master’s program in computer science. But he has kept open the option of returning to China after graduation and working there in the computer field.

Without Go Anywhere, Asher might never have learned about study abroad fellowships. He might not have paired Chinese with computer science.

Ballenger calls that outcome a success.

“It’s not just about careers. The Go Anywhere initiative is a guided journey toward a successful career and a purposeful life.”

By Nancy E. Oates