Alumni Share Perspectives and Career Advice with Seniors
Garrett Putman Career Panel

By Melody Guyton Butts

Since Kyle Mumma ’09 graduated from Durham Academy, his career has run the gamut — from operations with Duke basketball and football, to the nonprofit and business consulting worlds. Through those experiences, he’s become something of an early-career expert, and he’s parlaying that knowledge into his newest endeavor: launching a start-up company that aims to help college athletes translate their experience on the field into the workplace. Mumma offered some of that advice to DA seniors at the inaugural Career Day on Nov. 7.

In a keynote address, he told students that his start-up, NextPlay, is built on a foundation of four values that have been informed by his career experiences: innovation, resilience, authenticity and connection — “surrounding yourself with people who make you better every day.”

For DA Alumni Board President Garrett Putman ’94, “connection” is what Career Day was all about.

“We want our seniors — and fellow graduates — to understand that the Durham Academy community is an outstanding resource to use for career networking,” he said. “Whether it’s a senior who has questions about a specific professional field of interest, a college student looking for a summer internship or a young professional who is looking to make a career transition, DA alumni are ready, willing and able to help.”

Over the last few years, the Alumni Board has made it a priority to offer additional networking opportunities, like its Alumni After-Hours event, and Career Day is an opportunity for alumni to connect with current students and “share our perspectives on what makes for an interesting, engaging and purpose-led career,” Putman explained.

Mumma and Putman were joined by seven fellow alumni on discussion panels to give seniors a glimpse into their professional lives and offer career advice.

Grant Fowler ’08, Co-Founder and Software Engineer, Fugitive Labs

“I think it’s important to note that a lot of what you guys [might think is] I go to college, and I have to decide now what I major in, and that determines my career. And that’s not the case. Three of the guys I work with, none of them studied computer science in college. They all kinda learned on the side or picked it up on their own. Your degree matters to a certain extent, but it doesn’t determine what you do. The real world is a lot more nuanced than that. There are a thousand different ways you can go.”

Kelly Smoke ’00, has Worked as a High School Teacher, in Pharmaceutical Sales and in Politics

“Always have in mind how you’re going to serve your community. Shirley Chisholm said, ‘Service is the rent we pay for the privilege of living on this earth.’ … Sometimes you might not have as much fulfillment in your work as you think you’d ought to have, but it allows us on the weekends and on the evenings to donate or volunteer our time. If you can marry those ideas — who you want to be, what you want to do and what service you want to render to the community — you will be a more whole and more content person.”

Garrett Putman ’94, Principal Marketing Consultant at SAS and Independent Marketing Consultant

“The people sitting next to you are going to continually inspire and amaze you as you move forward. … Just in my class alone — I had 64 kids in my class — one guy is on Broadway right now, one guy is a doctor who chases Ebola and treats patients all around the world, one girl is writing a book on happiness and what it means to be a happy individual. It’s just amazing that a class that small can have so many diverse interests. Continue to stay in touch with the people sitting next to you. You can lean on them, you can get ideas from them, you can get inspired by them.”

Kendall Bradley ’07, Resident Physician with Duke Orthopedic Surgery

“With orthopedics, you get to fix a very specific problem, and you get to see your patients get better. … In medicine, you get to see the impact that you make on patients and really help people. There’s a really small room for error and the training is really long, but I wouldn’t give it up for anything else.”

Seth Jernigan ’96, President of Real Estate Associates

“I started in the forestry program at N.C. State because I’m a big outdoorsman and love to be outside, and I thought that’s what I wanted to do for a living. I spent one semester doing forestry, and I decided pretty quickly that I don’t want to work in the woods. … I wanted to ideally find a career that would still allow me to do my passion and have the flexibility and means to do it, but also find something for work that I enjoy. For me, the real estate business, I enjoy it and am passionate about it. But I also have other passions, and I’ve been able to strike that balance.”

Virginia Reves Hall ’91, Fifth-Grade History Teacher and JV Cross-Country Coach at Durham Academy

“You shouldn’t feel like you have to go straight to grad school after college. Sometimes that’s the right path, but if you can get out in the real world and try something out for a while, you have way more perspective. I had a year at another school under my belt when I started teaching at DA and went to get my master’s. The things the professors were telling me made so much more sense because I had that year of teaching in my own classroom.”

Kyle Mumma ’09, Founder and CEO of NextPlay

“You are always going to want to try new things and have new experiences. You’d be surprised how something you learned in an old job helps you to do that. Oftentimes, it’s not the line of code that you learn to write that makes you successful in your next job. It’s learning how to work with people or learning how to show up the right way to the office or learning how to be flexible in a challenging situation. Those are the things that are going to make you successful at anything you do, whether it’s software or marketing or consulting or whatever.”

Susan Knott Easterling ’00, Principal Engineer at Gardner & McDaniel

“Engineering is something that helps you think critically, and it builds on the foundation you already have at Durham Academy. A lot of people I know didn’t actually continue engineering, but it set them up for success. … Engineering is one of those degrees that you can do a lot of things with — you can get a master’s in engineering or an M.B.A., and you can work in a small business or with a big corporation.”

Mark Anderson ’81, Partner and Trial Lawyer at McGuireWoods

“I think, smartly, I took my first job without knowing how much it would pay because it was with people I respected and people who were doing interesting things. When I got there, I unabashedly latched on to people I respected the most. When my first mentor was going to court, I would volunteer to pick him up at his house, take him to court, take notes for him and then write letters to follow up to the clients after he left for the day. I got to work in the morning and made the coffee. … I learned a lot and got to work with really interesting people, and that has continued.”

The reaction from seniors, like Yaakov Huba, was positive. He was admittedly skeptical initially, given that he and his classmates are now focused on the next immediate chapter of their lives, college, rather than the careers to follow, but “it proved very helpful to seeing the paths that people take and the importance of skills such as collaboration and finding passion.

“The speakers were engaging and encouraged us to ask questions, in turn giving us opportunities for outreach and connection with Durham Academy alumni,” he continued. “The diversity of the careers presented to us was an extremely helpful take on the career market and showed us the possibilities that a Durham Academy education can give us.”

For fellow senior Dianne Kim, Career Day fell at the perfect time.

“This is a stressful time for me, not only because it's that time of year for college apps, but also because I'm applying to colleges not even knowing what I want to do in the future,” she explained. “I think Career Day was just what I needed: talking to people who went through the same process that I'm going through currently and assuring me that it's okay to feel this uncertain. I have now met new mentors that I can look up to and ask questions about right here in Durham.”

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