By: Amanda Coulson
Brian Woods is a two time Penn State alumnus of the Smeal College of Business, holding a Bachelor of Science in Business Management (’98) and a Master of Business Administration (’07). A native of the Philadelphia metropolitan area, Brian began his Penn State experience commuting to Penn State Abington from his parents’ home for his freshmen year. By beginning at Penn State Abington, he was able to not only cut
down on expenses, but prepare himself academically for the transitions to University Park. That transition came early when he received a special admit transfer for the Penn State Blue Band Drumline, and suddenly found himself going from classrooms with no more than 30 students to lectures in the Forum with over 200 other students! While it was a big leap forward, Brian believes it was Abington that helped lay the foundation for his success.
When asked what the difference between the two campuses were, he noted that Abington was much more personalized and supportive academically, while his time at University Park was much more of an education in personal development:
“You really bond with people at University Park because everyone there has had to leave their friends and family behind to chase their dream and live on their own – in many cases – for the first time in their lives. You learn that no one is going to wake you up for class, do your laundry or remind you that a paper is due next week. Very quickly you learn to take on personal responsibility for your choices and how to manage your time, or you do not stay on campus long.”
In addition to his experiences as a student, Brian Woods is also a military veteran who served in the United States Army Intelligence Corps where he learned that success is more about effort and dedication than it is luck or raw ability. He expressed, “with the proper motivation, one can discover anything is possible.” Much like attending college is for most students, the military is another way of discovering new talents and abilities you never knew you had. During his first posting at the Presidio of Monterey, he had only 6 months to learn Spanish before moving to his next challenge. “To this day, I had no idea I had any ability for language. I arrived in California with no Spanish language experience and 6 months later I’m in Texas having conversations with native speakers.” It was a lesson he would carry with him after his transition to civilian life.
Today Brian is a successful professional working in the Bay Area of California as a Staff Level Business Development Analyst for Lockheed Martin Space Systems. While he is proud of that accomplishment, he is quick to point out his many setbacks along the way. After his return to Philadelphia, he found himself several times facing and overcoming adversity. After his military service, he found himself with a lot of valuable experience and the education employers require, but struggled to translate his military experience into the commercial business world. That difficulty encouraged him to go back to school for his master’s. Things were looking bright for the future when he was diagnosed with cancer just before his arrival to campus. He eventually made a full recovery and graduated. When asked what he learned from all that adversity he responded:
“The biggest thing I learned during my MBA and my personal battle with cancer is that no one does anything alone. During the first year of my MBA, I kept my cancer diagnosis to myself fearing that others would treat me differently; it left me struggling with my health and the challenge of graduate studies. When I finally could not hide how sick I was, I broke my silence and reached out to my team and some faculty I trusted. That made all the difference. Suddenly everyone was there to help me with whatever I needed personally or professionally. I learned at that moment that everyone has their challenges; there is no reason to go it alone. People are out there to help you. You just need find the courage to reach out and ask for their help.”
When Brian was asked what advice he had for current students pursuing their undergraduate and master’s degrees, he emphasized the importance of planning ahead. One of the mistakes he made as an undergrad was waiting until graduation to look at the job market. As a result, he saw there were many opportunities he missed during his undergrad to make himself more marketable to employers. One technique he recommends for students is “backward planning.”
“Go find a posting for any job that is available and look carefully. You will see not only the basic requirements (degree, years of experience), but a list of desired skills and experiences that the company truly values. If you backward plan, you will have a virtual career roadmap in your head that makes it much easier to plan which classes and activities to schedule.”
In addition to doing career road-mapping and planning, Brian stressed the power of networking. While in school for his master’s, many professors “kept beating the drum of networking. I thought it was Latin for ‘hit people up for jobs.’” Since then he has learned that networking is building connections to individuals who can not only give you valuable insights, but often introductions you could never get by submitting resumes online. Today as he looks at future positions, he realizes the importance of building and maintaining networks.
Brian’s greatest success since graduating Penn State has been transforming into a professional. Where he once felt like he embodied “fake it until you make it,” he is now an established analyst who people rely upon for critical information and analyses. He reminds students, “you do not suddenly wake up one day where you want to be. You work hard, learn from your mistakes and focus on what you can do today to be better tomorrow.”