NFL football legend Vince Lombardi once said, “Leaders aren’t born, they are made. And they are made just like anything else, through hard work.”

This statement rings true, particularly when it comes to academic and career success. In 2017 the Illinois State University Academics and Careers Council identified a number of academic and career steps students should implement while in college. These keys to academic and career success are easily seen in how Redbird alumnus Julian Bracero ’17 landed his position with international technology giant Amazon.

Bracero started his journey at Illinois State University with excitement and anticipation, just as most new students do. He had a passion for mathematics and chose to study actuarial science. He attended his classes, got to know his instructors, and excelled in the classroom. However, after two years and some careful consideration, he decided to make a change.

Julian Bracero

Julian Bracero

“My mother really opened my eyes,” Bracero said. Like any parent, she knew her son well and could easily identify his abilities. “She told me that she saw something great in me. Although I was doing well in my classes, she encouraged me to dig deeper and find a major that would really push me.”

With that inspiration, Bracero took his mother’s challenge and talked about it with one of his professors. This led him to pursue a double major in mathematics and computer science. “I always wanted to build something, like a startup organization or to become an entrepreneur. So I thought about studying technology in addition to math.”

Coordinator for Career and Curriculum Development Laurenn York said students changing their academic and career path is very common among undergraduate students as they take classes and explore their interests. “Many students today begin college with a major in one field, but as they reflect on their interests, skills, and values and expand their awareness of various options, they often move into another field as they continue to clarify their career vision.”

Students can register to take Career Choice (IDS 106), a course providing students individualized attention to evaluate how major and career interest relates to personal interests, values, and skills.

That little nudge from mom led Bracero to more than changing his course of study. With his passion for math and computer science, he continued to do well in his course work, even with the extra workload that comes from choosing double majors. Bracero’s grades remained strong, and he was quickly invited to join Illinois State’s chapter of the National Society of Leadership and Success (Sigma Alpha Pi), the largest leadership honor society in the United States. The registered student organization’s philosophy that anyone can achieve their dreams with the proper support and dedicated action was a conviction he held as his own, so he decided to join.

As a member of Sigma Alpha Pi Bracero attended chapter events, maintained his academic membership requirements, and even volunteered to facilitate group discussions at the meetings. “I learned so much through the organization, especially though the leadership videos,” said Bracero. (One of the benefits Sigma Alpha Pi members enjoy is access to a portal of testimonial videos from various industry leaders sharing what they experienced and learned throughout their careers.) The videos for news anchor Anderson Cooper and personal trainer Vincent Dolvett were some of Bracero’s favorites as they both stressed the importance of being determined and always doing one’s personal best.

Bracero’s passion for success grew, and he was inspired to become the organization’s president. Leading the executive board, coordinating meetings, and supporting members helped him to develop many transferable skills essential to career readiness. He developed his leadership and communication skills, teamwork, critical thinking, as well as many others.

As students gain knowledge from their course work, they become even more career ready by participating in practical experiences to develop their expertise and refine their skills. Career Center Internship Manager Debbie Ungson-Walbert said internships are essential to a student’s career. “Most employers seek candidates who have gained actual experience. Internships can be a useful way for students to do just that, as they provide opportunities to build their skills and apply what they learn in the classroom.”

In fact, Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce reports that the U.S. economy is expected to create 55 million job openings by 2020, with 24 percent of them being entirely new positions. As the job market continues to evolve and the types of jobs and roles that exist may change, the professional skills employers are seeking still remain consistent.

The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) Job Outlook 2018 survey identified the attributes that employers value most, besides a strong GPA. The survey indicated that the attributes employers seek most in candidates are as follows:

Attribute % of Respondents
Problem-solving skills 82.9%
Ability to work in a team 82.9%
Communication skills (written) 80.3%
Leadership 72.6%
Strong work ethic 68.4%
Analytical/quantitative skills 67.5%
Communication skills (verbal) 67.5%

National Association of Colleges and Employers Job Outlook 2018 survey

Bracero knew he needed to gain experience and develop his skills. While attending classes, he participated in internships serving as a software engineer intern at Mirus Research, and later at Next Tier Education. “I was challenged to develop technology that was never used before. In fact, in one internship, I was responsible to build a new feature for one of the company’s most innovative products. I had to work with a team, think critically to solve problems, and utilize my networks to succeed.”

Having a network of professional contacts is an important component to academic and career success. Bracero developed strong relationships with his professors and other university staff and built many within his industry by participating in internships. Bracero learned that his textbook knowledge and transferable skill set were not always enough to help him succeed. He describes an experience during his internship where his networks came in handy:

“The technology I was developing had never been created before so there wasn’t a template to work from.” Finding that he had to make it work, he took what he knew from his coursework and discussed his challenge and ideas with his professors. Then he conferred with his colleagues as well. “I couldn’t give up on the challenge. It was my job. So I ran my ideas past those I saw as experts.” Having a pool of academic and professional contacts was a valuable resource for him.

Bracero utilized many of the keys to academic and career success. “Julian worked hard in his classes. He built relationships with his professors, took advantage of opportunities to get involved, and developed his skills though internships,” said Pamela Cooper, Career Center director and Sigma Alpha Pi co-advisor.

It didn’t take long for Bracero to achieve career success. In fact, he achieved what all graduates strive for—to get good grades and land that dream job. Today, he is utilizing the skills he learned from his undergraduate experiences at Illinois State and is now proudly working as a software engineer at online retailer Amazon. That’s Redbird success!

Support the rising trajectory of career success for all students by participating in Redbirds Rising: The Campaign for Illinois State. The Career Center assists all students with developing, evaluating, and implementing career decisions.

Keys to academic and career success

Whether you’re arriving to Illinois State for the first time or have been here a while, the University Academics and Careers Council encourages you to utilize the keys to academic and career success.

Academic achievement

  • Strive for academic success. If you need assistance, contact University College.
  • Explore careers. The Career Center can help!
  • Develop your academic and career plans by meeting with your academic and career advisors.
  • Study abroad.

Experiences and involvement

  • Participate in student organizations, internships, research opportunities, leadership or volunteer opportunities, part-time jobs, etc. and implement what you’re learning, develop your skills, and build your network.
  • Attend academic, career and campus events.

Transferable skills

  • Relate the skills you developed in your experiences and course work to your career.
  • Include your skills into your resume, interviews and research.


  • Get to know those with whom you come in contact: professors, academic and career advisors, and co-workers.
  • Conduct informational interviews or conduct a job shadow.
  • Establish a professional social media presence and utilize it professionally.

For more information about careers, contact the Career Center.

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