Staring at the insurmountable pile of college applications and academic information she received in the mail, left this high school sophomore feeling overwhelmed with excitement. “I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up,” she thought. “So how do I even begin to decide where I want to go?”

Each year over 5,000 students graduate from Illinois State University. From the anticipation of being accepted at the institution to coordinating her transition to the workplace, Taylor Denby ‘21 joins the multitude of Redbirds who reflect upon their academic journey.

“It’s about making the most out of your four years. What you do is what’s going to change your narrative.”

A “major” decision

When she first came to campus, Denby had an idea of what she wanted to study but was uncertain of what that should be. However, the vital connections she made helped guide her in her decision.

“I was originally interested in being an athletic trainer. But when I met with my academic advisor Amanda Papinchock, she referred me to Career Services to take the IDS 106: Career Choice Class. That class was a game-changer for me!” 

The Career Choice course is a for-credit course offered through Interdisciplinary Studies and is taught by Career Services. The course assists students with exploring their interests, skills, and values while learning about valuable tools and resources for selecting an academic program and/or career path that fits their individual needs.

During the course, Denby identified the field she wanted to go into as a career. “My instructor brought in HR professionals to the class, and I was able to pick their brains,” she states. “One assignment was to interview professionals in their field of interest. I didn’t know anyone in HR, so I decided to email ISU’s HR department. Two amazing women got back to me that had been working in HR for 25 plus years. So, I came with a list of interview questions and picked their brains for about an hour. When I left the interview, I changed my major and haven’t looked back since.”

Networking to success

With the help of those connections, Denby discovered that networking was a key to career success.

Her career advisor was one of the first to help her succeed. “I set up a meeting with my career advisor and that conversation changed my life. He mentioned that I would be a good career ambassador, and a couple of weeks later I got the position with Career Services.”

The second success came when she met Career Services Director Pamela Cooper. While serving as a career ambassador, Denby quickly made her a personal mentor. Numerous conversations and motivational talks helped her to be positive and grow as a person, not just as a student.

“Taylor exhibited a resolve to be successful. I saw a lot of growth in her and she was quickly promoted in her role as career ambassador,” states Cooper. “In addition, she also grew in her confidence as she interviewed for internship positions and landed an internship.”

Internship experiences

Denby’s service as a career ambassador opened many doors during her journey. She learned how to initiate conversations with employers and built her confidence.

“It’s about making the most out of your four years. What you do is what’s going to change your narrative,” Taylor Denby ’21

“During the career fairs, I assisted employers and talked to them about my role as a career ambassador,” states Denby. “I started taking notes on employers before fairs which lead to more positive conversations and helped me to look for internships in the summer.”

As a result, Denby landed an internship at the Museum of Science and Industry. This experience further confirmed her decision to pursue human resources as a career. Later, Cooper referred her for a diversity and inclusion internship at Demo Harris Bank in Chicago, where she served as a consultant while working virtually.

Her experience did not stop there. In her senior year, Denby received an internship position that she found on LinkedIn.

“Taylor Denby has flourished as a professional in many ways. She has a resolve to be successful. For many students, avenues to express that determination for career success has to be provided. Through her work with Career Services, I saw that growth. She took advantage of the career options presented to her,” continues Cooper.

Inspirational example

As Redbirds close out the school year with many graduating, and many returning, Denby provides an inspiration to all.

“She truly exemplifies what all students should do from the first day on they arrive on campus,” states Papinchock. “ She asked questions, participated in new experiences with an open mind, proactively utilized campus resources, and developed meaningful connections with faculty, staff, students, and campus partners; all while balancing an exceptionally demanding lifestyle of school, work, and various leadership roles.”

“You never know where conversations will take you. I came to ISU clueless about how college would go, but I always knew I was going to make it a successful four years,” continues Denby.

For Denby her four-year career journey at Illinois State is just the beginning. After graduation, she will begin the next step in her journey as an area manager at Amazon.

Advice for other students

Denby’s personal and professional growth propelled her to success. She provides the following advice to other Redbirds as they navigate their career journey while in college:

  • Take care of yourself. Classes and work get stressful. So take the time you need for yourself.
  • Lean on your friends who are going through similar situations.
  • Develop a team who can advocate for you. “There are amazing faculty and staff that are willing to help you. If you maintain connections, you will be able to call on those people in the future.”
  • Learn how to manage and prioritize your time. Deadlines and projects need to be completed, even if you’re working and studying in a virtual environment. Denby jokingly recommends doing what you can to make the best of any situation. “I turned my room into an office, because my bed just wasn’t working out.”