Laurie is our Executive Support Specialist working in Lincoln. She handles paper work, meetings, details, data, etc. for many of the behind-the-scenes activities of EducationQuest. Here is her story.
I graduated in 2001 from Lincoln High. I loved Lincoln High and my great education from LPS. So many things I’ve learned came from my LPS schooling – things that I’m finding many adults who went to school elsewhere never learned or learned much later (like typing, filing taxes, life guarding, driver’s ed and even speed reading).
I always loved science. In high school I thought my future might be in science – but I didn’t know the specifics. I was scared to take Chemistry because I had heard it was super hard. I saved that for Senior year (doing Anatomy and Physics Junior year). Turns out, I loved Chemistry and was really good at it.
Off to College
I headed to a Christian, Liberal Arts college in Michigan (Hope College). I found it on Google – they had one of the best Chemistry research programs around. I went in with the intention to do Pre-med, with a Chemistry focus. Within that first year it felt like Chemistry was more my path so I dropped Pre-med.
One of my gen ed classes was Intro to Art. Thanks to that lovely class, during my Sophomore year, my love of Art was revived. Someone pointed out that I could fit Art classes into my schedule. In fact – the peaceful Art classes were great mixed in with my heavily cerebral science classes. It was a nice balance. I ended up minoring in Art. I do wish I had time to squeeze in some Geology and Astronomy – but I guess there just wasn’t enough time.
I worked at the school library for all four years for my work study. I’m a firm believer in working as a student (high school and college), that’s where you learn things you just can’t learn in school. During the summers I did Chemistry research (which was paid) with my advisor and my senior year I had a great (paid) internship at a local company. I was a Pell Grant recipient and I worked to pay for a lot of my school fees.
For some of my spring breaks I went with our school’s Habitat for Humanity group down to Southern states to build houses. That was a great, rewarding and fun way to spend the break.
I finished my Bachelor of Science in Chemistry with a minor in Art. My chemistry degree took me to various lab jobs, doing analytical chemistry (analyzing pesticides, chemicals, plastics, drugs and more) in Omaha, Boston and rural Massachusetts. I always loved science, and I still do. I love working my brain. However, after 40 hours a week for 10 years in labs, I longed for something different.
Then I Went to Africa
Not only did I start desiring a job where my work directly helped people – I couldn’t stop thinking about Africa. I volunteered for a non-profit that did work in Liberia for two years, building up my admin, fundraising and web skills before I finally left my Chemistry life.
In late 2015 I had my last day as a chemist, I sold nearly everything in my apartment and stored some important stuff with my family. I went to Liberia with the organization I was volunteering for. When they flew back to the US after three weeks, I flew the opposite direction to Uganda. I had organized a 6-month trip volunteering with a handful of organizations in Uganda and Kenya. I taught English, Life Skills, and helped grass roots organizations with their websites and other admin needs. That trip gave me a great taste of different African environments and different roles that I could fill.
In March 2017 I moved to Kenya to work with a Kenyan church, a children’s home, and other non-profits. I continued to live and work in Kenya until December 2019. I fundraised my income and project money during all that time. It was a great experience for me (and I really miss many aspects of it!) but I was missing home, so I decided to come back to Lincoln.
Career Change Tips
My career change from chemist to non-profit worker relied heavily on my volunteer experience. Once you start applying for jobs, you’ll see that it’s hard to get a job with no experience – that’s where volunteering can help. Through volunteering you can also test out different fields and tasks and see what fits you best. I wrote about the benefits of volunteering in an article last year.
My degree still helps me get jobs – regardless of the major – employers like degrees. I know that all my experiences – my school, lab, volunteering, cultural and travelling experiences – they all contribute to my skills today, and I’m grateful for all of them.
Switching fields did include a decrease in my income. Money isn’t everything though, and I’m much happier now than I was as a chemist.
After coming back to Lincoln – I found this opening at EducationQuest through a staffing agency. Staffing agencies can be a great way to get into companies – I also got my first Chemistry job that way. This job has been better than I imagined – oh, except the COVID part that happened only three weeks after I started…
I also work a part-time job doing fun activities with people with Dementia. Having that second job adds a little bit of money, a whole lot of joy and new skills and experiences that are certainly improving me and my life. I continue to give financial assistance and counseling (via a social worker) to some families in Kenya and I volunteer at several other places.
Don’t Live in a Box
I’ll end with saying, don’t stay in a box too much. Open your mind and your life and see what’s out there. You’ll probably discover many things to love that you didn’t even know existed.