College graduates navigate new waters during economic downturn

UWS career counselor encourages job seekers to develop network, keep working on skills.

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Angelica Remache poses for a picture in the Yellowjacket Union on the University of Wisconsin-Superior campus. (Courtesy of the University of Wisconsin-Superior)

Angelica Remache’s career path took an unexpected turn this spring, leaving her destination unknown.

With a double major in economics and political science, the 2020 University of Wisconsin-Superior graduate planned to return to New York to work for the United Nations, where she interned a year ago.

But the COVID-19 pandemic rerouted her. The organization let her know hiring was on hold during the health emergency.

“Before all this happened, I had kind of secured my position at the United Nations, but now it’s been all different,” said Remache, an international student from Ecuador.

She’s not alone. The class of 2020 is searching for employment at a historic time. Wisconsin's unemployment rate rose to 13.6% in April and was still historically high at 12% in May, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.


Despite the economic downturn, UWS Career Counselor Heather Rickerl said she hasn’t seen an increase in requests from the class of 2020.

“I do anticipate requests from recent graduates to rise later this summer and into the fall,” Rickerl said. “Of course, no one has a road map for this, and there is a lot that depends on how quickly local economies recover, if there is a second wave of COVID-19, etc.”

Resources available to connect students with careers have gravitated online. Face-to-face opportunities like academic service-learning, job shadowing, classroom speakers and internships are on hold due to social distancing requirements. That impacts both the graduates looking for positions and businesses seeking to hire them.

Although she wasn’t working in higher education during the last economic downturn, Rickerl said her experience as someone whose position was cut during that time has been valuable when helping today’s graduates.

She cautioned that the situation is in flux, and job seekers need to find a way to be OK with the presence of uncertainty. Rickerl offered some advice:

  • Keep developing and relying on your network;

  • Focus on your skills, and how you can use them to be successful;

  • It’s OK to settle for a job now.

“The truth is that most of us don’t get our dream jobs right out of college, and that’s completely normal,” Rickerl said. “Use whatever job you do get to build your reputation, your skills and your knowledge of whatever field you are in.”
People are likely to have 10-20 jobs over the course of their working life, she said, and to change career fields at least three to five times over that same span.

“Just because you went to school for one thing doesn’t mean you can’t go into other areas, learn new skills or change course,” said Rickerl, who began her professional life as a park ranger with the National Park Service.

Remache said challenges are nothing new. During her time at UWS, she overcame everyday challenges — a different language, different culture, different foods, different friends.


“They may appear to be challenges. They are also something that at the end are rewards to you because it’s gratifying to have a different culture with you, to share different views now, to even like different food, to be involved in a different culture — it’s nice,” Remache said.

Along with a fondness for pizza and French fries, the new graduate has a deep appreciation for UWS. Many universities across the country closed their campuses completely in response to COVID-19.

“But here at UWS, as I’ve always said, we are Superior,” Remache said. “We have truly experienced that we are not only students here, we are considered family."

UWS kept dorms and food service open for international students who could not return to their homes.

Now in New York with her parents, Remache is charting a new course. She’s pursuing four possible job opportunities in the New York and Washington D.C. areas. Her goal is to make an international impact.

“I am happy to graduate, and I am happy to somehow be an asset now for society, but it’s hard to be in our positions,” Remache said. "I think we all, the class of 2020, people who graduated now, we will be able to overcome the situation."

This story was updated at 10:30 a.m. June 19 with updated unemployment numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It was originally posted at 7 a.m. on June 19.


Maria Lockwood covers news in Douglas County, Wisconsin, for the Superior Telegram.
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