Empathy helps Mallory Bower light students' major, career paths

In this issue’s Spotlight, meet Mallory Bower, associate director of career services. Once a first-generation student seeking her own answers, she identifies closely with students’ concerns about the future.

Q. Where were you born and raised?
A. I’m from Pennsylvania, the Pocono area. It’s about a three-hour jump down 81.

Q. When did you come to SUNY Oswego?
A. Three years ago. I was working in North Carolina, at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke, for a number of years and it was just a little too far from family and home. So my husband and I decided it was time to move a little closer. If you think Oswego is a small town, you haven’t been to Pembroke. I remember being really excited that we have restaurants here! (Laughs.) So we are enjoying the Oswego life.

Q. Why did you accept the position at this college?
A. My husband and I both interviewed here. We are sort of a dual higher education couple. When we got here, we found there were a lot of alums working on campus. They said things like, “I Iike it here and I’m never going to leave.” We figured that was a really good sign. The people we met here when we interviewed really solidified it for us—and the fact that we both got jobs, of course. The lake, the scenery and especially the students we met really sealed that deal.

Q. Can you tell us a bit about your educational background?
A. I went to college at Clarion University in Pennsylvania. I was studying communications. I was a bit like other college students—I was kind of floundering, trying to find my way. I was a first-generation college student. When I got to orientation, I had no idea what a college major was. I signed up for English, because I was good at it in high school, but didn’t really know what that meant. I didn’t know there was a degree for journalism until someone explained it to me. I tried a lot of things through college, trial and error.

Q. How did you get pointed toward career services?
A. I had a lot of great internships, one of which was with the United Way in Clarion County doing event planning and PR. Ended up through a couple of connections doing an event planning internship in the career center on campus at Clarion. Planned some large-scale events, but was also critiquing resumes and meeting with some students on simple low-level job search things. I figured out that I liked that better than the event planning part. I went to Indiana University of Pennsylvania for graduate school in student affairs.

Q. What are your duties in Career Services?
A. I am the career coach for business, communication, health care and STEM. So what I do is help students throughout their time at Oswego, from Day One, helping them figure out what to major in if they haven’t chosen one, helping them change majors, and once they have chosen a major I help them with, “OK, what do I do with that now?” So all of the things I struggled with, I help students with now—how to find their way, what they might want to do as a career, helping them plug into opportunities and meet people in those career fields. We work closely with the Center for Experiential Learning and Alumni Relations to bring alums and employers to campus to connect to students. We do some large-scale event planning in the area of careers, and help students prepare for job searches. I also teach two courses—“Strategic Communication in Business” for communication studies and a general studies course in life planning and career exploration.

Q. Has Career Services kept up with the internet era?
A. I think our office has done a pretty good job of keeping up. (For example) we have a program called Digital Dirt, where we talk to students about social media and how that might affect their future careers, how to post appropriately online, future implications of what they’re posting now, but more importantly how to use those tools in their favor—how the workplace is evolving and how they can use Snapchat to interact with employers, how to talk with them on Twitter, how to craft a profile.

Q. What do you think about your colleagues?
A. One of the biggest reasons I like working here is all of my coworkers, especially ones I work with very closely, have a tremendous heart for students, their well-being and their success. Honestly, if you don’t have that at base level, it’s very hard to get anything done. We’re just tremendously lucky to have such a great team.

Q. How would you characterize the students you encounter?
A. When I describe our students to employers—this is probably the best way I can put it—they are pick themselves up by their bootstraps kinds of students, which I can relate to. I know we have a lot of first-generation students on this campus, and I can empathize with that. They are hustlers in the best way possible—some of these students do three internships while they’re here! They are highly involved, highly motivated, and for the most part, I think, self-starters. It’s impressive; you just step back and say, “Wow!” They come to me when they’re trying to figure it out—“What’s the next thing for me?”—and that’s the good stuff.

Q. What can you tell us about your family?
A. My husband’s name is Stephen Papay, and he works as an athletic trainer. I have a younger brother in the Pittsburgh area, where my husband’s family is from. My mom and dad live in the Berwick area in eastern Pennsylvania. 

Q. What do you do during your time off?
A. I do some creative writing. I read a lot—I’m kind of a bookworm in that way. I like to be outside. I just got a bicycle, so I’m pretty excited about commuting to work by bike this summer. We love living close to the lake. We have kayaks. We’ll be starting our vegetable garden soon. We like to travel.

Q. What’s something about you that only close friends and family know?
A. We dabble very lightly in home brewing. We like to tour breweries and see how it’s made and eat cheese. I must talk about cheese a lot, because I got like 20 birthday wishes and they mentioned, “I hope you get to eat a lot of cheese today.” I don’t even eat cheese every day, but I guess that’s part of my brand! (Laughs.)