Hounds with Purpose- Morgan Hakala ’17

Hounds with Purpose is a space for alumni to share their stories of purpose and vocational engagement beyond their years at Assumption.  This blog is created by the Center for Purpose and Vocation and the Career Development and Internship Center (CDIC) to better connect student and alumni through experiential storytelling.

From Greyhound to Falcon: My Vocational Journey

By Morgan Hakala ‘17

In the fall of 2013, when I entered Assumption College as a freshman, I thought I had my whole life planned out. I was going to major in business and do something related to marketing or management for a career. During my first semester, I created a list of all the classes I needed to take in order to fulfill this goal. I wanted to be as organized as possible to ensure I made the most of my college experience, both in and out of the classroom. I was unsure of what I wanted to minor in, so I decided to take a variety of elective courses to help me make that decision.

Even though I felt confident in my path going forward, I made the decision to apply to the SOPHIA (Sophomore Initiative at Assumption College) Program for my sophomore year. This program was designed specifically to help sophomores discover their vocation. I figured a little self-exploration never hurt anyone, and I would be more involved on campus. When I applied for it, I never imagined the program would completely change my outlook on life.

As a sophomore beginning the SOPHIA Program, all I knew was the term vocation meant your calling in life, and I was about to spend an entire year deciphering my own calling. I soon realized, while attending a retreat on Cape Cod, I had no clue what my vocation was. After a weekend filled with reflection activities meant to help us get a better sense of our path, I felt uncertain, anxious, and full of questions. I kept thinking back to two topics that were discussed on the retreat: does what I do bring me joy and am I good at doing it? I questioned if I was truly passionate about anything, and I wondered if I was even good at anything that could become a career. Through these concerns, I realized I was not enjoying the classes I was taking for business. As you can imagine, I began to spiral into more confusion and anxiety when I thought about the plans that I had made freshman year and how I would need to change them now. Luckily, I was not alone as I deliberated this decision. I had the support of my fellow SOPHIA classmates, the program director, my faculty mentor, and my professors. Through many conversations and some tears of frustration, one night I finally had an epiphany. I realized the classes I enjoyed most involved English or writing. It was in that moment I decided to go with my gut and disregard all my carefully laid plans. I switched my major to English: Writing and Mass Communications and decided to just minor in Marketing. At first, I was terrified I was making a mistake. I had no idea what possible career I would have with this major, but the fact that I was able to take classes that brought me joy was enough to reassure me I was making the best decision.

By the time my sophomore year was over, I felt confident in the direction I was headed. And, even though I was uncertain what exactly the future held for me, I felt better equipped to make big life decisions, like what to do for a career. Luckily, my involvement with the SOPHIA Program was not over, as I was given the opportunity to be one of the first interns for the program during my junior year. Over the course of that year, I worked closely with one other intern and the director of the program to help ensure the current students had the best possible experience. I thoroughly enjoyed working with the new group of sophomores and providing them with guidance in their vocational journeys. The more involved I became in this position, the more I saw myself grow into a confident person and leader, which led to a continued development of my vocation.

As a senior in college, everyone asks you what your plans are for after graduation; I absolutely hated this question because, for a while, I was unsure of what I wanted to do for a career. I thought I would get my master’s degree in communications because it seemed like the logical next thing to do for my major. But, after attending some informational sessions and doing some research, the idea of obtaining that degree did not excite me. It was not until I was on the fall SOPHIA retreat for the third and final time, to hand off the reigns to the new interns, that I had what I like to call an “ah-ha” moment. I realized just how much I loved working with students. It was at that moment I realized I could go into a career designed just for that, higher education.

The next few months I spent time researching the career field and talking with higher education professionals on campus. Through all this, I was reassured that I would find a fulfilling job. But, in order to get a job, I first needed my master’s degree in higher education. By the time I came to this realization, I knew it would not make sense for me to enter into a graduate program immediately after completing undergrad.  I did not want to rush into things; I wanted to do my research and find the best program for me. Plus, it gave me the perfect excuse to chase after a lifelong dream of mine, to work at Walt Disney World.

After graduating from Assumption in May 2017, I spent the summer working at an internship at Harvard University, where I had my first real taste of higher education through a program planning position. From there, I spent the next five months at my favorite place: Walt Disney World. Though working in Disney did not necessarily have to do anything with my future in higher education, I gained many valuable life skills through the position and had the opportunity to grow and learn as I lived far from home. The experience brought me that sense of joy and fulfillment I hoped to find in a career, and as it was only temporary, it allowed me the time to research the perfect master’s program.

Disney College Program Graduation, December 2017

In May 2018, a year had passed since I graduated from Assumption, and I prepared to enter the classroom once again, this time, at Merrimack College. I was accepted into Merrimack’s Higher Education Master’s Program and was fortunate enough to also earn a fellowship position through the program. With this fellowship, which began in August 2018, I spent 25 hours a week working at Merrimack, gaining even more experience. I was as a success coach for students, mainly serving those on academic probation. I worked with them on study skills and learning techniques to help them become successful in their classes. Over the course of what was an extremely intense and stressful year, whenever I felt like giving up, I reminded myself of the reason why I was in the program. I wanted to help students. And, over the course of the year, I was able to do just that, while also gaining valuable experiences and an education. I had the opportunity to take interesting classes, attend and present at conferences, learn from some incredible higher education professionals, and develop my very own curriculum for a success course for students on academic probation all before graduating with my master’s degree in May 2019. If you had told me as a freshman that I would be doing this five years later, I would not have believed you.

Master of Education in Higher Education graduation day at Merrimack College, May 2019.

My path in life has had many unexpected twists and turns. For someone who likes to plan things, these changes in the past were always a challenge. But, as I discovered my true calling and vocation, I realized all the changes were necessary. Through all my experiences at Assumption College, especially in my work with the SOPHIA Program, I learned to trust myself and that in the end, everything would work out. I am now in my first full time job as a higher education professional as an academic coach at Fitchburg State University. Though the Assumption College Greyhounds will always have a place in my heart, I am excited to now be a Fitchburg State Falcon. I feel extremely grateful each day I arrive at work because I am truly passionate about my job and thoroughly enjoy it. I know there are still many changes ahead of me in my future. I know my vocation will continue to change, as I learn and grow as a person. Despite this, I feel fully equipped to tackle any changes or challenges life throws at me head on, so long as I continue to do the things that I am good at and the things that bring me joy.

Morgan Hakala is an academic coach in the Academic Coaching and Tutoring Center at Fitchburg State University.  She can be reached at mhakala@fitchburgstate.edu.

By Gillan Peabody
Gillan Peabody Marketing & Communications Graduate Assistant