Alums supply sage advice
October 11, 2012 4:28PM
Updated: November 13, 2012 6:28AM
One of the great things about working on a university campus is that lessons learned are not limited to students.
Last Tuesday, for example, I enjoyed the wonderful chance to escort U.S. Secret Service Deputy Assistant Director Dale Pupillo and Carolyn Curiel, ambassador, journalist and former speechwriter for President Bill Clinton, on a “back home” visit to Purdue University Calumet. Pupillo grew up in Gary and Merrillville, Curiel in East Chicago and Hammond.
While on campus, they gave presentations to students, staff and the public. Here are some of the lessons I learned — and, I suspect, so did others by the remarks of these distinguished public servants, former PUC students and Purdue alumni.
Lesson Learned 1: Follow your passion, not the money — About his 30-year career in the Secret Service, Pupillo told PUC students: “I love my job. If you love your job, it’s not like work.”
He and Curiel said careers in government don’t support wealthy lifestyles; nonetheless, they do provide a decent means of support.
Lesson Learned 2: It’s not about good grades or who you know, but how you communicate — Pupillo told students he was a B and C student at Purdue. Likewise, when he applied for a job with the Secret Service, he said he knew no one who knew anyone who might put in a good word for him. Instead, he said, his bachelor’s degree, communication skills and ability to think critically were most important in landing his first position with the Secret Service.
“During the application process, I had to read (a case study), express in writing what I had read and demonstrate basic math skills,” he said. “It wasn’t about bad guys and shooting guns; it was about being able to think and express yourself.”
Curiel said her ability to “express my thoughts and ideas succinctly” impressed Ted Koppel during her years on the staff of ABC’s “Nightline” late-night television news program, and also the Clinton White House, which hired her as a speech writer for the president.
Lesson Learned 3: Generate your own opportunities — As a new Purdue graduate in the 1970s, Curiel said she landed her first “real” job in journalism with a United Press International bureau because her résumé indicated experience in news and sports reporting.
“At Purdue, I wrote for the student newspaper, The Exponent, and also served as sports editor,” Curiel said. “When I walked into the UPI bureau office with my résumé, the receptionist looked at it and immediately took it back to the bureau chief.
“What caught their attention was my sports writing background. ‘You know news and sports?’ the bureau chief asked me. That’s what got me hired. Six years later, I was working in Washington, D.C.”
She also shared her strategy of volunteering for jobs no one else wanted to demonstrate responsibility and leadership. That, she said, got her a position heading the foreign news overnight desk for the UPI Washington, D.C., bureau.
While America sleeps, she reminded her audience, much of the rest of the world is awake and generating news. So a job no one wanted provided opportunities to prove herself.
Lesson Learned 4: Knock on doors, make things happen, network — After the death of a Merrillville High School classmate, Pupillo helped start Rap Line, a suicide prevention hotline. Today, Rap Line has evolved into Crisis Center Inc. of Northwest Indiana.
“That kind of led to what has become my life of public service,” he said.
During a visit to Rome, Curiel said she persisted in introducing herself to the UPI bureau chief there. When the chief was transferred to the UPI Washington, D.C., bureau and an opening there needed filling, Curiel was hired.
“I started to make my own connections, which we now call networking,” she said.
Lesson Learned 5: You might leave the Region, but the Region never leaves you — “Dale and I came from totally humble roots,” said Curiel, daughter of a Northwest Indiana steel worker.
Added Pupillo, “Because of its diversity, I get a lot of credit for growing up in Northwest Indiana.”
That afternoon, he validated that remark by proudly posing for a photo in the same PUC boiler room in which his father worked nearly four decades ago.