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TAC Leadership Spotlight Series: Joanna Downer

Zoom meeting with six participants to the top and the main speaker, a woman with glasses, in the middle center

(PITTSBURGH, Pa.) – Tartan Leaders of Tomorrow had its first Tartan Athletics Club Board of Directors Leadership Spotlight Series of the semester on January 28 with Joanna Downer, a 1993 alumna of the volleyball team. Downer graduated with a degree in chemistry from Carnegie Mellon University before earning a Master of Arts and Ph.D. in nuclear chemistry at Washington University in St. Louis. She is currently an Associate Dean for Research Development at the Duke University School of Medicine.

Downer’s conversation with student-athlete participants centered on realizing the path you thought you wanted isn’t the path you want, and figuring out that (a) it’s quite common and (b) how to replot your course.

“I enjoyed hearing about her career journey and how to adapt your path,” said volleyball junior Liz Jankowski. “So many times college students think they have to create a concrete plan of their professional career path in just four years. But especially with the constant uncertainties college students face today, being adaptable and figuring out your passions is the most important part of a career path.”

Downer has five “Rs” she shared with participants.

RECALCULATING: What have you enjoyed? What are your feelings about what you’re doing and what are the facts behind those feelings? What motivates you? What skills do you want to use, and what skills do you want to build?

Now, use the following Rs to figure out whether to switch paths entirely or bring key changes to the path you’re on or to your feelings about it, and to figure out HOW to make those changes.

RESILIENCE: The ability to go on in the face of adversity – you have it, and you can add more by using the following Rs.

REPUTATION: Always do good work, keep your word, treat others with respect, and treat everyone with the same respect.

RESOURCES: This can be broader infrastructure, like CAPS or the Career Center, or specific infrastructure, like the Tartan Mentoring Program or Plaidvocates. It can include books and workbooks like “What Color Is My Parachute” - includes the transferrable or translatable skills gained through academics and sports, like the problem-solving skills that seem a hallmark of a CMU education regardless of major; can include mentors, advisers, coaches, teammates who raise the final R.

RELATIONSHIPS: Through the human resources above, network to get connected to new people who can give you insight into the paths or changes you are considering via informational interviews; talk with alumni from your major or your team – if you’ve established a good reputation, these relationships will be eager to help you get where you’re going.

“Joanna’s presentation was outstanding, and we are so incredibly fortunate to have had the opportunity to learn from her,” said Director of Athletics Josh Centor. “The ambition of our programming is to offer our students access to real-world leadership, and to benefit from the lessons others have lived and learned. Joanna gave our students a glimpse of what awaits them, and it will impact them positively in all facets of their lives.”