In our Alumni Spotlight series, we ask alumni to tell us about their careers and how their UVA experiences prepared them for life after the Lawn.

Meet Anna Holowinsky, a May 2014 Systems Engineering graduate who minored in Psychology and was involved in Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, the Center for Christian Study, and the Cavalier Marching Band.

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Tell us about your career and your current job.

My career path has been rather circuitous these past few years. I graduated from UVA with my Bachelors degree in May of 2014, and since then I've worked as a data analyst, tutor, and teacher. I went back to UVA to get my Masters of Teaching in Elementary Education (from fall of 2017 to December of 2019). I'm currently working as a full-time 1st grade teacher in Falls Church City Public Schools, and I love what I do!

What does a "day in the life of you" look like?

My "day in the life" has looked different over the years. At first, right after graduation, I was working 50+ hours a week as a data analyst for comScore, a digital analytics company based in Reston, VA. With that kind of a schedule, there wasn't really time for much else outside of work unfortunately. Since then, I've worked as a tutor (with much more reasonable hours!) and a teacher. I taught for one year before heading back to graduate school at UVA, and am glad I had that year to assess whether or not the career switch from engineering to teaching was a good one for me. I'm very happy to say that it was indeed a wonderful decision. 

So now, the day in the life of me looks like getting to Mount Daniel Elementary by 7:30-8 am, and leaving around 4:30-5 pm. After work, I like to read, take naps (when I'm very tired, which happens often enough because of this job!), and spend time with friends. My weekends are when I'm really devoting the most time to my social life; I'm very involved at my church and like to spend most of my time outside of work with friends from church. 

How have your experiences and education at UVa shaped your life after college and your career path thus far?

Because I decided to go back to UVA for my graduate degree as well, UVA has absolutely shaped my life after college and my career path. I went back to UVA to get my Masters of Teaching, which has been helpful for me as I pursued this career change (from engineering to teaching). However, I don’t mean to say that my Systems Engineering degree was all a waste of time. In fact, it’s been the opposite. So many of the skills I learned from that degree have transferred into my life as a teacher. My need to analyze data, problem solve, keep organized systems in my classroom, create a solid behavior management system for my students, and a whole other slew of things, have all originated from my exposure to Systems Engineering (and Psychology) in undergrad. 

How has UVa Engineering helped you innovate and lead in your career thus far?

I think a lot of what I said for the previous answer applies here too; Systems Engineering is a mindset that I learned while at UVA, and it’s changed the way I do work. 

Tell us about an event, class, advisor, professor, or mentor that really impacted your career path/choices.

Heather Palmer was really influential during my time in undergrad. She helped me process through my desire to switch careers (even before I left UVA as an undergrad), and she helped me prep for job fairs. She helped build out my resume, talk to me about my life goals, and helped me think about what kind of profession I could ultimately see myself doing. I’m very grateful to her!

With your professional perspective, what skills do you think are vital for current UVa Engineering students to learn?

There are plenty of things you need to be able to do to be successful in a career; you need to work well with other people, resolve conflict appropriately and effectively, and know how to solve problems efficiently and effectively. Knowing the difference between resolving conflict and creating conflict is important too; no one wants to work in a negative environment wherein people gossip or wish ill upon others. I’ve noticed that the people I work with and for can really make or break a job. Find a good group of people to work with and for, and stay there for the long haul, if you can. There’s nothing better than a workplace with a positive rippling effect; it makes work easier and more enjoyable, and is a great motivator for being successful vocationally. 

For current students hoping to go into your field, what are some of the most effective things they can do right now to prepare themselves for future success?

If you’d like to switch careers, whether it be from engineering to teaching, or even from engineering to something else, I’d recommend giving it at least a year in your current role as an engineer to see if it’s really not a good fit for you. And if your role as an engineer in your first job out of college isn’t what you want it to be, then if - after a year or so - you’re not content, switch gears. Maybe all you need is a different role, still within Systems Engineering, for example. Work for a non-profit, or a ministry, or another company within the same line of work, and see if that’s a better fit for you. I wouldn’t recommend going back to school right away to switch careers; give it some time before you make the move to go back to school, if that’s ever in the cards for you. Best of luck in all your studies, and from a fellow (double!) Wahoo, you’ll do wonderfully wherever you end up next. Cheers!