By Michelle Woodbury
Four years ago, Melanie Mickelson was not aware of the impact registering for Chinese 101 had on her future.
“I was really intrigued by the Chinese culture I studied in my humanities class,” said Mickelson, a 2002 BYU graduate in economics from Ames, Iowa.
Mickelson, enrolled in the honors program at BYU, decided to fulfill the foreign language requirement by learning Chinese.
Mickelson left in October of 2000 to serve a full-time LDS mission in Taiwan. She returned to BYU the summer of 2002 fluent in Chinese.
Last January she submitted her resume to the National Security Agency at the BYU Career Fair. Mickelson was hired based on her linguist skills and begins her employment following her internship on Capitol Hill for the Joint Economic Committee.
With graduation approaching, students may find themselves apprehensive about entering the job force amidst the nation”s current economic recovery.
Peter Phillips, an economics professor at the University of Utah, said while the economy is out of recession and growing slowly, the expansion is not rapid enough to be creating new jobs.
“That is bad news for everybody,” Phillips said. “But less bad news for the educated.”
Phillips said the United States is in a jobless recovery, which may be because of the increase of jobs overseas. He said students who graduate with language skills may be able to take advantage of the opportunities in foreign trade.
“It won”t necessarily provide a stable career, though,” Phillips said. “There can just as well be rocky times going into international trade.”
Mickelson said she experienced anxieties about the economy as she neared graduation.
“It wasn”t so much that I was afraid I wouldn”t find a job at all,” Mickelson said. “I was afraid I wouldn”t find a job in something I enjoyed, like economics or Chinese.”
When Mickelson learned of the Career Fair at BYU last January, she began doing research on companies she was interested in working for. Prior to her mission, Mickelson had an internship with Ford Motor Company. This experience helped her determine that she did not want a career in the business field.
“I wanted something more service oriented,” Mickelson said. “The idea of working for a government agency appealed to me. I saw that as serving the nation.”
Mickelson narrowed her selections to the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency. She submitted her resume to both at the fair. Two weeks later she received a phone call from the National Security Agency asking if she would fly to Baltimore to take a series of Chinese language competency tests.
Matthew Christianson, associate professor of Chinese at BYU, said the government recruits heavily for students with Chinese fluency.
“Having competency in a foreign language makes students more marketable with the way the economy is today,” Christianson said. “There are at least 78 government agencies in the U.S. that utilize linguists.”
Mickelson advised BYU students to take advantage of the opportunities the Career Placement Center. “Work on your resume, research companies, go to the job fairs and show them you”re a cut above the rest,” she said. “Don”t let the economy deter you from your career goals.”
Phillips said for the long term, the U.S. economy may be in for a long haul as it readjusts itself into the world economy.
“But I have this to offer students,” Phillips said. “It is very hard to see into the economic crystal ball, so don”t look into it. Look into your heart instead and find a job that you love and make it work.”