Rising to the Challenge

USD student Chloe Zakhour '20 (BA) smiling in her kitchen alongside flowers

USD GRADS AND SENIORS WON’T LET OBSTACLES BLOCK THEIR SUCCESS

Chloe Zakhour’s father passed away unexpectedly less than two years ago. Her mom had then joined the workforce, but was laid off when the pandemic took hold. To help support themselves, the family started a home baking business, using their 80-year-old grandmother’s recipes. Their Orange County neighbors and other customers quickly started snapping up their baked goods. Between May and early October, the business, dubbed Bright Bread Company, had sold more than 700 loaves of bread and banana bread, made using simple ingredients.

“We love being local; our goal is to make the business even bigger,” says Zakhour (pictured), who graduated in December 2020 with a bachelor’s degree in communication studies. She used the social media skills she acquired during an internship with USD’s Digital Communications and Institutional Marketing department to promote the business, which has a robust presence on Instagram (#brightbreadco).

A global pandemic, subsequent economic downturn and incidents of racial injustice have only added to the challenges today’s young people are facing. But USD seniors and new graduates have responded with courage, resilience and success.

Electrical engineering major Devin Devlin faced the prospect of not just remote classes but a remote internship as well. The first-generation college student was scheduled to intern at Microsoft’s offices in Redmond, Washington but ended up working from San Diego as a program manager for the software firm’s new Excel Sheet View program.

Instead of technical skills, the job was really more about communication and problem solving, the kind of challenge that’s usually solved through informal conversations in the office. “I had to learn to do that through an online platform,” Devlin explains. But with practice, he came to understand the “vibe” of Microsoft’s corporate culture and has been invited back to intern next summer, before he graduates in December 2021.

Students also have had to deal with the anger and frustration following the death of George Floyd and similar incidents. Devlin, president of the USD chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers, is the co-founder of HBN (How Bout Now), a mobile social media platform dedicated to “giving everyone a voice, especially those who continue to be persecuted by injustices in our society.”

Navigating a job market during a severe economic downturn is a challenge, but Victoria Holmes ’20 (BA) was undaunted. Her goal was to work as a journalist, but her mother suggested that given these times, she might consider a job in public relations or marketing.

Holmes wasn’t so sure. “It wasn’t about finding a job, it was about finding a job I absolutely loved,” she says. After interning at the National Hispanic Institute, whose alumni include New York City Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, she was hired by WNCT-TV, a CBS/CW affiliate in Greenville, North Carolina.

“Almost all of my classes prepared me to work really hard, to do my best and really take pride in my work,” she says, adding that she particularly appreciated classes taught by former journalist and Communication Studied Professor of Practice Gina Lew.

“USD didn’t prepare me for a job. They prepared me to be a real Changemaker in the world,” says Holmes. — Liz Harman

Note: This story will appear in the Spring 2021 issue of USD Magazine.

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