How the Carlson School Helps Guide Career Pivots
Friday, April 21, 2023
By Bridget Burnham
Six Carlson School students and alums chart new courses with their hard-won careers.
Peter Dinh, '22 MHRIR
Peter Dinh has always been driven to help people. After receiving his bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Minnesota, Dinh dedicated himself to improving mental health in his community. As a mental health practitioner with Community-University Health Care Center (CUHCC), Dinh found joy and purpose in helping Vietnamese residents of South Minneapolis navigate the healthcare system and manage their mental health. But he also felt called to help improve the broader systems many of his clients could only partially access or benefit from.
So, after eight years—instead of pursuing a master’s degree in counseling or social work—Dinh charted a new path into human resources. He’d been drawn to the field before but was unable to secure a role. With additional years of experience forming and leading teams of mental health practitioners at CUHCC, Dinh’s attempt at a career switch looked a little different. Rather than focusing on the knowledge he had yet to develop, Dinh used the experiences and insights he gained working with people to clarify his purpose and perspective.
“I’m grateful that through my work in mental health, I learned about the power of connection and empathy and the role community plays in supporting people in getting better,” says Dinh. “Working with community members and other mental health professionals helped me see people as people. Everyone is going through something. The level of support and connection we have helps us grow toward our full potential.”
Finding supportive learning environments where he could contribute and grow from his strengths became the first step on Dinh’s journey into HR. In 2019, Dinh started a job in the HR department at General Mills, working full days while pursuing his Master of Human Resources and Industrial Relations (MHRIR) at the Carlson School in the evenings.
In 2021, as a student, Dinh began an internship at UnitedHealth Group (UHG). He supported various areas of HR, contributing to projects with goals ranging from advancing inclusive leadership to expanding mentorships and enterprise-wide and accelerating leadership development.
One project involved creating a session with Asians United, an employee resource group at UHG, to assemble post-pandemic resources related to burnout to share with other leaders. For Dinh, this project was concrete evidence that deep relationships and courageous conversations could facilitate systemic change.
Upon graduation last year, Dinh joined UHG as a people team development associate. He sees the opportunity as a pivotal launch to improve the broader healthcare system.
“As a Vietnamese person of color, I spent years seeking the kinds of relationships I have now built through the Carlson School,” says Dinh. “Connecting with people driven to leverage business as a force for good and committed to learning from diverse perspectives opened doors to opportunities and experiences that changed my trajectory. I can feel all my previous experiences coming together on a path to make the impact I’ve always hoped for.”
Lauren Nakamura, '20 MBA
Leading teams and developing programs in the nonprofit sector. “I wanted to continue to impact people’s lives, but there were skills and experiences I needed to gain by pushing beyond my comfort zone,” says Nakamura about her decision to enroll at the Carlson School.
Interning at a Fortune 500 company. “I got to work with amazing people committed to improving patients’ lives,” says Nakamura. “Interning with Boston Scientific gave me a unique perspective on what it looks like to be successful at a large corporation, while still having autonomy and purpose in your job.”
After graduation, Nakamura joined Boston Scientific as a marketing strategy manager, empowered by the connections and confidence she built during her career transition. “I was able to start a new career, have my first child, and temporarily relocate to Hawaii to be closer to family—all during a global pandemic,” says Nakamura. Her advice? “Don’t be afraid to ask questions and seek clarity on paths that may seem unfamiliar. Do what makes you feel alive and inspired—you are capable of more than you think.”
Brianna Hughes, '22 MBA
As a West Point graduate who spent five years as a U.S. Army field artillery officer, Brianna Hughes, ’22 MBA, knew how to manage mission-critical details amid chaos and constant change. She leveraged those lessons and the confidence gained through her military career as she prepared to transition her family into civilian life. Though many uncertainties lay ahead, Hughes trusted her instinct to pursue an MBA degree from the Carlson School as the first step on this new path.
“When we decided we wanted to move back to Minnesota, I knew the Carlson School would be the ideal place to establish the connections that could support my career switch,” says Hughes.
So, while her husband was serving on active duty, Hughes started as an online student, ready to explore new opportunities while also caring full-time for her two young children.
Hughes appreciated the flexibility of the program and the ownership she had in shaping her path and goals. After learning, networking with people with a wide variety of experiences and backgrounds, and having her third child while going through the program, Hughes had a clearer picture of the kind of work she wanted to do and the type of company she wanted to work for.
“I knew I wanted to work on small teams solving tough problems. And I knew I wanted to work for a values-driven organization that would support me in creating a thriving career and personal life,” says Hughes. “So it was important for me to get to know a company’s culture before accepting an offer.”
Hughes turned to the Carlson School network and its Business Career Center to help her find a role with a consulting firm with a strong Minnesota presence and a culture that supports young families. She accepted her position with Slalom Consulting last fall while pregnant with her fourth child and is grateful for the guidance she got from the Carlson School during that time.
“My [career] coach helped me ask the right questions and provided me with incredible support along the way,” states Hughes.
With military experiences to give her the skills to venture confidently into the unknown, Hughes encourages others considering a significant transition to take the first step, even if they’re unsure exactly where it will lead.
“Firm up the things you know and move forward,” says Hughes. “Explore with others, seek out support, and ask questions. The details become clearer the closer you get.”
Sarah Adams, '23 MBA
Social studies and Spanish teacher. Adams also launched a Spanish language learning company, Españolx, after earning her Master in Teaching Spanish as a Foreign Language at the Universidad de Alcalá in Madrid, Spain. While Españolx grew, Adams knew she needed additional business education to scale in an innovative, sustainable way—so she enrolled at the Carlson School in 2021.
As a John DePodesta Leadership Fellow, when she received an initial grant to partner Españolx with existing educational organizations that seek to improve the quality
of postsecondary education.
Adams plans to continue moving Españolx forward while immersing herself in the business world as a senior consultant with Deloitte for two years upon graduation. She believes that when the new product is ready, the market will be there. “People are ready for a change that will help them communicate and connect,” says Adams. “We have diverse languages in the U.S. that are ready to be embraced and celebrated.”
Mike Rallis, '12 BSB
Former Minnesota Golden Gophers football player and Carlson School graduate Mike Rallis, ’12 BSB, never expected to become a professional wrestler. But a decade after graduation, he’s rising through the ranks of World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) as Madcap Moss—a star in the making.
Rallis double-majored in Marketing and Entrepreneurship, gaining hands-on experience in running a business.
“The classes that went beyond textbooks and allowed us to create and run a business showed me it’s not just about having an idea you think is cool; you have to understand everything that goes into making it successful,” says Rallis.
A 2013 tryout with the Miami Dolphins ended after minicamp, forcing Rallis to give up his NFL dreams. In turn, he was realistic about the risks and rewards of pursuing a career as a professional wrestler. Despite not knowing anyone who had done what he was about to do, he had a vision for where the business could go and was ready to do the work and learn from the people around him to make it happen.
After several years in the minor league development system, studying everything from the physical safety aspects to the ins and outs of building a personal brand within wrestling, Rallis is officially part of the WWE, performing under the ring name Madcap Moss.
At what he estimates to be the midpoint of his wrestling career, Rallis says he has an even greater appreciation for the business sense he developed while at the Carlson School.
“Many athletes get into their sport thinking they’re going to do it forever,” says Rallis. “But that’s not realistic. It’s important to have a business plan to transition towards in the future.”
Rallis experienced his first evolution in professional wrestling in 2021 when he transformed from Riddick Moss to Madcap Moss upon returning to the ring after a torn ACL. Going from performing as Riddick, who Rallis describes as an arrogant elite athlete, to Madcap, who wears suspenders and dress pants and was known for telling
horrible puns, was a challenge. But the change is paying off, and Rallis says taking on Madcap’s persona helped him grow his brand more successfully and authentically.
“I like to joke around, even at my own expense,” says Rallis. “Becoming Madcap, I saw how much fans feed off the energy from positive people who enjoy entertaining them. It’s the most fun I’ve had with the WWE.”
Rallis plans to maximize his time as a professional wrestler, using every opportunity to grow both inside and outside the ring. From traveling the world with athletes from diverse cultures and backgrounds to experimenting with new skills and pushing his physical limits, Rallis says the WWE provides him the platform and support to build himself, his brand, and his future beyond what he thought possible. But while he’s excited about what’s next, he’s focused on enjoying every step as it happens.
“There’s no magical point where you get to stop and say, ‘Now I’m here,’” says Rallis. “It’s good to have goals, but if you’re not going to enjoy the process now, you’re never going to enjoy it.”
Saul Schwartz, '24 MBA, MHRIR
Anthropology lecturer at the University of Florida.
It was December 2020, five years after getting his PhD from Princeton, that Saul Schwartz had a realization: “The number of anthropology majors is stagnating. We had the same staff meetings, attempting to address the problem with the same tools and ideas. It felt like everyone was doing their best, but we lacked the business and
management perspective to see a new solution.” Schwartz headed north to Minnesota to learn how to tackle similar challenges.
Schwartz is pursuing dual degrees: an MBA and a Master of Human Resources and Industrial Relations (MHRIR). “Learning alongside classmates with significant work experience brings another dimension to the classroom,” says Schwartz, who is active inside and outside the classroom. He serves as a student ambassador for MHRIR and is part of the Carlson Consulting Club, Graduate Volunteer Consultants, and Graduate Society of Human Resources Leaders. He plans to go into consulting upon graduation, hoping to help organizations create shared success by tuning into the human factor of their work.
This article appeared in the Spring 2023 alumni magazine
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