By Braxton Hicks ’15, M.Acc. ’16
Hi! My name is Braxton and in light of Professional Development Week being near, I wanted to reflect a bit on my time at William & Mary and how it helped shape my career (and really my life as I know it). Quick background on me: I got my Bachelor of Science in human factor physics from W&M back in 2015, and then got my Master of Accounting from the Raymond A. Mason School of Business a year later in 2016. I played on the W&M Football team during that time and was involved in a few pretty cool extracurriculars, so naturally I had a lot of time on my hands! Since then, I’ve gone on to get my Ph.D., work for NASA at the Johnson Space Center, and now I work as a UX (user experience) researcher at Google. Not bad for a few years post-grad! If you can believe it, though, I can trace those achievements back to three very specific moments at W&M. This might sound like one long ad for the university, but truthfully — it isn’t. It’s about people. In three conversations, the people at W&M changed my life … and I’d like to tell you about them.
William & Mary is an interesting place. You grow, you fail, you learn, and if you’re lucky, you meet a few truly exceptional people who change your life for the better. Coming into W&M, we’re all told that the students you’ll meet will be the brightest minds in the world. With this, I couldn’t agree more. As much fun as I had learning and growing with my peers, it was the relationships and experiences I had with faculty and staff that made it a truly special place. I had the pleasure of interacting with several impactful faculty during my time at W&M, but I’d like to quickly highlight three people in particular and how they led me to my post-undergrad adventures.
For a W&M student-athlete, there are few people as invested in your success as Jason Simms, then academic advisor for the athletics department. For my final year at W&M, I’d planned to be in grad school. Unfortunately, weeks before graduation, I found out that the grad program I’d planned to join was to be discontinued. Shocked and unsure of what to do, I knew where I could get help. I ran over to Jason’s office and, in a bit of a panic, explained the situation. Jason assured me that we’d find a way through this together, and immediately helped me find another grad program that worked for my situation. He sat with me and helped me pick up the pieces of a broken plan to formulate a new one. Truthfully, I’m not sure what I would’ve done without Jason’s guidance and quick action; I certainly wouldn’t have found the Master of Accounting program — and it was there that the direction of my life really shifted.
The M.Acc. program was pretty intense. I wasn’t really performing at my best and while I was leaving early from a tough class, visibly downtrodden, Dean Todd Mooradian spotted me in a stairwell and asked two very powerful questions: “How are you?” and “How can I help?” This was our first time meeting. We had several conversations after that in which I shared my post-W&M dreams with him, and he became a vital mentor. Unbeknownst to me, Dean Mooradian reached out to a few professors outside of W&M to share my story. One of these professors wrote back and asked to meet with me. This turned out to be the beginning of my Ph.D. (and ultimately Google) career. Few people in my life have had as significant an impact as Dean Mooradian. His proactiveness and willingness to connect sparked a monumental change in the direction of my life.
As my time at W&M was coming to a close, I had some good leads on where to go next, but at that stage, nothing concrete. Without knowledge of a direct next step, I was referred by a mentor to chat with Vice Provost for Research and Graduate/Professional Studies Dennis Manos to ask for advice. He listened, challenged and pushed me to think broadly and ambitiously. Professor Manos took it upon himself to connect me with a head researcher at NASA’s Langley Research Center, inadvertently launching my career at NASA. What amazes me here is not only Professor Manos’ willingness to meet with me, but also to extend himself to forge a connection for me at a place as prestigious as NASA.
As I reflected on those three experiences, I noticed a few common themes that could be framed as learnings here. The first thing I noticed is that these people showed up for me at low moments, not high ones. Each of these three people stepped in during moments of great uncertainty and were willing to act. Their actions during those moments of inflection reshaped not only the current situation, but they reshaped my perspective as well. Given that theme, I try to see those low moments as opportunities to reframe my thinking and become larger and better than I thought. One other theme I noticed was that these people sought to connect with me having no guarantee of dividends or knowledge of what I’d go on to do. They chose to invest in a person, not a product or a goal. I’ve since felt compelled to do the same for myself and others. There are several benefits to building connections, but I’ve learned that there’s power, transformative power, in building people.
Connect with Braxton on LinkedIn.