Michelle Long is the Director of Alumni Relations for FIRST.
With a background in professional theatre and higher education recruiting, Michelle Long found a way to combine the two things she loves as the FIRST Director of Alumni Relations. Now, having a platform that allows her to encourage women and other underrepresented groups in STEM fields, Michelle describes her current job as “a crazy dream come true.” As part of a blog series where we will be speaking with women making an impact, Tallo learns how Michelle is letting her mission drive her every day.
I was attracted to FIRST because it was an opportunity to combine my two passions in the arts and education. Before joining FIRST, I spent my time on the technical side of the arts, as a moving light programmer. When I left professional theater, I wanted to be able to make a difference and found my way to higher education. When I moved on from that, I knew that I wanted something to combine those two passions. For me, the empathy of the arts and the transformative impact of education are the two things that I feel can solve any problem in the world.
At FIRST, I am the Director of Alumni Relations. This means I get to work with our former students for the rest of their lives. I help folks find continued education opportunities, scholarships, internships, and job opportunities. I think most importantly, it’s connecting FIRST alumni with one another. We have this amazing group of students – about 500,000 students who participate in FIRST in any given year – and the opportunity to connect them for whatever comes next in their lives is something that can make a huge impact.
For me, the big goals are helping people to identify themselves as FIRST alumni. It’s helping them understand that even though FIRST is something they may do or have done in high school, middle school, or even elementary school, that those experiences can have very important residual effects for the rest of their life.
The most challenging aspect of my work is that it’s really never ending. There’s no end to what we could or should be doing to keep our alumni engaged. I think about it as this mountain we’re trying to climb. Sometimes it’s a terrifyingly huge mountain, so we have to take a step back and think about getting to the next plateau. It’s really all about thinking: “What can we do to have the longest residual benefit today, and then how can we build from there?”
The most rewarding aspect of working at our global headquarters is that every single person is behind the mission and striving to achieve it. Our mission at FIRST is to inspire young people to become leaders and innovators in their field – regardless of whether they pursue STEM or other career paths – and to help teach them to do so in a way we call Gracious Professionalism. Gracious Professionalism is learning and doing and competing like crazy, while always treating each other with respect and kindness. In FIRST everyone really is a winner!
The best advice I’ve received is to slow down and take a breath, whether that means enjoying success or taking a moment to step back and realize what may not have worked in a situation. This may seem like basic advice, but it’s very easy to continue running and miss the opportunity to do something better.
Tallo users are given a leg up. One thing that we hear from our corporate supporters who are also Tallo partners is that the Tallo platform is a great way to bridge the gap between this talent we’re fostering at FIRST and companies’ interest in hiring these folks. So, people using platforms like Tallo are able to impact their future by connecting things they’ve done with potential prospects. I’ve even got my nephew using Tallo for his college search!
I advise current Tallo users to tell their friends about the platform. Get them involved, and make sure they are taking advantage of all of the opportunities that start to become available to them even in high school. Tallo is a valuable tool for students now and in the future.