Rachel Gillis grew up in Ashland, ME, a small town in Aroostook County. She graduated with 20 people, and the entire school district fit into one building.
“While a small school may seem limiting due to lack of resources, students were given the opportunity to – and were encouraged to – participate in numerous extracurriculars because they needed the numbers,” said Rachel.
“There was no separation between the ‘band kids’ and the ‘basketball kids.’ I really liked that. In the end, that’s probably why I was drawn to Thomas. I saw that same opportunity to be involved as I did back home.”
When Rachel was searching for colleges, Thomas wasn’t even on her radar. She had always wanted a complete change from her small town to a larger university. It was not until a Thomas recruiter came to her high school that she began to consider Thomas.
“I filled out an application, and my mom signed me up for a tour. As soon as I arrived on campus, I knew that I could picture myself spending the next three years here. I felt so welcome and comfortable and felt like an individual instead of just another number,” said Rachel.
But, her biggest deciding factor was Thomas College’s Kiest-Morgan program, a program that allowed her to complete her Bachelor’s degree in three years instead of four – saving her time and money.
Before Rachel’s last semester at Thomas, she already had a job lined up for after graduation at Unum, a Fortune 500 insurance company.
“Thomas provided the opportunity to attend career fairs every semester and seminars held by the Career Services department, to tour local businesses, and provided me with interview prep and resume and cover letter development,” said Rachel.
It was at one of these career fairs that she met a Thomas alum who was working in the underwriting department at Unum. That connection helped secure her current job as an underwriting specialist.
As an underwriting specialist, Rachel works alongside the underwriters to calculate the cost of a group’s insurance based on different risk factors and benefit needs.
“My job is definitely fast paced and challenging. I encounter new situations and learn something new every day,” she said.
Rachel works in a small team of five other people and supports more than 20 underwriters. They are always busy. She has enjoyed her coworkers, and they have been very helpful during her learning process. She also really loves working for Unum in general.
“It’s a great company that takes pride in their employees. Since I began in June, my department has held several employee appreciation events, themed days, potlucks, and volunteer events,” she said. “I like Unum because I’m in a position to work in several different departments, to take courses to further my education, and am encouraged to find a healthy work-life balance.”
Historically, 75 percent of Thomas students are the first in their family to attend college. Although Rachel is not a first-generation student, she grew up with a father who did not attend college and a mother who holds a Master’s degree and works as an elementary teacher in her hometown.
“Growing up I think it was good to see both sides of the spectrum: a career with a college degree and a career without,” she said. “As long as I can remember, my father always worked long, hard hours in the woods, and while that’s something that he enjoys, I also watched him work twice as hard for the same result.”
This caused her to reflect on how she wanted to live as a working adult.
“I knew that when I set out to start my own career, flexibility, a work-life balance, and room for advancement were all very important to me – which are all things that a college degree would help me earn.” Regardless, said Rachel, both of her parents were extremely supportive while she was in college and as she began her career – even though she lives four hours away from home.
Rachel said Thomas prepared her for life after graduation with the Career Services department and the opportunities she gained.
“Throughout my time at Thomas, I completed two different internships, which I was able to earn college credit for, and was provided other development opportunities outside of the classroom,” she said. “I think Thomas does a great job of getting students to participate outside of the classroom. For instance, I was an active member in a club, held a leadership position as a resident assistant, and participated in athletics. This helped me to become a more well-rounded person and, therefore, better prepared for life after graduation.”
Rachel said that although she was quick to find a job after graduation, knowing that she was a part of the Guaranteed Job Program made her feel more comfortable.
*This story was originally published in the Winter 2018 Thomas Magazine.