Alumna's varied career benefits students weighing options

By: Kathy Hovis ,  A&S Communications
March 2, 2015

The course of Carol Rattray's '78 career has veered from finance to philanthropy to entrepreneurship, so she's a popular person when she volunteers her time for the Arts and Sciences Career Services office.

"I kind of want to be her," says Roslyn Jin '15, a student who signed up for a March career services "office hours" event with Rattray. "I will be starting a job in finance this summer, but I want to eventually leverage that experience into something more entrepreneurial." Jin also has dreams of creating an organization focused on educational or women's issues in Asia.

Jin first met Rattray two years ago during a summer networking event in New York City held by A&S career services, and Rattray made a "huge impression," advising her to take advantage of all of the opportunities of a liberal arts education, Jin says.

Rattray is managing director and co-founder of Zoomdojo, a tech startup that provides career planning advisory services and related online resources for college students and recent graduates.

She also supports educational, cultural and environmental causes through her Rattray Kimura Foundation, invests in and advises start-ups in China and in the U.S., and is involved in many Cornell-related boards and activities.

"What I enjoy most is not being nostalgic about my time here, but being a part of what's happening at Cornell today," Rattray says. "Not only can I provide students with some perspective on careers, but I learn from them about how they see the world."

Career Specialist Office Hours is a new program run by Arts & Sciences Career Services, and Rattray is one of more than a dozen alumni and recruiters who participated, offering advice on classes, majors, jobs after graduation and career paths.

"We started this program to build on the success of the A&S Career Conversations," says Christa Downey, assistant dean and director of A&S Career Services. "Students are so eager to hear from those working in interesting careers that we wanted to offer an opportunity for them to get more personalized advice."

"Alumni value the opportunity to share their insights, while recruiters are able to impart industry knowledge to a different group of students than those who might end up on their interview schedule," Downey says.

Rattray says one of her main messages for students is that their future might be unknowable. "The key is to accept that and work with that," she says. There isn't one "formula" for a successful career, she explains, but rather opportunities and chance encounters that may lead you on new paths.

For her, those career transitions happened because of a move to Asia, a conversation with a philanthropist who was delivering sheet music to poor students in Vietnam and a connection made with a young Chinese doctoral student launching a new company, for whom she became an early "angel" investor.

After advising and investing in numerous companies, she wondered if she had the chops for entrepreneurship herself, she recalls, and decided to tackle the problem of global youth unemployment with Zoomdojo.

All of these ventures led her back Cornell in many ways, she says -- to the topics she studied here as an Asian studies major; to the organizations and causes she supported as a student during the time of women's and civil rights struggles and the end of the Vietnam War; and now she frequently comes back to campus for alumni events and conversations with students, who have become her main beta testers for Zoomdojo.

"It's where I got started, so it makes sense that it's where I am returning," she says. "It's a bit ironic that it was up on a hill in upstate New York where suddenly the world opened up to all kinds of possibilities for me."

This story first appeared in Ezra Update.

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