Photo courtesy of Talent Gateway
Photo courtesy of Talent Gateway

By SARAH MARTIN, Guest Reporter

The University of Michigan-Dearborn Talent Gateway program hosted a student and employer networking lunch with guest speaker Jeff Sorensen. Sorensen discussed his struggle of not knowing what to do after his college graduation and his road to success.

After graduating from the University of Michigan, Sorensen explained his many failed interviews.

“I spent my time at this great university and I didn’t really prepare myself,” Sorensen says, “Employers told me, ‘This is great work but what have you done? Why should we hire you?

“I realized then that all I was able to say was, ‘Well I wrote this paper and my professor liked it,’ or, ‘I took this test and I got the right answers.’”

Sorensen said that to make matters worse, he was competing with many higher qualified people who lost their job during the recession. “A degree wasn’t enough—and they were right. Why would they hire me?”

Sorensen moved in with a friend facing a similar dilemma. He stayed at his friend’s parents’ house debating his options. “I decided to create something ours—something self-driven and positive.” It was during this time that Sorensen’s business, optiMize, was born.

“I went to graduate school for business with optiMize and within a few months I was the bottom of the class,” Sorensen said, “But I realized something very important. They couldn’t see what I believed in and I realized that either I let go of this dream I have and pursue my degree, or drop out.”

Sorensen paused.

“I dropped out.”

But Sorensen continued to build his dream and gained the attraction of the University of Michigan. He was hired to create the university’s first Department of Social Innovation, which was based on his model for optiMize.

Since its creation, optiMize has worked with over 2,000 students in chapters at the University of Michigan main campus and Wayne State University to help fund student-led projects who want to create a positive impact. Students from the Dearborn branch have participated in optiMize at the main campus in Ann Arbor.

“There are five ideas that I’ve learned from observing over the years that I want you to think about when deciding what you want to do before graduating.”

“Number 1, use your existing knowledge and shaping it into what it could be.” Sorensen added: “Your education is about you—you have to ask yourself what you’re educating yourself for.”

“Number 2, why not me?” Sorensen explained to students that too often students limit themselves or believe they lack the necessary skills to put things into action. “We usually just write a paper for class detailing our recommendations for change—instead figure out how you could make that happen.”

“Figure out what makes you unique,” Sorensen said, “That’s number 3, is there something different about you that makes you perfect for the job?”

“This one is for the professors,” Sorensen began, “You have to trust that students can choose their own work or path in college.

“Lastly,” he said, “you have to redefine what success means for you. My graduate school chose not to believe in my vision, but I believed in it. And to me, that’s success.”