Whatever happened to Trinity University’s Class of 2021?
You know—the class that arrived in Fall 2017, before most of us knew what the words “Zoom,” “Door- Dash,” or “KN-95” meant. The class that couldn’t possibly have imagined what challenges—and successes—each of their futures held.
As their paths diverged into a series of strange and unique journeys after graduation, Trinity’s Class of 2021 found success at a series of familiar intersections.
Across an impossibly varied and diverse set of new jobs and internships, postgraduate studies, and service opportunities, Trinity graduates have been able to combine specialized skills and knowledge with the universal values of a liberal arts degree: problem-solving, communication, and critical thinking.
The numbers speak for themselves. Within six months of graduating, more than 98% of the Class of ’21 graduates were either employed, continuing their education, enrolled in the military, or engaged in volunteer-oriented service, according to Katie Ramirez, director for Trinity’s Center for Experiential Learning and Career Services (CELCS). This 98% outcome rate, the highest in University-recorded history, is no anomaly—it’s the culmination of a rising, multiyear trend of Trinity graduates outperforming the national outcome rate average by double figures.
“We consistently hear that Trinity graduates are the complete package. Not only do they possess a wide range of skills, but they’re also able to think critically, approach problems from a range of perspectives, and communicate effectively within all levels of an organization,” Ramirez says. “Regardless of major, Trinity grads are ready to face the challenges and opportunities they’re presented with.”
In other words, this is a graduating class that knows how to get things done. But what makes Trinity grads special is they also know why to get things done. And where there’s a why, there’s a way.
Why: Because Service Changes Things
Devon Patel ’21, a neuroscience major from Las Vegas, Nevada, keeps his “why” on a small sticky note above his desk.
“My note asks ‘Why?’ And then under, it says, ‘To make a positive difference,’” says Patel, now in medical school at the University of Toledo College of Medicine and Life Sciences in snowy Ohio.
Yes, Patel came to Trinity knowing he wanted to join the University’s pre-health professions program and go on to be a physician. “At a lot of schools, you might see pre-meds who aren’t really into it. They’re just doing [pre-med] because their parents told them to or it is expected of them,” Patel says. “But when you know who you are, and why you’re doing what you’re doing, that’s really helpful when times get hard. It enables you to persevere.”
Armed with a strong “why,” Trinity graduates such as Patel can see hard times—such as the onset of a global pandemic—as chances to make an even bigger impact.
“Seeing the immense burden that has been put on the health care system recently and all of the people that do need help, it’s actually re-invigorating,” Patel says. “I’m (going into medicine) so I can go out there and help people.”
This motivation is why Patel ended up in Toledo, where he’s still laboring through rigorous coursework in medical school and also getting the chance to volunteer with other students in his program at Toledo’s CommunityCare Clinics, one of the largest systems of student-run free health clinics in the nation. “It is amazing to be a part of, especially now that I know all the work these clinics are doing during the pandemic, with all the different vaccine clinics and continuously providing care at multiple locations,” he says. “Seeing the impact that they made on the local community, I thought, ‘This is awesome, and I love being able to contribute.’”
And Patel isn’t the only Class of ’21 graduate balancing postgraduate or professional duties with service. Service and volunteer opportunities, though sometimes overlooked, are still a major factor in an outcome rate, and for good reason: Many Trinity students simply have this calling in their DNA.
There’s Elsie Durán ’21, a psychology major from Managua, Nicaragua, who currently works with community mentorship program Big Brothers Big Sisters of Texas in San Antonio. She’s one of 63% of the Class of 2021 who stayed in Texas, and one of 36% percent who stayed in San Antonio. At Big Brothers Big Sisters, Durán’s days get “busy and a bit crazy” as she works in support services, performing data interpretation of mentor and mentee surveys that help the “bigs” and “littles” manage their partnerships. She also helps the nonprofit’s alumni program track the progress of youths after they depart Big Brothers Big Sisters.
Durán, who hopes to go into clinical psychology and is applying to several Texas graduate schools, says her personal “why” has revolved around service and nonprofit activism since she was a teenager. “I grew up volunteering my whole life. Every single club I was in in high school had to have a service portion to it. It was a big influence on me when I came to Trinity,” says Durán, who went on to join and eventually become president of Trinity University Volunteer Action Community (TUVAC), Trinity’s student-led service organization that operates under the CELCS umbrella of services. “So, it was logical that after graduating, I would pursue nonprofits, and another logical next step would be going from a nonprofit like Big Brothers Big Sisters to clinical psychology.”
Service has also shaped Paige Wallace ’21, an anthropology major from Austin, Texas. During her time at Trinity, Wallace interned with various social justice nonprofits such as The Borgen Project, The Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES), and Food Policy Council of San Antonio. Her experiences within the nonprofit sector influenced her desire to continue in this work; that’s why, after graduation, Wallace pursued an AmeriCorps VISTA position with Feeding Texas, a nonprofit that works with 21 member food banks across Texas to eliminate hunger in the state. AmeriCorps VISTA is a national service program where members help build capacity at organizations working to alleviate poverty.
At Feeding Texas, Wallace works with the Community Health and Nutrition team to develop, evaluate, and monitor nutrition education and health programs that member food banks implement within their communities. “When I was younger, I was just trying to understand why this is even happening,” Wallace says. “How do people not have access to food? How can food not be a basic human right? Why is this something that’s up in the air for millions of people? This is so fundamentally wrong that I couldn’t sit by and do nothing.”
At Trinity, Wallace not only got answers to her questions, but also found a call to make a difference. “Medical anthropology examines how [social] structures impact people’s health and create profound health disparities,” says Wallace, who’s planning on obtaining either a Master of Public Health or Master of Global Policy to be better equipped to create conditions that improve the health of communities. “Because these systems were designed, that means that we can work to dismantle and to change them. That’s a call to action to create something new—to create something better.”
Why: The Chance to Create Something New
Ethan Jones ’21 had his “why” taken away.
As an aspiring performance pianist and music major from Fort Worth, Texas, Jones got tendonitis in his wrists at Trinity—a cruel twist of fate for someone who says he “loved playing the piano with Dr. [Carolyn] True, loved playing the double bass in the orchestra, and loved ringing bells in the handbell ensemble.”
But in true Trinity fashion, Jones simply envisioned a new future for himself. From scratch, he created a unique, interdisciplinary second major in entertainment business. “I really looked at myself in the mirror and said, ‘Well, I have my tendonitis, and I can’t pursue music as much as I wanted to anymore,’” Jones says. “And so I was like, ‘What else am I really passionate about that I can lean into?’ And it morphed into my fascination with the business of Hollywood and the understanding of how access to streaming viewership and theatrical box office data is truly disrupting film and television consumption.”
Creating this second major involved “a little bit of everything” that Jones had already started at Trinity, where the University’s approach to the liberal arts creates countless opportunities to combine disciplines in unique ways. He folded in a research component; combined elements of Trinity’s communication and music departments such as media classes and performance courses; and also leaned on the professional experience of Trinity’s Arts, Letters, and Enterprise program, a unique, interdisciplinary Trinity experience that helps students (usually in the humanities and social sciences) find ways to integrate business with their primary areas of interest.
This pivot ended up landing Jones a spot as a graduate student in Carnegie Mellon University’s prestigious entertainment industry management program.
As a graduate student, Jones is part of the 31% of his class who are continuing their education after leaving Trinity. Jones also works remotely as a growth marketing strategy intern at HBO Max, where he’s in charge of looking at viewership data for shows such as Euphoria, Insecure, and Succession. Jones is even interning at the Cannes Film Festival in France this summer; then he plans on moving to Los Angeles to intern for United Talent Agency.
If that sounds like the coolest thing ever: “Well, that’s because it is,” Jones says. “It truly does feel like a dream come true, thanks in part to the astute mentors and irreplaceable friends I gained at Trinity.”
Like Jones, Emerson Spradling ’21 also found a way to create and reinvent himself at Trinity— and beyond. He’s a computer science (CS) major from Austin who landed a big-time job as a software development engineer at Amazon.
“I love creating applications that solve real-world problems, especially when I can see the direct impact,” Spradling says of his work with software.
At Trinity, Spradling says he found opportunities to reach beyond his major. “When I looked at Trinity, the Pathways curriculum really spoke to me. I would be able to branch out and not have my experience focus solely on CS,” he says. “My mindset was that a more well-rounded education would provide long-lasting benefits.”
Just like Jones, Spradling pursued music with a passion at Trinity. The two played together in the handbell ensemble, and Spradling also played the French horn in the orchestra and band. Spradling explored other musical interests too, such as taking a class that allowed him to regularly attend performances at the San Antonio Symphony. This drive to explore came full circle for his own CS major, as he ventured into the specialized subject of big data and machine learning, which “isn’t in the general CS curriculum. It’s something you seek out because you’re really interested in it,” Spradling says. “So, I branched out and I took (classes on those subjects). I think I learned a lot, and it’s influenced the way I approach problems at Amazon.”
Branching out and collecting well-rounded skills wasn’t an optional update for Spradling 2.0—it was essential to creating the version of himself that landed the Amazon job.
“Now that I’m in the professional world, I still find myself constantly using the liberal arts skills that I learned at Trinity,” Spradling says. “I didn’t think that, as a CS major, I’d be writing in my day-to-day. But in reality, I spend a significant amount of time explaining complex code design. Communication and writing skills are huge.”
Why: Collaboration and Connection
It might be easy to look at the talents and success of students such as Wallace, Patel, Duran, Jones, and Spradling and assume that Trinity’s Class of 2021 must have been the University’s most competitive class ever.
But Trinity’s graduates across just about every major benefit from a liberal arts environment that isn’t just about disciplines colliding—it’s about people collaborating. Take it from biology professor James Shinkle, Ph.D., who oversees Trinity’s pre-medical and health professions track and acts as a mentor for students such as Patel.
“Pre-meds are notorious for being competitive, or even cutthroat,” Shinkle says. “But I would not still be doing this if it weren’t for the fact that Trinity students—not just pre-meds, but students in general—have regularly been a collaborative community. That doesn’t just mean the smart kids are hanging out together. You see this in study groups that span multiple interests and multiple backgrounds to the point where, yes, everybody wants to do well on their own, but they also have a mindset of making sure everyone else does well, too.”
This spirit of collaboration isn’t limited to student study habits, either. You can see it occurring between faculty across the social sciences, STEM, and the humanities, according to religion professor Rubén Dupertuis, Ph.D.
“The nuts and bolts of what we do in the humanities is, yes, getting people to think critically, but really what it comes down to is the ability to come up with new ideas,” Dupertuis says. “This is why Dr. Shinkle loves it when pre-meds take several types of courses. After they become doctors, they will come back and say, ‘I’m so glad I took that course, because my awareness of different religious traditions has helped me in my day-to-day work.’”
Shinkle, in turn, points to countless courses in philosophy (such as biomedical ethics), sociology and anthropology (such as health illness in society), and even studio art and nonfiction writing courses that he wants his students to take to broaden the ways they think through problems.
Trinity, Dupertuis adds, does not have silos. What it does have is professors urging—not just allowing, but urging—students to take classes outside of their majors.
“This is the kind of environment that I always wanted to work in,” Dupertuis says. “I knew the liberal arts in general were special, but the kind of collaboration that happens all the time here at Trinity is extraordinary.”
Trinity’s spirit of collaboration isn’t something limited to academia. You can find it happening with the staff of CELCS itself, which in 2020-21 engaged roughly 70% of the student population through more than 3,400 appointments and helped review more than 2,400 résumés, cover letters, grad school statements, and professional documents.
CELCS also has an impact that extends beyond the typical concept of a university career center: At Trinity, the office also supports undergraduate research opportunities, sponsored summer internships, volunteer opportunities, and provides assistance with graduate school applications.
“I definitely got a lot of support from Career Services in terms of applying for awards, crafting cover letters, and writing my résumé,” Wallace says. “It helped me start thinking about how a cover letter can be a space to express how passionate you are—a tool to highlight the ‘humanity of you.’”
“Using Career Services was really great for my résumé,” Spradling adds. “With CS positions, tech companies have résumé scanners that pick up keywords. Career Services gave me great advice on which words to include in my résumé that would get me to the next round of interviews.”
And that collaboration isn’t restricted to campus: Trinity’s Class of ’21 has relied on a growing, powerful alumni network that’s proved instrumental in connecting them with opportunities in continuing education, service, and job hunting.
Spradling points out that he was connected by CS professor Mark Lewis ’96, Ph.D., to other current Amazon employees who were Trinity alumni. Duran, who’s applying to graduate schools in psychology, says she plans to inform her decision using a series of testimonials CELCS gathered from former Trinity psychology students who’ve gone to those graduate programs ahead of her.
And for Jones, professors Jennifer Henderson, Ph.D., and Carolyn True, DMA, were able to set him up with multiple alumni connected to the entertainment and music industries. “Opportunities where I got to talk to people who have been in the same position as me—had a Trinity degree and kind of wanted to hop into this crazy industry,” Jones says, “including one alum who was at United Talent Agency, which is where I’m interning this summer.”
Why: Because It's Our Moment
Even with all this support, there were still moments for Patel—and the rest of Trinity’s Class of 2021—where the path ahead seemed doubtful.
“I remember pretty much failing my first ‘Organic Chemistry II’ test,” he says, “and being on the phone crying with my mom, asking, ‘How am I going to be a doctor if I can’t do this and pass these tests?’”
During a pandemic, these moments could also include applying for graduate or medical school and having test dates and in-person interviews continuously pushed back, or filling out job application after job application in a volatile market. But these are moments where Trinity graduates—not just the Class of 2021—have always shined, because these are the moments that bring out our “whys.”
“When you’re struggling, you naturally ask yourself, ‘Why am I doing this?’” Patel says. “And in that moment, I remember it’s because I want to help people. I want to engage in the scientific community and work to improve the human condition. Something I experienced at Trinity is that there are always going to be tough times. No matter what. It is important to persevere and constantly return back to your why.”
And in moments like these, when you know your “why,” Wallace says you can move on to a more important step.
“Now that I’ve graduated, I’m still continuing to learn and grow. But I’m less in a space of asking why our world is the way that it is,” she says, “and more in a space where I have the tools to start doing something about it.”