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Students ask questions like, what were your favorite and least favorite jobs?

Drew President MaryAnn Baenninger and former Lucent leader Tom Uhlman reflect on college, career.

October 2015 – Be open-minded and seek the best fit.

In sum, that was the advice that Drew University President MaryAnn Baenninger gave recently when Madison High School students asked her about picking colleges and finding jobs. Baenninger and Tom Uhlman, former president of Lucent Technologies’ New Ventures Group, addressed about 50 students during a question and answer session at the school that was led by Christy Tighe of Junior Achievement of New Jersey. The Oct. 15 event, which was organized the Chief Executive Council for Madison, Madison Public Schools and Madison Mayor Bob Conley, explored the varied career paths of Baenninger and Uhlman and ultimately generated some practical, real-world advice. Here are the top 5 takeaways:

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Tom Uhlman: from college professor to corporate leader.

Know what you love (and hate).

Uhlman had a great job as a professor at the University of Missouri and tenure to boot. But he craved working in teams, so left academia to become a leader at major corporations like Hewlett-Packard, AT&T and Lucent.

Your major doesn’t necessarily determine your career.

Statistically, you’re likely to end up in a profession that doesn’t match your major, according to Baenninger. So, don’t worry about locking into a single path in college because chances are you’ll go in another direction. “Major in what you love,” she said. “Then go and focus as you go along.”

Seek out mentors.

They help you grow and avoid pitfalls, particularly when you’re starting out. Uhlman said he wouldn’t have been as successful in the corporate world without the help of mentors like former HP CEO John Young. When visiting prospective colleges, try to connect with professors, Baenninger suggested. “Particularly at a small university, they’re going to get to know you as a person,” she added.

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Drew represents Baenninger’s third job in managing an institution.

Don’t be afraid to change course—at whatever age.

Uhlman was 33 when he left academia to earn an MBA from Stanford. Baenninger was in her 40s when she shifted from teaching psychology to managing institutions—first the College of Saint Benedict and now, Drew.

Learn from your mistakes, particularly the jobs you dislike.

For Baenninger, the “chronic fail” was hiring people like herself. “That’s a really bad thing to do,” she said. “If you think about it, any situation where people aren’t diverse in every respect, you’re going to be weaker.”