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Alumna explores career discernment, work for St. Jude

| Thursday, April 6, 2017

Nichole Ornelas, currently an Associate Program Director at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Indianapolis, spoke Wednesday at Saint Mary’s about her career path and the lessons she’s learned since her time at Saint Mary’s. Ornelas graduated from the college in 2005 with a major in communication studies and a minor in business administration.

As a college senior, Ornelas worked an internship at a local TV station. Even though the internship was difficult and time-consuming, Ornelas said it helped give her the work ethic she needed for career success.

“It was a great experience, and I learned a lot,” she said “Most importantly, I learned that no matter what, I should always give 110% whether I want to be doing the task or not.”

After the internship, Ornelas received a full-time offer with the station, but ultimately decided to decline, despite not having other offers. She said while was a risky move, she believed she made the right decision. Ornelas instead decided to move back home to Youngstown, Ohio, and worked for her family business to help pay off loans.

“I was really stressed out because I had no clue what I wanted to do,” she said.

In Ohio, Ornelas was approached by a friend working at local radio station about working in sales, even though she had no experience in the field.

“I was absolutely terrified, but I took the job anyway,” she said.

After a few months, Ornelas decided to switch from sales to the promotions department even though it involved a huge pay cut and demotion. She believed the pay cut was worth because she could work in the department which best matched her skill set.

Eventually, Ornelas decided the for-profit world was not for her. She said in for-profit businesses, everything is cutthroat and your performance is entirely based on sales. Orneals then interviewed for a job at a nonprofit radio station in Georgia, and after receiving the offer she reached out to her dad about what she should do.

“He said, ‘what good can come if you do take the job?’ And I realized, everything can happen,” she said.“It’ll increase my salary, change my life and be a whole new experience, so I took the job and moved to Savannah, Georgia.”

The experience of moving to a whole new city taught Ornelas how to be humble.

“I had a chip on my shoulder and thought I knew more than I did, and I had a tough boss,” she said. “It was the first time I ever received negative feedback. I questioned everything. I really thought about going home.” 

Ultimately, Ornelas said her experiences taught her how to overcome adversity and said when she’s hiring people to her team, the most important thing she wants to know about a candidate is how they’ve overcome challenges.

Ornelas is currently responsible for fundraising events for St. Jude. No child that receives treatment at St. Jude receives a bill, so fundraising is very important to the non-profit she said. She and her three-person team cover fundraising for the entire state of Indiana. They work with radio stations, colleges, high schools and corporations to receive donations and plan events such as walks and marathons.

Ornelas took the job in Indianapolis because she wanted to move closer to her family and begin planting roots — while she once valued independence and adventure, she now values stability.

“My priorities over my career changed drastically, and that’s okay. It’s about your happiness, and you need to make sure you’re in the right place,” she said.

Ornelas said she wouldn’t have a successful career without female mentorship. She thinks it’s important for women to share their stories with each other about how they can improve their work. She said enjoys the nonprofit world because it is predominantly women, and wants to see more women taking on upper leadership roles in the corporate world.

“I’ve surrounded myself with women who are my mentors,” she said. “They build me up and support me through life. If you’re not learning, you’re not growing.”

Ornelas encourages women to be their own leaders and not let tough or undermining bosses stop them from striving for success.

“You are your own future — you can do whatever you want as long as you’re pushing yourself,” she said.

For Ornelas, taking big risks brought back big success and believes that with hard work and courage, anything can happen.

“If I could go back and tell myself anything, it’d be that nothing goes the way you think it will, and that’s okay,” she said.“The most important thing is how you handle what life throws at you.”

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