Martin Eguiguren, 2016 Fellow

On the Thursday night of my last week in the city, I attended a happy hour in the Lower East side with a group of interns I had spent the summer working with at Entrepreneurs Roundtable Accelerator.  At the bar, we started talking about the value and impact our college degrees had on our internships and future careers. We all went to good schools, but everyone at the table except for me attended an ivy-league school. All the other interns seemed to agree that people in the startup community did not generally care about the school you went to, or for that matter, if you even went to school. However, I maintain my stance that going to college, and one which employers recognize, is crucial for successful careers.

For my fellow interns, it seemed easy to pin the success of their promising careers on something unrelated to their college degree. Indeed, being already there, it felt as if whether going to Harvard vs some unknown college didn’t make much of a difference.  But during our discussion, I brought up a term I had learned in my Microeconomics class the year before. “Signaling”, I said. For both firms and universities, it is hard and lengthy to discover how talented or capable someone is. Instead employers may depend on “signals” od pedigree such as “oh, he went to Yale, he must be smart” to determine the capability of an individual. The process is not necessarily fair or accurate, but it does make identifying talent much more efficient.

In New York there is no signal, good or bad, associated with a Furman degree.  Our Furman badge carries little weight in the Northeast, as I generally get a blank stare when I responded “I go to Furman” when asked about my alma mater. And for those of us who spend a significant portion of our time outside the state of South Carolina, we have become accustomed to responding to that question with a quick elevator pitch, selling both ourselves and our beloved Furman. “I go to Furman University, a small, very-rigorous liberal arts school in Greenville, South Carolina.”

Though I did voice that response a few times throughout the summer, people did not seem to care much about it. Most people would not pay too much attention to the response. The interns were right in that if you are already there, it doesn’t matter where you went to school. However, backtracking a few months, to the job search itself, it mattered a lot.

Top firms in New York recruit from the Ivy’s and a few large prestigious schools that signal the desired talent. I found this to be frustrating at first, but extremely enlightening by the end of my New York summer.

The first positive realization I had luckily early on, was that although the big players don’t recruit at Furman, they are very open, if we are willing and enterprising enough to come to them. The barrier is tall, but it is not stubborn intractability, but rather a lack of awareness and time that incites firms to only take Ivy students. Once they realize that a Furman student is a great candidate, they become eager to take you.

I think I have been able to overcome this barrier both due to my early awareness of it and more obviously, through the Furman Metropolitan Fellowship. The FMF members, who had shared those frustrating moments of finding a path for themselves after their college careers, recognized that barrier had not shrunk since they made it to New York. They recognized that the best way to overcome that barrier was to help build a bridge between Furman and New York City. Thanks to their endless help and generosity, Sarah Saba and I were given the chance to help work on that bridge. The diligence of FMF and our desire to take part in the world’s most competitive city, allowed Sarah and I to land our top choice summer internships in New York, and work toward the next step in our careers.

If Furman’s name carries little weight in this city, it is up to us to build it up. In the eyes of most people I met, I was Furman. It was empowering to be a one of the few Paladin representatives in the city. In a way, every interaction I had would either strengthen or rust the steel on the bridge. I was constantly making impressions of both of myself and Furman as an institution.

FMF, as well as I, strongly believe that Furman students are a great product, all we have to do is to show it to the world, and what better place to do that, than in the Big Apple. I am thrilled for what is to come—hopefully moving to New York City and contributing to the construction of that bridge—and making Furman a “signal” of success.