In this Q&A, recent graduate Adena Ellner '17 opens up about her experience switching careers with the help of her Drexel education and provides advice for fellow graduate students.
Adena Ellner refers to this phase as her “third life.”
Ellner completed her coursework for her master’s degree in information systems and certificate in healthcare informatics at Drexel University back in December 2017 before officially graduating this June. Before that, she worked as an assistant to financial advisors and decided to leave that behind to turn her passion for technology into a new career by pursuing a master’s degree from Drexel. Prior to her time in the financial services industry, she was a graphic designer after graduating from Drew University with a BA in fine art.
Though these previous job paths had their benefits, Ellner credits Drexel with helping her find a new, fulfilling career.
Q: Tell me more about your decision to leave the financial industry and pursue a new career path and what that adventure has been like up until now.
Working in the financial industry was a great learning experience. I learned a lot, and found I started to hone in on what I wanted to do “when I grew up.” I really enjoyed working with technology and wanted to pursue a career in IT. I knew Drexel has always had the reputation of being No. 1 in technology, and since I grew up in the area, I knew this was where I wanted to go; this was where I wanted to be. I knew that the combination of academics and a co-op experience from Drexel would put me on the right path to start my new career. This was the only school that I applied to, and I fought hard to get accepted. It was well worth it. I've learned so much, from both my professors and my fellow students. It's been a great experience.
Q: Is there anything about what you did in the financial services industry that sparked your interest in technology?
It was just an outside interest that I had all along. I really liked working with technology and wanted to expand my knowledge of the field.
Before attending Drexel, I worked at two different financial services wirehouses as an assistant to up to seven financial advisors at once. I assisted clients with a variety of services, such as fulfilling clients’ requests for distributions from their accounts, navigation through their online account portals, etc. I enjoyed helping the clients, who were a great group of people, that mainly consisted of retirees.
Q: Tell me about your co-op experience at Meditology Services that led to a full-time job.
My co-op gave me a taste of what it is like to be a healthcare IT security consultant. It provided opportunities to work on various types of certification and assessment projects, including HITRUST [Health Information Trust Alliance] certifications, risk assessments and HIPAA Privacy Assessments, etc. It was interesting to learn more about the healthcare field and the cybersecurity programs of different medical facilities.
One of the reasons I came to Drexel was for the co-op program. I knew I would need experience to give me a leg up to help me get a job post-graduation. You can have the degree, but if you don't get the experience or at least some experience, it's harder to get out there and get started in the workforce.
Q: Is there anything you’d say about your Drexel coursework that specifically helped prepare you for the co-op?
One thing that I think helped prepare me were the group projects in the majority of my courses. During my co-op and full-time experiences, each project consisted of different groups of team members and having the skills and experience of working on a team was extremely helpful.
I also found it helpful when professors would relate concepts that they were teaching in the classroom to real-world experiences. It helped me to see how the concepts that we were learning fit into what the industry was doing, how it was managing it and how these skills we were learning in the class translated to the real world.
Q: Is there anything that you would say about your “third life” that is more fulfilling than the financial industry?
I think this phase of my life is more fulfilling to me because I’m extremely interested in the plethora of applications and opportunities that technology has to advance society and enrich our lives. Whereas working the financial industry was great, and interesting to learn, it wasn’t on the same wavelength as my passion. It was more of a job as opposed to technology, which I find to be more of a career.
Q: Do you have any specific advice for other grad students, or even other people looking to take the plunge to switching careers?
I did a lot of research before I decided to take that plunge to make sure it was really the right fit for me. I’d tell people to make sure you do your research. Make sure that it's something you really want and it’s the right fit for you.
For the current and future grad students who will be participating in the co-op programs, I have a few pieces of advice. I urge you to take advantage of the program to the full extent. Follow the advice of your grad co-op advisors and professors, and make sure to utilize all the resources that Drexel provides to you during your time as a student. Seize any and all opportunities to learn from your professors, your advisors, the grad co-op staff and people you meet in general. Ask questions, and get as much information as you can to find what works for you and will help you to succeed.