Kareem Rogers, Class of August 2017

  • Gies College of Business
Photo of Kareem Rogers

The road to success is not always smooth.

When I first came to Illinois, I was going to be a Finance major. I wanted to learn financial literacy, how to invest, and to manage financial statements. Finance was going to help me. The problem was – and there’s no shame in admitting it – I’m just not a math person! The truth is, I was not happy. I was miserably stressed out trying to be someone I was not. One day, I went to this 300-level finance class and the professor said that “if finance is not the industry you want to pursue long term throughout your career, you should really consider dropping this class.” It was like an angel telling me that. I dropped the class and changed my major.

After personal reflection, I changed directions to pursue a major in Management with a concentration in Entrepreneurship from the Gies College of Business. I came from a family of entrepreneurs, and had always aimed to make this a part of my life. I wanted to learn how to manage people, how to run a business, to talk persuasively, to negotiate, and how to make sure my business performance is succeeding exponentially. I found this and more. As I learned to maximize my time in college and embrace something that I was genuinely interested in, I could give it my best effort and relate to people with my own, unique and meaningful story. It’s all about opportunity and how much you put in. I went from an underclassmen who was struggling to stay afloat to being recognized as one of the Top 100 seniors at graduation. This happened because I was willing to make a change to discover and embrace my passions.

As I explored options after graduation, Mark Williams in Business Career Services became a trusted mentor that I looked to for guidance. He recognized my interpersonal skills and suggested that I consider human resources (HR) as a potential next step. On his suggestion, I talked with graduate students and shadowed courses in the Labor and Employment Relations department. I also completed an HR internship with Student Body Discounts for some real-world experience. Together, these experiences confirmed my decision.

Now, I am back at University of Illinois working on a master’s degree in Human Resources and Industrial Relations. What really makes me interested in this field is that I can focus on how to decrease stress in the workplace. A lot of people don’t understand the role that stress plays – how harmful it can be. I remember what it was like to be impacted by stress in my own journey, and I know how different it is now to have that stress alleviated. If we can lessen the stress on employees, the benefits cascade to the company and to the community. Who wouldn’t want that?

I leave current students with this piece of advice: know that it is okay to fail. It happens to everyone. Sometimes in these success stories people don’t let you know the lessons learned from their struggles. The road to success is not always smooth. Like Michael Jordan said: “I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” We are all so different and so valuable. There is no one clear, straight, or simple story for everybody. The question is, when you hit hard times, what are you going to do about it? Are you going to take advantage of the resources on campus? Are you going to talk to people who can help you out? Know you are not alone. Please enjoy your life, and don’t stress yourself out. There are many possibilities.

(Last Updated: March 2019)