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Alumni Advisory Board Member: Steven B. Merrick

I began my Cal Poly career in 1975 after spending 2 years at the College of the Sequoias in Visalia, California.  I majored in Political Science with a plan to eventually attend Law School.  During my senior year I was fortunate enough to receive an internship with the County of San Luis Obispo Administrative Office that completely changed my professional goals from working in law to working in the public sector.   I loved being in involved in the “pulse” of the local community and frankly was not willing to spend another 3-4 years going to law school.  Unfortunately due to Proposition 13 funding cuts at the time, my prospects for the internship continuing into a full time job evaporated.

I moved to Minnesota shortly after graduation and found that the local governments there were looking for new hires that came from the local community or were looking for an advanced degree (MPA).  I had no success looking for work in Minnesota local government but through a rather circuitous route I found myself instead in the private sector working first for an insurance company for 2 years and then for 3M Corporation in Information Technology.  This is the first place my Cal Poly degree assisted me.  It gave me the chops to do well in interviews, having a  multi faceted base of knowledge to use during an interview.  The many discussions and debates that took place in my Political Science classes enabled me to communicate and represent myself in a positive manner.  When I interviewed at 3M Corporation in Information Technology in 1981, they were looking for Liberal Arts graduates that could think logically and would have a different frame of reference and broader abilities to relate to the business.  They provided training that gave me an entry level position as a COBOL programmer.  Right place, right time.

I received an MBA in 1984(University of St. Thomas, St. Paul, Minnesota) that gave me broader knowledge of business and finance.  I worked for 3M in business capacities as well as in Six Sigma(Master Black Belt), and led Information Technology as Chief Information Officer(CIO) for one of it’s major business segments, Safety, Security, and Protection Services.  I also spent 23 years in the US Army Reserve including an active duty mobilization for Operation Desert Storm.  I retired from the Army Reserve in 2000 as a Major and retired from 3M in 2011 after 30 years.  In addition to the Alumni Advisory Board, I also serve on the Board of Directors of Bethesda Medical Clinic in Cap Haitian, Haiti, a Christian organization that ministers to the physical and spiritual needs of the citizens of northern Haiti.

When I look back at my Cal Poly education, I find it was invaluable for my career.  If one is looking for an eventual move into management or even advancement to higher levels within one's expertise it usually takes more than excellence in one's chosen field, whether Information Technology, Engineering, or Science.  You have to be able to relate to mid and senior level management and communicate your expertise to them in language they understand.  This is where Cal Poly helped.  I could rise above my area of expertise(IT) and translate business needs to IT management, and translate IT goals to business management.  I was able to hold my own in social gatherings with senior management due to the broad base of knowledge I received at Cal Poly.  While you can not find this in any job description, it is invaluable in helping you rise above the many other candidates that are also wanting to advance.  The ability to communicate well orally and in writing is very important.  My experience also shows that when you are looking for employment, don't be afraid to look beyond your traditional  goals.  In my case being willing to try something different made all the difference in a fantastic career

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