Understanding the various systems that organize the world is one outcome of a major in
Religious Studies. Though it was not his first expectation, that is exactly what Justin Nelson (REL
major who graduated in 2007) credits for contributing to various successes he has experienced.
Last month, Justin returned to campus for Grad Tales, a department event that features alumni
sharing with students their journey from graduation to wherever they are now. It is an
encouraging event to attend during undergrad as most, if not all, students are worried about
where to go and what to do after graduation.
As Justin recalled his development to become an REL major with a business minor, he
noted the benefits even before graduation. Initially during his undergrad years, Justin struggled
with business classes, as they did not hold his attention and he found himself skipping class and
not doing his best work. That changed once Justin started taking Religious Studies courses, as
Justin began to apply the analyses he was learning in Religious Studies to other parts of his
coursework. Recognizing everything from religion to business as involving systems that he
needed to navigate and a language he needed to learn, he was able to master his work in
multiple areas. To this day he still applies this mode of analysis and critical thinking to how he
handles his life and work as a Major Account Executive at Trend Micro in Birmingham, a firm
that focuses on technology security.
When Justin graduated, he struggled to find the type of position he sought. It is such a
daunting task to go from following a set schedule of classes, studying and taking tests, to
marketing your specific set of skills to get an “adult” job. Eventually Justin used a networking
opportunity through his work at Bryant Denny Stadium, asking an entrepreneur about openings
in a start up tech company. His career in technology and business built on both his general
education coursework in computer language and his persistence in networking, combined with
the religious studies analytical skills.
His career trajectory has overcome multiple set backs, especially following the recession
of 2008, but he has been able to persevere by attending to the language and culture of those
with whom he interacts. Justin emphasized at Grad Tales that, after graduation, networking and
marketing yourself are necessary. While in college you learn a set of skills and in the “real
world” you will need to be able to apply these skills in diverse ways to market yourself for the
next opportunity. He also demonstrated a spirit of never giving up, despite the potential
setbacks that happen to many, often beyond their control. Adapting gracefully and patiently to
these situations is the best approach.
But what does this have to do with a degree in Religious Studies?
Justin’s degree in Religious Studies gave him the tools to observe the world around him
more effectively and thus navigate the various systems and their peculiar languages. Even at UA,
the analytical approaches and critical perspectives from the department helped him be more
successful throughout his coursework. Those skills combined with his knowledge of computing
and business and his ability to network, led to a blossoming career in sales, a field that he never
thought he would enter.
This post is part of a series that highlights the range of accomplishments that students in
Religious Studies achieve while at the Capstone and in their lives after graduation. We all hear
questions like, “What are you going to do with a Religious Studies degree?” As this series makes
clear, the skills that students develop in Religious Studies, including critical thinking, interacting
with diverse viewpoints, social analysis, and the ability to communicate to multiple audiences,
contribute to a broad range of activities and careers.