Washington University in St. Louis School of Medicine student Alexandra Zdonczyk both loves the people and places that make St. Louis unique and recognizes the disparities and injustices that hold it back. For both reasons, she is staying.
“I feel at home in St. Louis,” said Zdonczyk, who will start her residency in ophthalmology at Barnes-Jewish Hospital after she graduates with a medical degree this month. “Here, I feel like I can make a positive impact on people’s lives.”
In celebration of the 162nd Washington University in St. Louis Commencement, the Record shines the spotlight on 12 Class of 2023 graduates who will continue their educations or start their careers in St. Louis. Some stay because St. Louis is home; others because St. Louis became home. People like Clay Canfield, an Olin Business School undergraduate who launched his startup Sobriety Hub in St. Louis.
“I love St. Louis — it’s the people that make it special,” said Canfield, of Chicago, who cited WashU mentors Doug Villhard, of Olin Business School, and Katie Silversmith, of the Skandalaris Center. “There are so many great local mentors who are willing to get their hands dirty with you as long as you have good questions and are thoughtful.”
Today, 24% of WashU alumni live in St. Louis, a number Chancellor Andrew D. Martin hopes to increase. To that end, the university is working hard to promote St. Louis to students and students to employers.
“As a global university, WashU is proud that our graduates are making an impact around the world,” Martin said. “But as a St. Louisan, I want to see more alumni committing to the region, developing the next great technologies in Cortex, providing exceptional patient care in local hospitals and lifting up our communities through their advocacy and art. Our talented students have so much to offer — and to gain from — this city.”
Before graduating, almost every WashU student will have volunteered in the community or participated in one of the many St. Louis-focused classes, research initiatives or projects. Hundreds of students also spend their summers in St. Louis interning at local businesses, nonprofits and government agencies. The university directly supports many of those students through career development and summer stipend programs such as the Gephardt Institute for Civic and Community Engagement’s St. Louis Fellowship, which provides students a $6,250 stipend and St. Louis-focused immersive learning experience. Stephanie Kurtzman, the Peter G. Sortino Executive Director of the Gephardt Institute, said students who intern in St. Louis are more likely to stay in St. Louis.
“Summer is the best time to fall in love with St. Louis,” Kurtzman said. “There are the festivals and restaurants and neighborhoods to explore. But, most of all, our students have an opportunity to make a meaningful impact and engage with community leaders. They see that they are valued here and that they can have a seat at the table as a young person in a way they may not in a bigger city.”
Katherine Scannell, vice dean at the School of Law, said St. Louis is the No. 1 destination for this year’s graduates, many of whom have completed internships in St. Louis or have served St. Louisans through the school’s 12 law clinics and three externships. Every year, the school delivers 100,000 hours of free legal assistance, most of it in the community.
“There is a wide range of high-level legal work here,” Scannell said. “As the startup scene expands, so do opportunities for our law graduates. Lawyers also are essential in moving the city forward as it addresses issues ranging from urban planning to housing. I tell our students that no matter where their legal interest lies, St. Louis is a great place to make a huge difference.”
Washington University also has stepped up its engagement of local employers, soliciting their feedback and expanding the curriculum to meet their needs. For instance, Arts & Sciences recently created the Department of Statistics and Data Science, which will equip students with skills in high demand.
“One-hundred percent of our students are now going to be data savvy. So if you are looking for data-savvy people, come to WashU,” Feng Sheng Hu, dean of Arts & Sciences, told local executives at the Career Center’s second annual Hire WashU event, which connects local businesses to WashU deans, faculty and students. “Our students are not only career ready, they are great at critical thinking, communication and problem-solving. Our goal is to prepare all of our students to be nimble and adaptive.”
That matters to Scott Crick, who earned a PhD from the McKelvey School of Engineering in 2011 and now hires WashU graduates at Auragent Bioscience, a biotech startup. His latest hire, Carolyn Duncan, graduates in May from the engineering school and worked at Auragent Bioscience last summer through the school’s biomedical engineering internship program.
“A lot has changed since I first arrived in St. Louis,” said Crick, director of research and applications. “There are both more exciting opportunities for graduates and the university is doing more to facilitate students getting jobs in industry. That’s great for St. Louis startups like ours that need well-trained, conscientious and curious graduates to grow and thrive.”
Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts
School of Law
Olin Business School, Brown School
School of Medicine
McKelvey School of Engineering