Deacon Spotlight: Ethan Groce

Ethan Groce (2013 BA in Education)Ethan Groce Head shot

US Army Paratrooper in the United States Army in Monterey, CA

Tell us about your current job role/employer and what you’re currently working on.

I serve in the United States Army as a Paratrooper within the Military Intelligence Corps. While much of what I do is classified, I can provide you with a general scope of what my enlistment entails. Before I do, however, I encourage the readers of this article, be they current students, alumni, or friends of the university, to read the other fine articles made available by the OPCD. You will find, as I have, that committing yourself to open-mindedness, coupled with curiosity, will take you a long way. That viewpoint is espoused in many of the other Deacon Spotlights and I will gladly lend my voice to that group.

The way I explain my “career” will inherently sound quite different than most, simply due to the nature of my “work”. And, yes, those quotation marks are necessary because, and this is a point I’d like to make clear, serving in the United States Armed Forces is a calling, a passion. Fewer than one percent of Americans currently serve in the military and that figure has remained the same since Conscription (the “draft”) was ended. I enlisted in the U.S. Army because I felt as though that was exactly where I belonged. That sense of belonging should serve as a guiding light for you while navigating your own career path. Search for an occupation that really speaks to your values and what you hold most dear. Of course, I offer that advice fully aware of the sometimes frustrating job market. Before finding my calling, I had a wide array of jobs and, for that, I am grateful. Those other work opportunities taught me about myself and what I was (or was not) good at, in terms of skill set. I can see I am already getting ahead of myself here…so, back to the actual question.

Currently, I am stationed at the Presidio de Monterey located in Monterey, California. This Army post is home to the Defense Language Institute, which is where soldiers, sailors, airmen, and members of all branches of our nation’s military attend for the purpose of achieving fluency in a language the Department of Defense deems vital. Previously, I completed Airborne School while temporarily stationed at Fort Benning, GA. My training was steeped in the tradition of fabled units such as the 82nd and 101st and culminated in the presentation of my own “Wings”. Immediately following graduation of Airborne School, I spent three months as a trainee within the 75th Ranger Regiment. Theirs is a training and selection process I intend to complete at a later point in my military career. As of right now, my duty is to become fluent in my assigned language so that I am equipped to execute any mission assigned to me as a Paratrooper within the Military Intelligence Corps.

My relatively short time as a soldier has already taught me a tremendous amount about perseverance and resilience (or, as it is referred to in the Ranger Creed, “intestinal fortitude”). Additionally, the four years I spent as a student at Wake Forest and the two years I gave back while working in the Office of Undergraduate Admissions most definitely helped with that process.

What personal and/or career experiences did you have prior to landing your current job and leading to where you are now?

My wish for this article is to offer and share information I deem useful as it relates to career and personal development. I have had the good fortune of working with the fine folks of the OPCD and I know that they are appreciative of personal stories but their purpose is to disseminate information they consider beneficial to young professionals. With that in mind, I will attempt to keep my personal anecdotes closely tied to lessons I have learned that can be serviceable to other Demon Deacons who are seeking career advice.

First, I pursued a degree in Education because I had and continue to have a passion for it. While I value the curriculum I was exposed to and am especially grateful for a Study Abroad opportunity offered specifically through the Education Department, I now recognize I should have simply sought after some sort of concentration through research in another academic field. One of my minors was Politics & International Affairs, I could have easily molded that into an academic major with a concentration or focus in national/global education policies. Yet, I felt strongly about majoring in Education at the time, even though I had no intention of becoming a schoolteacher immediately upon graduating. With that, I offer you my first point of advice, when deciding upon something that may greatly affect the content of your résumé, give it careful consideration beyond your immediate desires. You have got to think long-term! As much as “living for today” or “living in the now” may sound groovy, it probably will not be considered savvy to your potential future employers.

Upon graduating, I had a tremendous skill set pertaining to communication, networking, public speaking, and the like, but I lacked many of the “hard skills” that can lead to a six-figure job. Still, I was determined to land a job within the Piedmont Triad. I knew I wanted to remain, at least temporarily, in the area I had grown to love as a college student. That brings us to my next pointer, do not shy away from having standards…that may sound odd, but what I mean by that is, set standards for things that you have some control over. Location, workplace environment, and general career field are perhaps three good criteria of job searching you can control. The OPCD and, especially, Allison McWilliams are to thank for this point of advice. Allison encouraged me to use the tools I already had my in possession: my professional network! I had just spent four years of my life in Winston-Salem and met hundreds of folks, some inside and some outside the WFU community. As a Wake Forest student, I was exposed to dozens of potential mentors, coaches, advisors, and the like, who could help guide and shape me. As a graduate, I could now engage those professional relationships I had worked to develop and use those connections to my advantage. You should aim to do the same with your own professional network. Please understand, I am not suggesting that all Wake graduates should just stay in North Carolina for the first few years after receiving their degree. You may very well have plenty of connections back home or even in some random corner of the world. I am simply suggesting you already have an advantage upon graduating an outstanding university like Wake Forest.

Without a doubt, a big “Thank you” is owed to the Wake Forest University Police Department, specifically Regina Lawson and Ken Overholt (there are others to thank within the PD, you know who you are). My Work-Study appointment had taken place within their department throughout my time as a student and they offered me part-time work upon graduating until I found full-time employment. They were tremendously kind to me during that season of life. Here is a short note regarding part-time jobs: take them when necessary. “Temp jobs” are meant to be just that, temporary. Thus, your employer is going to be understanding when you inevitably leave for a full-time job. As long as you exit gracefully there should not be any hard feelings. Additionally, the job will have served its purpose and you may have very well gained some valuable experience from it. I will leave it to the experts as to whether to include part-time work on your résumé but if it directly relates to your overall career path, I do not see the harm in it.

I should come clean here. Not only did I wish to remain in the Piedmont Triad area…I desperately wanted to work at my Alma mater. The commitment and devotion I had received from the WFU Faculty, Staff, and Administrators during my time there had impacted me beyond belief and I wanted to give at least a part of that back as a staff member. Then, an opportunity to interview for an entry-level position within the Office of Undergraduate Admissions was granted to me. The two years I spent working with the amazingly dedicated people of Wake Forest Admissions was crucial to my development as a professional, a leader, and, quite honestly, as a more whole human being. So many aspects of that position spoke to my strengths and I think people like Martha Allman and Kevin Pittard recognized that when they hired me.

If I was to share all the professional and career development insights I was awoken to while working at Wake Forest, I would probably need my very own webpage. Suffice it to say, delve into every opportunity your workplace offers to engage with your colleagues outside of work and meet other professionals. Those interactions lead to connections, and that is how you expand your network. Generally speaking, your first full-time job out of college will be the most consequential of your entire career. You quickly discover, as a newly minted young professional, what your workplace values and needs are. Take note of those things because they should serve as road signs as you navigate your career path. Do you work best in a group setting or individually? Are you happy to be given large amounts of tasks or would you prefer to be given small tasks spread out evenly? Who do you “gel” with? That is an important one. Surprise! Not all of your co-workers are going to appreciate the work you do or how you go about accomplishing it. Find a workplace where you see the most net-positive in terms of business and professional relationships. While it may be impossible to find a company, firm, or non-profit that is able to hire only the most positive of people, you can at least find an employer who strives to do so with the aim of creating an amazingly effective workforce. Positivity promotes productivity.

Briefly, in the early 2000s, the Army’s motto was “An Army of One”. While that particular marketing/recruiting campaign was geared towards appealing to Americans’ individualism and rogue spirit, it seems to have had the opposite effect. The U.S. Army is made up of a diverse body of men and women but, no matter the myriad of differences, the goal of each of those individuals is identical: to protect and serve our great nation. Indeed, one of the core Army Values is that of “Selfless Service”. There is a great sense of unity within the Army and military in general. Being part of that collective effort appealed to me, as did the opportunity to defend my fellow Americans in foreign lands. So, while I could spell out my résumé and directly relate each job to my current employment, suffice it to say, every job matters. Your work experiences should build upon each other and, ultimately, direct you to employment that offers opportunities for personal progress.

What advice would you give to new Wake Forest graduates about developing their personal life habits after college?

As a member of the uniformed services, much of my day is scheduled for me: Accountability Formation, Chow Time, PT, etc. So, the work I have to put into striking a healthy work/life balance is fairly minimal. I can, however, give a hearty endorsement to practicing healthy personal habits outside of work. Thankfully, much of my work experience has been coupled with in-office friendships. As an employee of Wake Forest, I fondly remember good times and conversations with people like Anthony Tang, Megan (Massey) Tang, Lori Pilon, Brett Kaiser, and Victoria Hill. Spending quality time with co-workers and colleagues outside of the workplace can be immensely beneficial to cohesion and productivity within the workplace. That was my experience and I am thankful for it. A warning, however, is necessary. Friendships with co-workers can turn sour and cause disharmony back in the office. Preferably, one wants to avoid such a thing and that is why many people simply do not, under no circumstances, mix work with play. You have to make that decision for yourself but I, for one, benefited from friendships I developed with outstanding colleagues.

Of course, friendships, whether in or out of the office, are only one piece of the puzzle. A healthy work/life balance involves successfully managing your personal affairs. I will keep this short and sweet, get ahead of things or at least stay on top of your personal business. As is often said, “Nothing is certain but death and taxes.” It just so happens that your health and personal finances can greatly affect your work-life. Keep both of those things in check and you will encounter less stress in your life.

How have you made personal and professional relationships in your city, company, or community?

This is a question that really only takes a list to answer: LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, WAKENetwork…I think you get the idea.

It does not take an expert to recognize that we live in an age of social media, in which there is seemingly an infinite number of ways to connect with others. Yet, just because I can easily send a message electronically to a friend 1,000 miles away does not mean a profitable exchange will commence. Typically, I am not a proponent of looking at relationships as transactional but when your goal is to network and, quite possibly, land a job, you must approach social media differently than your average teenager would. Exchanging adorable puppy videos will only get you so far.

For that matter, social media itself will only get you so far. Some occasions do call for personal interaction…that means face-to-face. It can be uncomfortable but you may very well have to attend a job fair and approach a stranger’s booth to inquire about their business; you may have to participate in an informational interview with an associate of the corporation you have recently been eyeing; you may even have to grab lunch with a friend of your uncle whom you’ve never met before (gasp) but is an industry expert within your career field of interest. As I was attending seminary in Louisville, KY, I was fortunate enough to land two part-time jobs as a direct result of the sort of things I mentioned above. Most notably, I befriended a well-connected and well-liked gentleman named Jack Richardson while in Louisville and was frequently invited to soirées he hosted. Business owners from around the community would occasionally drop-in for conversation at these events and it was through those conversations that I eventually was offered a favorable position within a marketing firm that allowed flexibility with my seminary studies. It took some gumption and, at times, gripping and grinning, but I eventually became quite adept at making cold introductions and initiating conversation out of thin air.

I will leave it to others to demonstrate how firm that initial handshake really should be but I do encourage you to get out there! Exit your comfort zone and meet professionals who may enjoy sharing personal experiences regarding their own career path.

Have you been mentored by anyone at Wake Forest or in your professional life? If so, what impact has that relationship had on you?

According to the OPCD, to think only of a “Mentor” when seeking personal and career advice is a narrow view of interpersonal development. There are several different types of personnel you can approach for help, most notably, mentors, coaches, sponsors, and advisors/counselors. These, of course, may not be official titles but they represent roles your parent, supervisor, spiritual leader, and others can possess.

“Mother, so dear” may sound like an odd inclusion in a university’s Alma mater song but to me, personally, it made perfect sense. As a student and, eventually, as a staff member, I was graced by the presence of several stalwarts of Wake Forest and her values. These guardians of Pro Humanitate served as parent-like role models for me, bolstering my understanding of working for the good of humanity. It is not an exaggeration to say that without the positive influence of Cherise James, Matt Imboden, Mike Ford, and Barbara Stephens-Macri I would not be the man I am today. These individuals encouraged me in my zealous pursuit of Wake Forest community involvement. In fact, many opportunities to volunteer and lend my voice to important campus matters were brought my way thanks to them. It seemed as though the actual essence of Wake Forest was breathed out by Ken Zick and Marybeth Wallace, two individuals who, while demonstrating humility and modesty, served as some of the university’s most impactful spokespeople. Joyful personalities, even in the midst of difficulty, were shewn forth by the likes of Mary Gerardy and Angela Mazaris, two women who exemplified resolve in the face of challenges. Finally, I would be remiss if I did not mention one of my absolute favorite characters of the WFU campus. Larry Jones served as a mentor, coach, advisor and, ultimately, a friend to me for many years and continues to do so. He is the kind of person who cannot help but exude positivity and he is an exemplifier of servant leadership.

Simply put, I cannot overstate the importance of mentorship. My mentors have made an indelible impression on my life and my character. The world will occasionally churn out a match made in heaven by sheer coincidence but, more often than not, you have to seek out mentors. You may find yourself drawn to a glowing personality at work while participating in a club or interest group, or even at your place of worship. Wherever it may be, remain cognizant of those around you who exude benevolence, self-reflection, and wisdom and reach out to them in a professional manner. The OPCD can offer you the exact tools you will need to appropriately ask someone to become a mentor but, plainly speaking: be polite; be professional; and be precise in what you say.

What advice would you give to current Wake Forest students and/or young alumni who are about to start their first professional job?

In the Army, we have many sayings, some are wise while others are…well, less wise.  One of my favorites relates to presenting information to soldiers: Tell ‘em what you’re gonna tell ‘em; next, tell ‘em; then, tell ‘em what you told ‘em.  So, in that same spirit, I will repeat an earlier statement. Your first professional job will likely be the most consequential of your entire career. You will develop habits as a young professional that will likely remain with you throughout your time in the workforce.  With that in mind, do it right the first time. Of course, as a young professional, mistakes will be made and you may not feel like your feet are firmly on the ground at all times. Still, I encourage you to work as arduously as possible to be the best team player in your workplace.  Take on extra work when it is offered. Volunteer for work events. Do not shy away from social gatherings hosted by your supervisor.

Fortunately for me, I learned a long time ago to soak up every moment and appreciate the time I have been granted on this earth.  As a Wake Forest University graduate and a lifelong Demon Deacon, you are expected to infuse the world with good works and positivity.  I strive to do so each day. I do that, in part, through my service as a soldier, my service in the surrounding community, and my service to friends and family as I make myself available to listen, love, and support whenever necessary.  Personally, that is how I strive to be a whole human being. You know, earlier I noted an old slogan used by the U.S. Army. Well, prior to the aforementioned slogan there was another, more popular, one used for nearly two decades: “Be all you can be”.  I wish you the very best in your endeavor to achieve that status!

Story published in December 2018.