James Tarbox, Ph.D., serves as the Executive Director of Career Services at San Diego State University. He leads a team that is committed to the success of SDSU’s 36,000 students and more than 400,000 alumni. Career Services collaborates with a range of local, regional and national partners to ensure SDSU students and alumni are engaged with their communities, successful in their career pursuits and making a difference within their communities, regions and around the globe.
Learn more about James’s journey on the Find Your Passion Career podcast!
James always knew he wanted to help other people. During his undergrad years at Bates College, he chose to major in communication with the plan to be a teacher. He wanted to be a ‘catalyst for change,’ said James.
His life was totally transformed when a professor of his told him he should apply for grad school. James ended up getting a full ride to all the schools he applied to, and decided to attend Penn State. “The rest is history,” James said. Sometimes you need to hear words of encouragement from someone else before you can believe it for yourself.
Between getting his masters and Ph.D. from Penn State, James received an offer for a job in Chicago. He ultimately turned it down as he felt it would deter him from his passion. “I went back to the core of me,” James said.
Later he went on to attend Harvard for a certificate of Management and Leadership in Higher Education.
Inside career services
James typically arrives to work around 6:30 a.m. He uses the first two hours of his day to complete previous projects that may need some tidying up. At 8 a.m., James is ready to start his day. His day consists of a lot of planning, collaborating, attending meetings and running programs.
One such program is the Aztec Mentor Program, which has resulted in over 500 matches in its first five years. James explains that the key to finding a mentor is speaking to them first. That’s right, put those texting hands away and use your communication skills. Head to your favorite coffee spot on campus and explain your story— they’ll want to hear.
It’s never too early or too late to start the process. Even if you’re totally unsure of your future career aspirations, hit the pause button and walk into the front door of career services.
Career development is messy, it forces you to experiment and risk who you are. “You got to be in the messiness to gain,” James said.
“Start where you are and start now,” James said.
Just always think back to who you are as part of a broader community – your background, gender, ethnicity – anything that makes you, you. “Your identity comes into play,” James said.
Start with questions
At San Diego State University James helps students realize their full potential. He always goes back to the simple things— reminding students to remember what motivates them. He explains that students usually pivot around sophomore year, the time when they fully dive into their major.
“Making a difference has kind of been my mantra,” James said. He always feels really inspired helping others define their passion and chase after it.
“Understand that this is a journey; there’s many different paths to the same goal,” James said.
Start your process by asking yourself, “what are the questions I want to answer about my career?” Write them down. Now you’ve already taken the first step of the journey!
Once you’re inspired by James’ story, we’d love to read your review!