During Cayla-Simone Riggs ’17 visit to campus, a conversation with a current student changed Drexel from a maybe on Riggs’ list to her future home.
When taking a tour of the University, Riggs and her mother decided to take a break for lunch and noticed a student wearing Drexel gear. She asked the student about their experience at the University, and what was originally just a quick question turned into a half-hour conversation. She says the conversation is the reason she came to Drexel.
“I can imagine that the feeling I had speaking with that student is the one people have once they have found the perfect wedding dress,” says Riggs. “Who takes the time to talk to you about their experience at school? You have to really care and really love your university.”
And Riggs experience was no different. She quickly found student organizations through Drexel and LeBow that would help her foster a sense of purpose and family at the University, most notably LeBow BRIDGE.
“All my best friends, I made through BRIDGE,” she says, “I have a handful of ladies that I know are going to be my best friends until we are no longer on this planet. And we all have different backgrounds and experiences – we’re all different. The fact that we have a friendship across the spectrum is phenomenal.”
BRIDGE not only provided Riggs with the lifelong friendships she didn’t expect to find, it also provided her with connections to professional staff and the emotional support and mentorship she would need to thrive through tougher times in her life - the separation of her parents, broken relationships, and overcoming issues with self-esteem.
“I can recall where I’ve spoken with any one of the program managers about everything from advancing in my career to personal stuff. I would go into their offices and sit on their pillows, and do my homework, or talk to friends – all my happy moments happened in their offices,” she says.
But outside of her involvement with BRIDGE, Riggs was active in other campus organizations as well. From being captain of the Drexel Cheerleading team for four of the five years she attended the University to working with the Drexel Philanthropy Council, Riggs was determined to deepen her involvement with the student body and University as whole.
“As you explore your purpose and fully immerse yourself, you get more information and learn more about yourself. I didn’t realize that that’s what I was doing at Drexel at the time but that’s important,” she says.
Beyond student organizations, Riggs credits the co-op system for helping her home in on the values and ideas she gained through her University experience and apply them to her professional life. Zeroing in on being passionate, authentic, committed, and progressive as core professional values remains key in her post-undergraduate career.
But the business analytics and management information systems major wasn’t always sure what she wanted to do or where she wanted to go in life. She switched her major multiple times and had to discover the right fit. “I stumbled upon MIS after many changes,” she says, “I love that you have to take a foundational course in every discipline – it really helps you get a feel for each subject and find out what you’re interested in.”
While Riggs had found her interests, co-op was where she found her preferences for her ideal work environment. Riggs’ first co-op was at Johnson & Johnson, where she served as a corporate information security risk management intern for the company. She worked to ensure that applications and projects met company standards and was able to form connections with the J&J team.
“My time at J&J was when I learned what a true dynamic culture is,” she says. “There, I really learned the value of your work having purpose, and I found that working in a job where your work has meaning is vital to my experience and what I want in a position.”
Riggs carried the determination to align her values with her work to her co-op at The Vanguard Group where she initially served as an institutional marketing and communications intern. The co-op went so well that Riggs was offered a full-time position at the company after graduation in their Vanguard Accelerated Development Program. Riggs decided to share her excitement via social media and quickly felt like she had made the right choice.
“I received hundreds of likes and comments on LinkedIn with people welcoming me [to the company], even from Managing Directors,” she says. “I feel that having community and support is really important when making such a big shift.”
Even as she moves forward in her professional career, Riggs says she left Drexel after her graduation last year with lifelong friendships, a sense of purpose, and a lesson: “Explore your purpose. I know that’s such a big question, but that’s why I don’t say find it, I say explore it.”