Alex Ingham (SFGI13) Brings Program and Life Experience to OPPD
November 23, 2021 | By Les Poling
This interview is part of a three-story series featuring conversations with recent St. John’s graduates who have returned to work at the college. For the complete series, read our conversations with Aparna Ravilochan (SF12) and Lily Kowalczyk (A18).
Alex Ingham (SFGI13) says he spent the eight-plus years since he graduated from the St. John’s Graduate Institute “primarily in the classroom, in one way or another.” First, that meant a job in China, where he taught English; then, he bounced around the West and Southwest, from Montana to Arizona and beyond.
Throughout the years, he says, “I kept coming back through Santa Fe, and I think in the back of my head I had a passive goal to get back here eventually.” That finally happened late last year—and then, in a twist of fate that defied all expectations, a job opened up in the St. John’s Office of Personal and Professional Development. Ingham didn’t think twice.
“The timing was right, and the opportunity was there,” he explains. “So I pursued it.”
Several weeks into Ingham’s tenure as OPPD office manager, we spoke with him about St. John’s, balancing the Program with career services, and more; our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
When you graduated from St. John’s, did you have any idea that you would come back to the college in a professional capacity?
It was pretty unexpected. Even when I ended up back here [in Santa Fe], someone mentioned St. Johns College as a potential place to look for professional opportunities, and the thinking that I had was that there’s rarely any opportunities. Any jobs that open up get filled pretty quickly, and the people that assume them don’t tend to leave very regularly—understandably so. But the job did open up. It wasn’t really on my radar as a real possibility until it finally happened, and certainly not when I graduated.
Your job is in OPPD; did that appeal to you specifically, or did you just want to work at the college—or both?
I think it was a combination. It was something that aligned with past experience and with things I could do. But also, I think the evolution of the services that the college offers was really news to me when I took an initial look into what we now provide, and how that compares to what maybe existed back in my time as a student. It’s really expanded and grown, and a lot of new and innovative and positive things are being implemented. So I felt some excitement to be a part of that.
What has it been like to be back on campus in a professional capacity?
Not only am I back on the campus I was on a decade ago as a student, but in the more general context of the world, this is the first time in quite some time that there are many students on campus. My last role prior to this was at a college in Colorado, and so just seeing students back in classrooms and on campus, and being back on a campus myself—both generally, because I enjoy being wrapped up in that culture of learning, but also specifically one I spent time on as a student—I think I’m still trying to move past the initial surreal element; I’m just kind of rubbing my eyes, trying to place myself in time. It’s been a bit of an adjustment, all in a good way.
I think on my first day, there was a community involvement fair that our office hosted on the soccer field here, and there were probably 75–100 students out, engaged. That was something I hadn’t seen in a long time, and it seemed like a lot of the other staff and visitors hadn’t either.
Is there anything that you’re looking forward to, specifically or generally, about being back at the college in a professional capacity?
Personally, I’m looking forward to more actively reengaging with this community in seminars and discussions, participating in the Program, attending some of the lectures that are put on by the college. I’m also very excited about this role in OPPD and the new orientation the office seems to have taken in the relatively recent past. I’ve certainly bounced around quite a bit since I graduated, and I think it may have had something to do with the fact that when I graduated, I didn’t give much thought to what I might do afterwards. And as much as I’ve enjoyed my time since I left, I’m looking forward to generally contributing to encouraging that career-minded orientation among students earlier than I may have [developed it].
Are there specific things that OPPD is doing that you think are especially beneficial, in general and for Johnnies in particular?
I think the programs [offered by OPPD] are a great new way to engage in a proactive way with students. That seems to be the common theme of all the current efforts; not waiting for students to come to us as much as we’re encouraging them to get engaged with programs and in a forward-looking mindset, and at least considering, at some point before their final semester, what post-graduation life might look like—even in the form of a conversation, if nothing else.
It’s difficult, because I certainly understand and appreciate the importance of a career, and the fact that it’s a critical component to adult life, but looking back at my own experience at St. John’s—[a career] was the last thing I was interested in thinking and talking about when immersed in all that the Program has to offer. But it is important. And so combining those things, and considering my own experience of taking a lot of circuitous routes through different career paths, I think it’s just a great perspective to have, and it’s really enhancing my ability to engage and enjoy this role.
On a related note, how do you think your St. John’s experience will inform your work, and how do you think you can help students enjoy the rigors of the Program while also considering some of these career questions?
I think I have direct experience as a student that helps me understand and appreciate, at least from the graduate program perspective, what is involved in the Program itself. [Balancing the Program and career services] is maybe among the most exciting things I’m looking forward to in the next several months: just trying to reconcile that in my own mind, and to be able to then really dig in more fully. Both the Program and thinking about a career are important, and there has to be a balance.
In the end, it’s a big, open question, which is exactly what this place is best at: creating an environment to consider. I think by combining my student experience with my own career path, and perhaps considering how that may have gone differently, and I can encourage students to do what I may not have done in order to better position themselves for success.