This week’s Featured Spartan was Jessica Pociask. Jessica agreed to answer questions about her industry, career background, and anything else she could help you learn to further your career. This discussion was open from 6/08/2015-6/24/2015.

Spartan Insights is a regularly scheduled LinkedIn discussion thread inside of the MSUALUMNI LinkedIn group. Each discussion is meant to give you the opportunity to ask questions regarding one Spartan’s experience within a specific company, industry, or occupation. Answers will be given at the convenience and discretion of the featured Spartan and will be answered from the Spartan’s own personal experiences and opinions which are not meant to be representative of his/her company’s official position. Questions regarding a person’s applicant status at the featured Spartan’s place of business will not be answered in this forum. Interested in being a helpful Spartan? Contact me at

Jessica PociaskJessica here! Checking in and ready for your questions!

Dave IsbellThanks Jessica. I’ll kick it off with the first question. What advice do you have for someone who is thinking about starting their own business, or working for a startup?

Kara: Hi Jessica! Firstly, how can I have a job like yours?! 🙂 I’d like to ask what led to the work you do now? Your experiences are so vast and interesting and I’d love to hear how it all came to be. What have been some of your most memorable and favorite travel experiences?

Jessica PociaskOk, so for a person who is interested in their own startup, I would say it is imperative to have a network of people you can reach to for advice i.e. mentors. These don’t necessarily have to be people older than you, but look for people who are very passionate about what they do i.e. if your business is going to be online, find someone who is good at and passionate about websites. Also, if you don’t know where to begin, or are looking for advice, is a great resource for mentors and how-to resources for any business, traditional or start-up.

Jessica PociaskKara, thanks for the question… definitely a hard one for me to get down on paper, because there is no real short answer. While I was at MSU, I had some excellent mentors, Rick Paulsen, Dennis Propst, and Chuck Nelson were three integral people who showed me several open doors and encouraged me to step through them. They were ceaseless in providing opportunities to get involved volunteering for organizations like The Nature Conservancy, encouraging participation in study abroad destinations, or always keeping an open door policy for me to bounce ideas off of them. It was really an amalgamation of their guidance, opportunity, drive, and passion that brought it all together after I did a study abroad in Antarctica and realized that there was an actual career opportunity in the expedition industry.

Going back to my response to Dave’s question, it has been useful to maintain a similar group of people around me as my career progresses, because ironically there isn’t really a map for me to follow in this industry.

Most memorable/favorite travel experiences… Whew! There’s definitely been a few! There was the time I was caught in a coup d’etat in Mali with a group of guests, and we were trapped for over a week! I finally arranged an overland evacuation and we made it safely into Burkina Faso, then continued on through Togo and Benin.

I also really like to push myself on trips, get myself out of my own comfort zone if you will…. so that could be swimming across a lake full of piranha and caimans, climbing up a 40 ft. waterfall and jumping off, or taking a bucket shower out in jungle in the middle of the night, and knowing that elephants, leopards, and buffalo are all moving around. Just feels good to feel alive!

Dave IsbellThanks Jessica! Mentorship is a topic that is near and dear to me. I wonder what you might say are the qualities to look for in a good mentor? While on the topic, how can one get the most from being a protégé/mentee?

Jessica PociaskNot sure what you want to be when you grow up? A mentor is a perfect way to find and maintain direction in your career and life decisions. If you’re still in college, and not sure where to begin, start by talking to your adviser, or any professor that you feel comfortable with. It can be as simple as walking up and saying, “Hey, I’m not sure what direction I want to go with this degree, can you help me with options?” or “I think I want to do this with my degree, do you know a good person I could talk to about this?” And if you don’t get a good answer the first time around, don’t give up! Finding a good mentor is a bit like dating, you may have to shop around, and the relationship will take time, commitment, and investment from both ends to be successful.

Whether you choose to approach a potential mentor directly, or are referred to them, initially you will want to look at their resume and see what they can bring to the table in terms of experience, accomplishments and networks. However, it doesn’t matter how many awards, years of experience, or accomplishments a person has under their belt, if your mentor doesn’t have time or interest in mentoring you, it simply won’t work. For instance, if you are a writer, you might seek someone out who is widely published, however, if they are too busy writing themselves, while they might be able to give you a quick introduction to someone, maybe even a publisher, if they can’t take time to meet with you, this ultimately won’t help you to advance your work or your career. You need to have access to these people before, during, and after critical decision times.

What do you talk to a mentor about? In my opinion, you can have more than one kind of mentor, i.e. one that you might talk to about work, another about personal relationships, etc, but what’s most important is being comfortable enough with your mentor that you can confide in them and freely talk about your hopes, dreams, and most importantly dealing with failure. Whether you are in college, or halfway along your career path, questions about your boss/coworkers, being in a management position, applying for a new job, workplace drama, and personal relationships will arise, and you don’t need to reinvent the wheel. A mentor will give you invaluable insight, experience, and guidance, and you should be able to talk to your mentor like asking an accomplished close aunt or uncle for advice. For these reasons, its also important to approach a mentor a long term relationship in mind, so that this person can guide you through multiple stages of your career and life.

As a protege or mentee, to get the most out of your experience, you have to be actively involved in your relationship. You will only get as much out of it as you put in. So during college, this may mean making the decision between spending an afternoon meeting with your mentor for lunch vs. going to a game or get-together with friends. Also, take a look at the projects that your mentor is working on, and if they invite you to participate in and event GO! In my case, Rick Paulsen has been very involved with MSU’s study abroad programs, so after chatting with him about it, I decided to participate in his program. I enjoyed it so much, that the second time around, he invited me to participate as a student leader, an experience that I feel was very fundamental to my career as an expedition leader today.

Lastly, once you get a little time and experience under your belt, make yourself available as a mentor yourself and complete the cycle. You will find difference rewards, and gain valuable experience from younger people and changing times.

“Keep away from people who try to belittle you. Small people always do that, but the really great, make you feel that you too, can become great.” -Mark Twain

Dave IsbellI love your response Jessica! Thanks! One more question for you, in a whole different direction. I wanted to give you a few minutes to talk about what it means to you to be both a traveler AND an ecologist. You’ve seen many places in the world that many Americans will never set foot in; what ecological concerns do you have that we may not be thinking about, or that you think we should be more aware of?

Dave IsbellLast question, I swear! Where can people read your writing and see your photography?

Jessica PociaskWhen I think about what it means to be a traveler and an ecologist, I think it aligns with my thoughts on what defines the difference between a traveler and a tourist. As an ecologist, I’m interested in how systems work as a whole, rather than a single element or component, and when it comes to travel, a tourist generally focuses on a single destination, structure, or event, but that’s only one part of the experience. As the saying goes “getting there is half the adventure,” and a traveler recognizes that experience is necessary to have a true and complete appreciation for the destination, structure or event that you’re visiting.

Jessica PociaskSome of the major ecological concerns I have are by no means rocket science. It starts with consumers and waste. It blows my mind that in the US anyone can justify buying bottled water. More importantly, as a traveler, you have a choice and responsibility to pay attention to your habits while you are in a foreign country. At the minimum we at least have a comprehensive recycling program in the US, but when you are overseas, it’s easy to over consume without real thought to how your waste is handled. If you’re familiar with ‘Leave no Trace Ethics’ it says “take only photos, leave only footprints.” One of the things that drove me crazy on my trips, is I realized we were leaving over a hundred thousand water bottles behind in countries that didn’t have the infrastructure to deal with our waste, but it was a conundrum, because we needed to have clean drinking water. So the solution was for us to have reusable metal water bottles and have water cooler bottles (of clean drinking water) for us to refill from. It’s my hope that when people go home, they recognize not to take our clean water standards for granted, and that if they need drinking water, they can also carry around their water bottle in the US and fill up from faucets and drinking fountains.

Also, as a traveler one of the greatest negative impacts you can have on a community or an environment is to give away ANYTHING! Giving away money, candy, pens, clothing, and more only encourages extremely negative and detrimental behavior. I understand that it’s easy to hand out items, particularly pens to children, but this then encourages children to skip school and beg, rather than complete their education.

Jessica PociaskLastly, the best place to see my photography is, or my facebook page. Also, I have a number of articles you can find online in my linkedin bio.

Dave IsbellThanks Jessica for sharing your insights! This discussion was originally featured on the MSU Alumni Association’s LinkedIn group. Check there every week for a new discussion.