Written by Michael Rouleau
Willimantic, Conn. – Three distinguished alumni from Eastern Connecticut State University were inducted into the Eastern Fellows Program on Oct. 21. Following the induction, Michael Endler ’81, Janice Deskus ’88 and Frederick Hughes ’87 shared career advice with Eastern students during an afternoon panel discussion held in the Paul E. Johnson Sr. Community Conference Room.
Endler, a former public policy/government and communication double major, is among Eastern’s most distinguished alumni attorneys. Specializing in complex commercial litigation, he is a top government lawyer and partner in the Albany, NY, office of Boies, Schiller and Flexner LLP. “I’m here to tell you that none of my friends who went to fancy schools were any better off than I was,” said Endler, reflecting on his time at Georgetown University during law school. “In many ways, I felt I had an advantage, coming from a small school with lots of opportunities to be involved.”
Deskus, who earned a degree in psychology, has forged a successful career in human resources. Currently the group vice president of human resources at Medtronic, she previously managed human resources programs for insurance giants Aetna and Cigna. “I feel I should be recognizing Eastern for all it’s given me,” said Deskus, reflecting on her humble upbringing in Woodstock, CT. “Eastern provided me access to so many things; I encourage students to take advantage of all that is here.”
Hughes, an alumnus of the business administration program, is a certified public accountant (CPA) and fraud examiner with BlumShapiro, the largest firm of its kind based in New England. Hughes does not have a degree in accounting, yet his education at Eastern prepared him for a successful career in that field. “There was nothing on the CPA exam I didn’t recognize,” he said. “A liberal arts education produces a well-rounded individual.”
When reflecting on his Eastern experiences, Endler recalled one of his sociology professors. “She decided she’d make my life miserable,” he said fondly, noting that when he came to Eastern he lacked good study skills because high school came easily to him. “I realized in order to do well, I’d have to put forth the effort. I had the capacity; I just needed a little prodding.” This work ethic led him to obtaining an internship with a congressman, which sparked his interest in law. The rest is history. “I got the grounding I needed here.”
For Deskus, an internship at a naval base helped her realize that she did not want to do research, and inspired her to pursue another field. She encourages students to be critical about what they are doing. “Don’t just accept what’s in front of you,” she said. “Explore, ask questions.”
Eastern’s small size was the dealmaker for Hughes. “I wanted to get to know the professors,” he said. Hughes also obtained an internship. “Eastern brought the real world to the classroom; it allowed me to come out of my comfort zone.”
Endler cherishes his Eastern education because of the writing and speaking skills it helped him develop. “In my own industry, it’s amazing seeing people who aren’t comfortable speaking. There are a lot of really bad writers, too.” But his greatest bit of advice is for students — and professionals — to stay flexible and to continue learning.
“Thirty years from now, what are the things that will no longer be a part of our lives?” asked Endler. “You need to be able to roll with the changes. You could be in a field that no longer exists. Those who know how to repurpose and transfer skills do well. Continue to be a learner. If you don’t, you’ll get left behind.”
Deskus focused her advice on being practical. “When going into the world, what are you driving toward?” she asked. “Be honest with yourself. Consider work-life balance, and design your career around that goal. Get really clear on what you want and are willing to do.”
The Eastern Fellows Program was established in 2008 to recognize and engage distinguished alumni in the life of the university. The program is a means of enriching the educational experience of current Eastern students by exposing them to alumni who are able to share their work experiences in realistic terms.