Experts-in-residence inform students what careers are really like

Sept. 11, 2019 — More than 80 Grinnell College students contemplating careers in business and health received candid advice from a couple that were in their shoes last decade.

Atanas Djumaliev ’03 and Ekaterina “Katya” Pekarskaya ’05 visited Grinnell College May 2-4 as experts-in-residence to interact with students in two career community programs led by the College’s Center for Careers Life, and Service (CLS). In addition to individual student meetings, Djumaliev and Pekarskaya hosted seminars, visited a Russian class, and had several breakfast and lunch meetings.

Atanas Djumaliev ’03 and Ekaterina “Katya” Pekarskaya ’05
Ekaterina “Katya” Pekarskaya ’05 and Atanas Djumaliev ’03

“The premise behind experts-in-residence is utilizing the expertise, knowledge, and life experience of alumni across all industries that have the ability and the interest of coming back and helping the students,” says Michael Lawrence, director of the Business and Finance Career Community. “Atanas and Katya shared how to develop and apply skills in areas such as networking and perseverance to secure specific positions in global finance, investment banking, and the health professions.”

Through the CLS’ seven career communities, students have access to specialized advising, tailored programming, and experiential learning opportunities. Djumaliev, the managing director and head of global commodities division at VTB Capital, a leading investment bank in Russia and Eastern Europe, spoke with students in the Business and Finance Career Community. Pekarskaya, a second-year Midwifery student at King’s College London University, spoke with students in the Health Professions Career Community.

“We had a wonderful time getting to know Grinnell students and hearing about their ambitions for careers and service,” Djumaliev says. “They asked insightful questions and opened up about what they are considering doing with their lives. It was fantastic to be invited back to share advice and stories from the first 15 years or so of our professional careers.”

Michael Lawrence
    Michael Lawrence

To further strengthen global opportunities for Grinnell students, Djumaliev and Pekarskaya made a generous pledge this summer to the CLS in support of international internships in business and finance. They wish for their support to serve as an example, encouraging others to support international internship experiences for Grinnell students.

“We are thrilled by their decision to support the College and assist students in pursing international internships,” Lawrence says. “Their gift will enable students to explore their professional goals through experiential learning opportunities and will ultimately help them in pursuit of careers with meaning and purpose.”

The expert-in-residence program was started by the CLS two years ago to connect alumni with students to share industry expertise, in both one-on-one advising sessions and group presentations. Five expert-in-residence alums have spent multiple days on campus visiting with students. Beyond providing advice, the visits help build students’ networking skills and show them that alumni are invested in the College, says Mary Jane Shroyer, director of the Health Professions Career Community.

Mary Jane Shroyer
    Mary Jane Shroyer

“It also gives the students a chance to see the multi-faceted path that Grinnell College graduates can take,” she says. “A sizable percentage of our students don’t know what they are going to do career wise from their first moment on campus and that can remain true for several years.”

Experts-in-residence also show students that career plans sometimes move in different directions. That may involve early-career, mid-career, or late-career changes, and maybe multiple changes, Lawrence says. Pekarskaya is one example of that.

She earned her bachelor’s degree in economics at Grinnell and went on to obtain a master’s degree at the London School of Economics and Political Science. In 2006, Pekarskaya joined the prime finance division of Citigroup in London where she worked with emerging markets hedge funds and Scandinavian pension funds. She later took several years off to start a family. This break gave her an opportunity to reevaluate her long-term professional plans and to switch to a career in health care, an area of interest to her since childhood.

“I realized that health care was the right career path for me, and I could draw upon my learning and experiences at Grinnell as well as my initial professional journey,” Pekarskaya says. “That’s one point I conveyed in my one-on-one meetings with students who are on the fence about which path to follow. It’s fairly common these days for people to shift focus mid-career, but the great thing about Grinnell is the liberal arts focus can prepare students for that shift, if it ever arises.”

Djumaliev also earned an economics degree at Grinnell. He started his career in Deutsche Bank’s London office. Later, he was a managing director, head of fixed income, currency and commodities for Russia and CIS at Goldman Sachs. In his current position at VTB Capital, he oversees the bank’s commodities trading and financing operations with trading teams based in Moscow, Frankfurt, Hong Kong, and Switzerland.

Djumaliev and Pekarskaya appear to have made a lasting impression on the students during their visit, Shroyer says.

“I think the program is mutually beneficial,” Lawrence added “Students told us it was amazing talking to Atanas and Katya, and that they never would have learned some of what was mentioned on their own. Likewise, alumni who participate always say it’s really fulfilling talking to the students and hearing their perspective.”

—by Lisa Shapiro

For your information:

Visit the Career Community web pages to learn more about how the CLS is providing specialized advising and programming. For additional information on the experts-in-residence program, contact Michael Lawrence at or 641-269-4940.

To read more alumni news, check out our news archive.