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Whether at Six Flags or UMass, Joe Van Allen '08 Has Always Worked to Help People Feel Positive

By Kenneth Stratton '19 SUNDAY, MAY 5, 2019 - 12:00 PM WNE100

In his first year at Western New England University, he was a self-described introvert, unsure about his future. Fast forward about ten years, and Joseph Van Allen ’08 found himself back at Western New England, this time working one on one with students as a career counselor.

After a casual visit to campus during which Van Allen felt the “spark” he was looking for, he became a Golden Bear. Even so, in the first couple of years he kept to himself, until a change at the end of his second year.

“For reasons I can’t quite recall, I decided to apply to be an RA and it made the second half of my career at Western New England quite a bit different,” Van Allen said. Later he would become more involved, as a leader in Psi Chi, the Honors Student Union, and the Martial Arts Club.

Having come out of his shell, Van Allen pushed himself further, working summers at Six Flags New England, doing work that helped hone his communication and collaboration skills in a high-pressure setting.

“I spent the next three years walking on stilts, making balloon animals, and chilling with the Justice League,” Van Allen remembered fondly. But with graduation looming, Van Allen felt “lost in a sea of confusion.”

He decided to take a chance, and leapt into the Industrial Organizational Psychology Program at Springfield College. While working towards a master’s degree, Van Allen joined the LEGO Group, leaving him “positively swamped” with work. Despite that, he earned his degree in 2010 and continued his work at LEGO.

“Joining LEGO was a strange surreal dream,” Van Allen said. First in the call center, he would later be transferred into human resources. From there, Van Allen spent his last couple of years with LEGO as a recruitment and employee relations specialist.

“I think this might be true of most people, but I continually found little pieces of my career along the way,” Van Allen said. As a recruiter, Van Allen found the interests that would bring him to career counseling. Both jobs require much of the same work, but as Van Allen explained, from two different perspectives.

“It’s often said that ‘it’s about the journey, not the destination.’ Career counseling lets you be a part of the journey, whereas a recruiter is often seen as the destination,” he explained.

After six years at LEGO, Van Allen spent the next four back at his alma mater as a career counselor. In this work, he says he was able to connect with students so well because of the growth he experienced himself while at Western New England.

“One of my earliest résumé consultations - before I ever worked at Western New England - was with someone who recently had left the military. We worked on his résumé for about an hour, and at the end he was pretty quiet,” Van Allen recalled. “As it turns out, the process to working on his résumé was helping him realize all of the good things he had been doing since joining the military, and he hadn’t fully appreciated how powerful of an impact he had made. I carry that moment with me,” the career counselor said.

In November 2018, Van Allen left Western New England for UMass Amherst, where he works with about 7,500 students in the College of Natural Sciences as Assistant Director, Career and Professional Development. There’s a quote he heard once, that Van Allen says inspired his career outlook: I have had eight careers, and they have all been my dream job.

“Sometimes we get bogged down in the ‘right’ answer,” Van Allen said. “It’s not about finding perfection, it’s about finding what the right place is for you at that given time. To me, that quote acknowledges loving where you are, and still being okay with leaving it if it’s time to do so,” the alumnus explained.

Helping people feel positive about their future, and more importantly, about themselves, has always been at the heart of Van Allen’s work, no matter the job.

“One of my first jobs was at a convenience store, and I found remembering people and helping them feel remembered and acknowledged was a powerful feeling,” Van Allen recalled.

The introverted student who kept to himself has been replaced by a career counselor who enjoys working with students. Van Allen has grown, and jobs have come and gone, but the heart of his work has always been the same.