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The Career Design Fellowship: Guiding Terps toward new career opportunities

The Career Design Fellowship: Guiding Terps toward new career opportunities

Vionna Adams MCP '02

By Kimberly Marselas ’00

Over more than 15 years in engineering, Vionna Adams’ career has kept her plenty busy — just not exactly in the ways she had hoped.

So in February, the civil-engineer-turned-project manager signed up for the Alumni Association’s Career Design Fellowship, aiming to renew her passion as she sought a new role.

This program, a partnership with Mission Collaborative, aims to give workers at any point in their career journey the clarity and confidence they need to make a change or break through a plateau. Since 2020, 135 alums have participated.

“There were career paths that I had in my mind, and they had a process for researching those,” said Adams MCP ’02. “They helped you rank what was important to you, whether it be culture, pay, flexibility. That gave a framework to determine if those careers would actually match up with what it is I’m actually looking to do.”

The 30-day program helped Adams crystalize what had made her feel fulfilled in the past and how to go after it again. She had fallen into engineering after realizing the undergraduate architecture major she’d initially selected at Penn State University wasn’t for her.

Adams’ early career brought her to the Washington, DC, area where she worked for Delon Hampton and other local engineering firms, and where she was often stuck behind a desk. During that period, Adams enrolled at UMD to pursue an urban planning degree, hoping it would lead to new opportunities.

But she still found it hard to deviate from the track she’d chosen early.

“I got into a situation where I would have interviews at planning organizations and either they weren’t going to pay as well or they said, “Oh, you know AutoCAD?’ and that was one of the things I was desperately trying to get away from,” Adams recalled.

After a couple of years in an uninspiring role, she took up fitness instruction on the side and later pursued that full-time until she and her husband moved to Michigan in 2010.

There, she landed a collaborative, onsite job managing construction projects for an aerospace engineering company. That was followed by a project management opportunity in Detroit, working for a civil engineering firm on commercial redevelopment. It, too, took Adams from behind the desk and reminded her of her early interest in planning.

After a move to California, though, she found few similar, meaningful opportunities.

“I started thinking I really need to make a change,” she said. “One of the things I was bumping into was that my resume didn’t seem to fit with job descriptions. Recruiters would call me, but I wouldn’t get very many interviews.”

Soon, Adams received an email about the Career Design Fellowship from the Alumni Association. She liked that the program included routine team work, fostered connections with others also seeking change and built in accountability.

Her cohort included a researcher and a school counselor. She also had a one-on-one nonprofit grant writer as an accountability partner. Their insights helped prod Adams into making wise choices — even though each of their skill sets were quite different. Reading and exercises encouraged deep thinking, but the 5-8 hours required weekly wasn’t overwhelming, Adams said.

Since completing the program, Adams has moved to Texas and taken a new job in project management at BW Design Group, a role that should build on the work she enjoyed in Michigan.

“I’m hoping it will leverage me,” Adams said. “After a year, I’ll be doing something else and there are a lot of different possibilities. I’m not going to be doing the same one thing forever.”

Enrollment closes on Sept. 26 for the next Career Design Fellowship, which starts Oct. 1. The program runs once or twice a year through the Alumni Association. To learn more or sign up, visit


Publication of this article does not imply an endorsement of any interview subject's views by the Alumni Association. The Alumni Blog connects you with the latest at UMD. Check out articles on advancing your personal and professional goals, elevating your UMD pride, and celebrating Terp traditions, legacies and accomplishments. For even more content, follow the Alumni Association on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube.

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