Among the many concerns of incoming freshman about college is that sometimes they’re not completely certain of what it is they want to major in. Getting well-intended, yet equally as daunting advice like “You’ll figure it out,” or “Well, you’d better figure it out!” doesn’t help as much as it might seem like it would.
For Ben Whitaker ’16, there were at least options. He entered the University from small town Grove City, Ohio, a suburb of Columbus, intending to major in pharmacy, and did so until he ended his freshman year. “I knew they had a great pharmacy program and I had family who just graduated from it,” he said. But, as is frequently the case for young students, things changed. After talking to a friend, Whitaker decided to switch majors and join the environmental safety and occupational health management program at Findlay. “He convinced me to check it out and talk about opportunities with [associate professor and chair of what is now known as the environment, health, safety, and sustainability program] Dr. Tim Murphy,” Whitaker said. “I decided to stay at Findlay after switching majors because I learned that they had a very well-known and accredited environmental program.” He found it to be a good fit, and eventually graduated from the program with a bachelor’s degree.
In what turned out to be a similarly good fit, Whitaker interned with PepsiCo in Albany, New York after his junior year at UF. It was such a positive experience for all involved, Whitaker explained, that he was offered a job with PepsiCo in Wichita, Kansas before his senior year at UF. “There was a big decision to make,” he said, “because as exciting and appealing as the job offer was, it was fourteen hours away from home and, at the time, my fiancé. After much thought and many talks with her and family we decided this was the best move for my career.” Whitaker started out as an environment health and safety associate at PepsiCo, and has already been through a couple promotions, ultimately leading him to his current position as EHS manager at PepsiCo in St. Louis, Missouri.
Whitaker credits UF with allowing him to grow into the professional he is today. He said that the “small school, big opportunities” feel of UF was what made it such a great experience for him. “Being able to be in a college classroom and have your professor know not only your name, but what you desire to be and where you desire to go, is something I will never forget and always be grateful for,” he explained. “The professors constantly pushed me in the right direction and always challenged me to be my best. I truly believe that is why I have been as successful as I have thus far.”
But it’s the kind of notion we hear of so often around the UF campus regarding the biggest benefits of being here as a student that Whitaker said changed his life so positively. It’s the idea that Findlay is a place where friends become like family; and in Whitaker’s case, not only like family, but literally family. “I met an incredible group of friends during my first year, and one of those friends would end up being my wife,” he said. Whitaker married Amanda (Swisher) Whitaker ‘18 in 2017, and said he’s fortunate to have been at Findlay to meet her and his lifelong friends. “I’d advise future students to find a group or several groups of friends early on and go explore life together,” he suggested. “I am lucky to have such amazing support from everyone around me through all the tough times and long distance away from home. The friend group that I made freshman year of college is still extremely close. With those friends and the constant learning and growing that UF instilled in me, I see nothing but a bright future ahead of me.”