By Meredith Oglesby
Megan (Hoot) Walker arrived at the University of Florida as a freshman in the early 2000s, eager to start her pre-med studies. As she immersed herself in student organizations and uncovered her passion for volunteering, she realized a change in major might best serve her interests and career.
Walker has propelled her career through the nonprofit sector since graduating in 2005 with a degree in family, youth and community sciences from the UF/IFAS College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS). Her undergraduate career was saturated with experiences which refined her leadership skills, such as being a CALS ambassador and Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority member. She was also selected as the 2004 UF homecoming queen and the student speaker for the 2005 CALS Student Recognition Ceremony for commencement.
“The breadth of things that you can learn in the CALS program is really extreme as the college is both agriculture and life sciences,” Walker said. “Having leadership opportunities to meet different kinds of people and gain skills like team building all helped me prepare for a career.”
Outside of her student organization experiences, Walker completed a summer internship with the Institute of Philanthropy and Voluntary Service, where she realized the need for other students to learn about career opportunities in nonprofits. This experience led her to help develop the minor in nonprofit organizational leadership in the UF/IFAS department of family, youth and community sciences.
“I didn’t realize at the time [as a student] that you could make nonprofit management into this lifelong career,” Walker said.
Since graduation, Walker has held positions with the Independent Sector, a national membership organization that brings together changemakers at nonprofits, foundations and corporate giving programs to strengthen civil society; a local United Way and United Way Worldwide, an organization that strives to improve lives and communities through volunteering, public policy, giving and disaster recovery; and is now the chief volunteer officer and vice president of community engagement and mobilization for March of Dimes. In her current role, Walker engages supporters in meaningful ways to support the mission of the organization, to fight for the health of all moms and babies. She explained nonprofits operate like businesses and require professional expertise while also working with people who are directly benefitting from the services.
“The most rewarding part of my job is knowing that you’re having an impact on the mission,” she said. “You really can see the impact of your work and you can see that you’re improving lives.”
For her first job, Walker applied to three or four positions, for which she did not feel completely qualified. Though she was not initially offered those positions, she was later contacted by a company with which she interviewed.
“They remembered how interested I was to work there and called me back when the right position opened up,” Walker said.
Her passion and determination to help people by working on issues in the nonprofit sector created a large impression for Walker’s prospective employers. She said developing a network of people helps to launch a career in nonprofit management.
“I would say it’s about getting your foot in the door and sort of trying something,” Walker said. “A lot of my career growth I think has been through understanding and knowing where you want to get to eventually and helping to sort of network your way there.”
Walker encouraged other students interested in working in nonprofit sector to start by volunteering and interning at local nonprofits. She believes these opportunities allow students to find interesting work and get experience in roles they might enjoy for a future career. Walker said nonprofits incorporate several skills sets, including program services, communications, fundraising and business, among others.
She also emphasized the importance of having a “can do” attitude and a willingness to do jobs outside of a student’s typical wheelhouse because it could lead to greater future opportunities.
“I feel like I’ve been able to advance quickly in some of my initial roles because I took whatever anyone didn’t want to do, and then all of a sudden I was doing all these different things and I learned all these different skills, so I was able to manage different projects and be sort of a ‘special projects person,’” Walker said. “Being a team player and that kind of person is valuable within an organization.”
Walker was recently recognized as a UF 40 Under 40 Gator, which honors 40 young alumni who are making an outstanding impact in their communities and professions.
“It’s a huge honor and it is a little bit like coming home,” Walker said. “My time at UF was the best of my whole life. I had a lot of really amazing opportunities and I was really involved, so to get this honor feels full circle. It’s so wonderful to be reminded that you’re always a Gator.”