REVIEW: Careerin’ on the court: more than a snapshot of studenthood

Some thoughts on the sights, sounds and scents of UP’s spring career fair.

By Riley Martinez | March 19, 2024 10:00am

Students walking through the career fair.

Media Credit: Gavin Britton / The Beacon

My Instagram feed over the past few months has revealed a probably unhealthy anxiety about my career. There was a point in mid-January where most of my suggested posts — typically graphics of eerily faceless, spiffy cartoon men clad in business casual gesturing to career advice written in boldface — were about scoring internships and winning jobs. 

With that bordering on neurosis, going to the career fair seemed like a healthier outlet — not to mention my editor thought it a great chance for me to write a review á la David Foster Wallace (although Wallace attended a very different kind of fair). 

At about 1:30 p.m., loitering around the entrance of an empty Chiles Center, dumbfounded that I’d sent my photographer to the wrong location, I tried imagining what 98 employer booths stuffed inside Beauchamp Recreation Center would look like. But what really caught my attention was that, opposite seven rows of also-spiffy, tight-poloed employers manning cloth-draped tables on the basketball courts, students were curling, pressing and deadlifting in full view of what was supposed to be a much less sweaty activity. Turns out, career fairs can be a little grimy themselves. That day’s fragrance: rubber, LifeSavers breath mints, sweat (to which I contributed), laundry detergent, cologne (to which I also contributed) and floor disinfectant. 

That might not have been an issue if it were outside. Blue skies like watercolor, vital air that seeped beneath your skin — as if the Career Center had some kind of perfect-weather button for those sorts of days. But with 98 booths, two to three heads at each one, plus about a hundred students (not even counting the gym-goers) by 2:00 p.m., I was slow-cooking in the rec center’s nauseating marinade.

Copy Editor Riley Martinez visits the various booths at the career fair.

by Natalie Gordon / The Beacon

But I don’t mean to be overly critical. Part of being a critical person is just noticing a lot of things. And while that means in-depth descriptions of various musty aromas and feelings of suffocation, it also includes noticing the charming dynamics in large gatherings of people. 

One is the confidence spectrum. Gus Stucki, a senior mechanical engineering major, whose pressed linens and sleek folder (I imagine full of perfectly curated resumés) would suggest he was an employer himself, tangoed with nervousness against the north wall of the court. 

“There’s definitely a little dial in my head that’s like going back and forth between fight and flight quite a bit,” he said. “I think once I start talking, I’ll line firmly in the fight category.” 

But I also spoke to students, like senior electrical engineering major Isaela Timogene-Julien, whose  nerves were hardly even a question. 

“Are you a bit nervous or anxious to be here right now?” I said over the hubbub. 

“Not really. It’s my fourth time doing this, so I feel like I’ve got the hang of it,” she said. 

She seemed undaunted by the elevated murmur of the room, which to me was like water just below a boil. I thanked her for her time and stepped away to the “student lounge” — the ad hoc name given to the seating areas jutting out along the main walkway. It was there, embracing the slow-pulsing noise like it were a wordless mantra, that I thought, “This is the sound of us” — and, oddly, I felt somewhat at home. 

Be it the students in suits carrying leatherbound notebooks or a couple of first-years in pajamas with tote bags literally overflowing with table-merch, everyone had their own reasons for being there — and so did I. 

Imagine what theirs could have been: a student, who could easily think of more fun things to do with his Friday, coming to shush the anxious thoughts of a friend in desperate need of an internship; another showing up because her parents called her last week asking if she had a job lined up after graduation; tens more who came simply because they were passing by. 

Emerging from the student lounge, I sat on the wood-polished steps and reviewed some of my notes: 

“2:32 - I lost my pen cap.”

“2:35 - I found my pen cap on the stairs to the second floor.”

“2:41 - From the suspended track, the fair looks like a sterile, foodless farmers market.”

“2:50 - I want to know what’s in the employer lounge.”

“2:52 - A man in a powder blue polo eating a sub sandwich, alone.” 

“That’ll do,” I thought. 

As I was leaving, I noticed that, between the Multnomah County Department of Corrections and the Bay Area Hospital, the International Children’s Arts Network (ICAN) booth was attracting what I assumed were the few present humanities majors. I pretended for a moment that all the employers were street vendors, and that while most had lined up for STEM tacos and healthcare hot dogs, ICAN was selling microgreens and immune boosters. 

“3:01 - What an unlikely place to experience a microcosm of human difference.”

What this experience really provided for me was the therapy of people-watching — the sacred practice of writers of all stripes, journalist or otherwise. I watched everyone on that court play a very different kind of game, but a game nonetheless. There was that same mixture of risk, reward, embarrassment, caution, ambition and tenacity that, had you put a ball between them, would’ve made one hell of a match. 

Riley Martinez is Copy Editor for The Beacon. He can be reached at