LOWELL -- Forty-five years after Dustin Hoffman's recent college-graduate character in The Graduate was famously urged by his movie uncle to pursue a career in "plastics," UMass Lowell seniors Ben Arguin, Gavin Halloran, Akshay Agarwal and John Waszak were happily doing just that at the university's "Fall 2012 Career Fair" on Wednesday.
After Arguin, of Manchester, N.H., Halloran of Worcester, Agarwal of Mumbai, India and Waszak of Chelmsford, had visited many of the 150 booths occupied by mostly science and technology companies in the Recreation Center, all four plastics-engineering majors told The Sun they are confident they will be able to land a job in their chosen field.
"Yes, I'm very optimistic about finding a job," said Waszak. "But I suppose myself and the other engineering majors will tend to be more optimistic about (our prospects) than a lot of the other fields that may not have the same opportunities."
They said their career optimism persists despite daunting unemployment figures and dour job-forecasting talks they've heard cited frequently by political candidates and analysts during this 2012 presidential-election season.
"I am optimistic about it because my major definitely points me toward the government, and the government is always hiring," said Devon Morancie, a recent UML graduate who majored in criminal justice. "So it's just a matter of finding a way in -- lateral transfers, earning lots of recommendations, and lots of legwork.
It's going to be difficult, but I'm going to try my best."
Morancie, a Lowell resident, said his ideal career job would be as a data analyst or counter-terrorism Internet-intelligence gatherer for the Department of Homeland Security.
Also making the rounds at the Career Fair -- which one UMass Lowell official described as the university's largest job fair since 1999 --was sophomore Maria Melaragni, of Lowell. After recently switching her major from electrical engineering to fine arts, Melarigni admitted her career options may be more limited than students majoring in the technology-, or science-based fields.
"I certainly understand the fear of the unknown job market," said Melarigni. "I'm still trying to figure out what I want to do."
UML junior Lynn Le, of Lowell, a business management and finance major, said although she believes there are only a limited number of jobs available, most students attending the job fair have great prospects of being successful in their search.
"With events like this, you get a chance to network with potential employers," noted Le. "It gives us a distinct advantage that we're handling the difficult courses we're taking now, combined with having an opportunity to meet our potential employers in person."
Tori Maroon, of Lowell, a junior mechanical-engineering student, said she is about to embark on working in her second cooperative job related to her classes. "I think the co-op experience and excellent classes I get to take here are going to make me a very good candidate for a job," said Maroon.
Liberal arts major Keval Baghat, of Lowell, a UML sophomore, who already works part time as a concierge at Lowell General Hospital, described his job-searching outlook as "definitely optimistic."
"Working at the hospital, I already feel like I have a foot in the door of the work world," said Baghat. "Hopefully if I keep working hard I can maybe even make it to be a CEO some day."
According to Patricia Yates, UMass Lowell's assistant dean for career development, "Some political analysts who have been widely quoted citing a figure that 50 percent of graduates won't have jobs waiting for them are absolutely wrong."
"Jobs don't 'wait' for people, as you know," said Yates. "Students have to get some experience, develop their skill sets, articulate their abilities to an employer, present themselves professionally and then -- if they do all that -- they will get job opportunities presented to them."
One U.S. Department of Labor statistic that Yates cited in particular as a reason for optimism among college graduates, shows that "college graduates nationally experience half the unemployment rate found among the general population in the rest of the nation," she said.
"So, when they cite a national unemployment of 8.7 percent, that becomes 4.4 percent for college grads," noted Yates. "So it's a misstatement to say unemployment is equally high among college grads."
College graduates who have majored in one of the "STEM" fields of study -- science, technology, engineering and math -- do tend to land jobs more quickly than students who major in other classes, Yates reported.
"I won't say everybody finds it easy to get a job," added Yates. "They have to take that initiative, and some paths to employment will be easier than others."