Learning from the successful

The Miami Herald

July 24, 2005

By Ellen Forman

What, exactly, can you expect to get from an undergraduate degree? It’s demanding, expensive and time-consuming. It’s also the richest time of your life, the years when the people and parties and possibilities are all there, waiting for you to dive in.

For some, the answer is simple: College is the path to a craft or profession that will form the centerpiece of their life. Others, however, start on one path, pick up something new and move on to a life — or lives — they never expected.

With the world economy creating and shifting jobs every day, experts say college is your best shot at learning how to live in this world, to think on your own.

We asked a handful of people with unconventionally successful careers what college did for their lives as professionals. We also asked if there was anything they would like to rethink about their undergraduate days, and, finally, for a little piece of opening-day advice to pass on to today’s undergraduates.


After graduating from the University of Miami in three years, Rosenhaus went on to law school at UM. Among the most successful and aggressive agents in his field, he counts among his clients some of the NFL’s leading talents, including many of the football players he befriended during his undergraduate days at UM.

• WHAT I LEARNED: I learned how to be a professional. It’s organizing yourself, being on time for classes, being an A student. I learned that I had to be on top of my game when I was in college.

I studied broadcast journalism and history. That turned out to be helpful, particularly in my dealings in front of the camera and with the media, advising players I represent on those skills.

• IN RETROSPECT: The one thing that I look back on with a little regret is that I finished college in three years instead of four. It’s not that I wouldn’t do it again. It’s just a shame I missed an extra year of college. Those were fun times.

• ADVICE: It’s not so much about the curriculum as it is maximizing your abilities. Don’t take college for granted. It’s OK to have a good time but study hard. Don’t settle for B’s. A lot of people look for shortcuts and that’s not the point. Go for the A’s. Learn how to be a student.


A full-time painter and artist since 1997, Cortada has been widely commissioned and exhibited throughout the world, including at the White House. After getting his bachelor’s, master’s and law degree from the University of Miami, he went on to work at juvenile advocacy and crime prevention programs, traveling both locally and worldwide.

Speaking to young men in Soweto, South Africa, in 1997, he found that his drawings transcended the language gap and he switched careers. Ironically, he failed his painting class at the University of Miami, ”and it’s the only class I ever failed, because I didn’t take it seriously,” he says.

• WHAT I LEARNED: College transformed me. I was raised in an insular Little Havana neighborhood, and it opened my eyes to new cultures and new experiences. I joined student government and a fraternity. I dragged a canoe across mud flats in the Everglades with a marine biologist, and I took a road trip with fraternity brothers. I thought I was going to be a doctor, and at one time or another I was a chemistry, biology, psychology, religion and English major. All of these are both completely relevant and irrelevant to what I do today. They taught me different ways of seeing my world. Fifteen years later, I see it was the perfect education for an artist, because it gave me different ways of perceiving how we approach our humanity.

• ADVICE: Go into college looking to understand who you are. Go on road trips, get to know people of other cultures. There are all sorts of fun, bizarre things you can do. The university gives you a laboratory to experiment how you’re going to take on life. It’s OK to make mistakes, to change your mind. If I had just stuck to my honors courses and not gone into the frat house and the university center, I think I would have missed the boat on life.


Shalala received her undergraduate degree in history from Western College for Women and her doctorate from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University. After a stint in the Peace Corps, she went on to a long and distinguished career in academia, becoming president of Hunter College in New York City in 1980. President Clinton appointed her to his Cabinet as secretary of Health and Human Services in 1993, and she served for eight years, the longest serving HHS secretary in U.S. history. She has been professor of political science and president of UM since 2001.

• WHAT I LEARNED: I learned how to write — I wanted to be a journalist — and I learned how to get along with people of many different backgrounds.

• IN RETROSPECT: I wish I had learned more math. I had to learn it the hard way. The world has gotten more complicated. I studied through calculus, and I needed a much more sophisticated level of math in my career.

• ADVICE: You have no idea what you’re going to need for the rest of your life, so learn the fundamentals: How to read, how to write and how to be open to new ideas. You have no idea how much a course you took because you couldn’t get into another course will help you in the future. That’s why a broad education is so important. We have to educate you to absorb new technologies and new ideas, to understand history and appreciate people’s differences. All you can do is prepare yourself so that when that time comes, you’ll have the basic skills and you’ll be nimble.


Winick received her bachelor’s degree in education from Brooklyn College and went on for a master’s in literature from New York University. She began her career as a teacher. After relocating to Miami, she went into broadcasting and later became the executive vice president of the Miami Heat, serving in that job for more than 10 years. She later held jobs at Florida International University and with Miami-Dade County. Her firm consults and conducts seminars on business etiquette and international protocol.

• WHAT I LEARNED: When I started at the Heat, I made jokes that I barely knew that you took the leather ball and put it through the macramé. Because of my education, I was prepared to say I could learn anything. Every time there was an opportunity to take a risk, I knew I could apply myself. It gave me confidence to learn. That’s the best gift education can give you. Thirty-nine years later, I still feel the same way.

• IN RETROSPECT: I wish I could have studied more languages. I studied French. I wish I had studied more Spanish or Russian or Chinese.

• ADVICE: Follow your passion. Sample different fields. You’re going to be working for the next 40 or 50 years of your life. You have to have the passion to face it every day. When you stop loving it, change. Don’t be afraid.


Hunter got her undergraduate degree in mathematics from Claflin College in Orangeberg, S.C. Just shy of a second major in English, she gravitated toward writing, but wound up working as a schoolteacher. She found the classroom didn’t click for her and left the profession for college teaching at her alma mater.

When a librarian noticed how Hunter frequently brought her class to the library, she urged Hunter to pursue a career in library science. A Rockefeller University fellowship followed, as did a graduate degree in library science.

• WHAT I LEARNED: I don’t think it’s just about the academics. It’s about relationships. It’s about how you function in a small community. You play a political role, a family role, a financial role, a social science role. We had sororities and fraternities, which taught us how to live with each other.

• IN RETROSPECT: I wish I had steered more into the area of history. Young people don’t get enough of a sense of what happened in the past.

• ADVICE: This is the most important period of your life. Learn how to share, to give and take, to function in a society. Learn that your ideas aren’t so brilliant and they aren’t always the only ones on the table. Learn how to work in groups to get a project done, to share what comes from home.

Learn that you’re not out there alone.