Taking Her Own Career Counseling Advice

College Admissions and Career Planning certificate graduate Priscilla Vivio reflects back on planned happenstance

Certificate Program in College Admissions and Career Planning graduate and independent educational consultant Priscilla Vivio recalls an early lesson on the first day in the first course:

“Steve Pantell taught us about ‘Planned Happenstance,’ which asks you to focus less on having specific plans for your future and more about finding opportunities in unplanned events. I shared this theory with my children and I share it with all of my students—the idea that we should actively embrace the up-and-down nature of our lives and our life paths as we prepare to take advantage of opportunities that we are exposed to.”

Life’s up-and-down nature has played a big part in Priscilla’s own journey.

“I did not work with a college counselor when I was in high school,” Priscilla admits. “I did well academically in all of my subjects, yet had no idea what I wanted to study.

“My mother was a strong feminist, and she suggested I apply to Arizona State University as an engineering major,” she adds. “I originally thought about industrial engineering, but in one of my early engineering courses, I met my future husband who was studying electrical and computer engineering and suggested I do the same. I never really loved my classes, but I did well enough to graduate.”

Reflecting back, the engineering class where Priscilla met her future husband was her happenstance #1.

Consider What You’re Passionate—and Not Passionate—About

After graduating in 1985, Priscilla and her fiancé interviewed as a couple for a number of engineering companies, ultimately choosing Hughes Aircraft Company “because of the allure of Los Angeles,” she says. “I was not excited by engineering or programming so I navigated toward writing documentation—a job that the really creative engineers didn't like but I excelled at.”

Priscilla’s flexibility and growth mindset at Hughes was her happenstance #2—and what would lead to #3.

A few years later, Priscilla and her husband were ready to work for a company that wasn't as “large and corporate.”

“We interviewed together again and were offered jobs at Dell Technologies—which at the time was still relatively small—so we moved to Austin, Texas,” Priscilla relates. “I still didn't love programming or software design, and instead navigated to working on a project where I was responsible for fixing bugs in the software that allowed individuals to purchase and build their home computers—another job that seasoned engineers didn't like as much due to the lack of creativity, but in which I thrived.”

When the time came to begin their family, Priscilla paused her work, had their four children and spent the next 15 years raising them while extensively volunteering at their schools, on their athletic teams, in their activities and in the community. 

Her commitment to her family, their educational needs and wants, and that of their larger community piqued Priscilla’s interest and skills and would eventually lead to a new career direction—owning a vineyard. (For those of you who are counting, that’s career happenstance #4.)

They found a large house on a 50-acre piece of property that was a working horse ranch with an orchard in Sonoma County, Calif., about an hour north of San Francisco. They raised bees for honey, harvested blackberries and fruit, raised a few goats and cows for meat, and eventually put in a 12-acre vineyard with syrah and roussanne that the Vivios sold to a number of small wineries in the area.

“I did the bookkeeping for the vineyard while my husband managed the planting and harvesting,” Priscilla says of the time. “My husband continued to work remotely for Dell, and I continued to volunteer as we raised our children.”

Find Yourself in Your Interests

Priscilla’s active volunteering in community-based organization—including on the Commission on the Status of Women of Sonoma County—led her to reconsider her own career path. She knew she would eventually reenter the workforce—and that she did not want to go back to engineering or programming.

“As a women's commissioner and a strong feminist, it seemed like contributing my time to a nonprofit might be a good course of action so I completed an online professional certificate in nonprofit management from The University of Chicago. I put many of the practices into use as president and leader of my children's middle school and high school parent foundations, on their high school site council and with the county school board, in addition to becoming chair of the Junior Commissioners, the mentoring arm of the Sonoma County Women's Commission.

“As I continued to volunteer, and as our children all reached high school, I knew I was ready to reenter the workforce,” she says. “I completed general-education coursework through a few Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) platforms—mostly for personal enrichment—and completed an online certificate in professional organizing, as I had considered this as a career.”

Even as an adult, Priscilla could have used a career counselor or coach to provide clarity on her ideal future career. Instead, destiny played the role.

“As my own children started the college exploration and application process, I started to provide some guidance to their friends, other parents and students at the high school,” she explains. “I also started volunteering with 10,000 Degrees, a nonprofit that mentors first-generation college applicants. At the same time, I knew that I wanted to find a job that would allow me to work part time, on my own schedule, with flexibility to travel to visit my kids who were starting their own college adventures.”

On one of those visits, Priscilla discovered our Certificate Program in College Admissions and Career Planning and began to take control of her career path.

“My younger son was attending UC Berkeley,” she recalls, “and while visiting him on campus I picked up a brochure about Extension and saw the college admissions and career planning certificate. This seemed like the perfect way for me to learn how to better mentor the students I was already working with, as well as prepare for a new career.”

Take Advantage of Opportunities

Priscilla completed the certificate in person before the pandemic, making the drive twice a week for two years from Sonoma County to Berkeley.

“The first course I took was Career Planning for College Admissions taught by Steve Pantell in the fall of 2015,” recollects Priscilla. “Steve was an excellent teacher and cheerleader.

“I also loved College Admissions Advising A and College Admissions Advising B, which were taught by two knowledgeable and excellent teachers. For my practicum, I worked at the College of Marin.”

Her fellow classmates were an unexpected program perk!

“I enjoyed my cohort—all amazing colleagues, many of whom I remain in contact with and see at conferences,” Priscilla says. “I moved to Seattle in 2019, but I continue to appreciate the education, knowledge and insights that I gained from my experience in the UC Berkeley Extension program.”

She also completed an online M.Ed. program from Northern Arizona University concurrently with our program. “I was looking at job opportunities and learned that a master’s degree in education would allow me to work in a high school, as well as be an independent educational consultant.”

Networking with our instructors also opened the door to a career opportunity.

“As I was nearing completion of the certificate, I was contacted by Nicole Hosemann, founder of On My Way Consulting, who was a friend of Steve Pantell,” Priscilla relates.

“Nicole was ready to expand her business and had reached out to Steve for a referral for a graduate of the program to possibly join her business. I interviewed with and then joined Nicole, and have been happy to partner with her since 2017.”

While the timing of this may very well be happenstance, it was also a well-deserved break for Priscilla and her new career.

Priscilla’s lived experiences continue to play a role in the college and career counseling she provides her student clients and their families. With regard to her own college career path in retrospect— “I would tell my younger self to do some self-reflection and talk to a career counselor before deciding on a major”—she now recognizes that unplanned events contributed to the direction that led her to meet her husband and eventually have four “amazing children and their great partners” in her life.

And even though she wants to eventually retire as a paid college admissions and career counselor, Priscilla sees herself mentoring and volunteering in the field.

“I truly feel like this is what I should have been doing all along,” she shares. “I enjoy the research, the conversations, the joy when I am able to help a student apply to good-fit colleges or help them consider other options when the fit is not.”

Whether you are thinking about graduate schools or other opportunities, Priscilla also has this advice: “I encourage everyone to keep taking courses, learning and exploring, and embrace their own planned happenstance.”