Elaine Varelas ’79 learned early on that life was all about people. Who you surround yourself with, how you interact with them, and how you support others. This belief remains her guiding principle today in her career and in how she views her role as a UMass Dartmouth alumna.
Elaine’s road to UMass Dartmouth was much like many of today’s students. She was a first-generation college student figuring out how to make college happen. How would her family pay for it? Where would her dreams of a college degree come true? Like many others, she found a place that would set the stage for her future at UMass Dartmouth’s predecessor institution, Southeastern Massachusetts University.
“UMass Dartmouth changed the trajectory of my life,” she said.
Studying a curriculum rooted in the liberal arts (she majored in psychology), Varelas acquired a valuable skill set that she still leans on every day as Managing Partner at Keystone Partners, a business consulting group. In her role as a resident assistant, and head resident on campus, she learned how to manage a staff. Her leadership skills grew as she supported her team and residents.
“When I look at the skills I was able to capture—my writing skills, presentation skills, public speaking skills, my desire to read and learn and interact with people from different cultures,” she said. “All of those have led me to be more successful in my career than I would have imagined.”
When it came time to decide what to do after graduation, Varelas looked to her supportive faculty and staff mentors at UMassD for guidance. “Multiple people at UMassD helped me formulate this direction,” she said. “The counseling center, advisors, and the residence life staff, all pointed me in the right direction.” Her advisor suggested a graduate school program at the University of Vermont, where she could make valuable use of the skills she learned at UMassD to get the most out of the program.
Today, people remain central to her work. After a brief stop working in higher education after graduate school, Varelas joined Keystone Partners when it was a start-up organization 32 years ago. She and her team at Keystone provide consulting services that help companies manage their most important asset: people. They specialize in career transition and outplacement, career management, executive career transition services, executive coaching and leadership development, talent assessment, team effectiveness and training.
Opening up possibilities for UMassD students
As a student, tuition and room and board was almost affordable for Varelas, so she had to subsidize her education with work study jobs and additional financial aid. Now, she values her ability to give back both through financial support and by creating opportunities for UMassD students. She encourages her fellow alumni to do the same.
“We need to look at how we can support the students who are in the same position we were in,” she said. “Those of us who are now in hiring capacities or have the ability to provide internships need to take an active look at how we can support undergraduates, new graduates, and alumni.”
Offering an internship or mentorship opportunity to students is a way Varelas can return the favor to her alma mater. When a UMassD student enters her office, their work ethic sets them apart. They take every opportunity seriously, and follow through with intensity. “They are eager to do well, eager to learn more and make contributions to the organization.”
For students, forming relationships with alumni can make a significant impact on what possibilities they imagine for themselves. This, Varelas says, is where alumni can influence students to see what can become of their college experiences and think beyond the boundaries. “Students should have the opportunity to envision a future that surpasses what they see every day, to push them to see what else they can do.”
Financial support is also crucial to students completing their college degrees, and it’s a worthwhile investment for donors to UMassD. “We know that financially if they do complete their undergraduate degree, their lifetime earnings will be significantly higher than if they didn’t,” she said. “That kind of ROI is significant for us to make.”
That support made a difference when Varelas was a student, and she hopes to be able to do the same. “I want to have that same impact on students who are trying their best to work fulltime or have work study jobs and further themselves.”
Not only did the university prepare her for a successful career, but it introduced Varelas to a group of lifelong friends. For over 40 years, the group has been source of support, laughs, and a reminder of how four years can make such a difference in one’s life.
“Supporting UMassD is something we should be really proud to be able to do.”