Student Spotlight - Sam Podgurny
Written by: Victoria Chiu
Photography by: Dylan Wee
As seen in the January 2018 Lazy Faire Issue.
This month our theme is all about change, and Sam Podgurny embodies that to a T. The one-time petroleum engineering student, turned business student, switched majors and minors more than once during his degree before settling on SMO. He has taken part in endeavours both within and outside of the business school as a co-op student and former Arts & Culture Editor of The Gateway. Podgurny can definitely speak to the full ASoB experience, and on his last day of exams, Lazy Faire caught up with him to chat about the growth and change he’s experienced over the course of time at the University of Alberta and the Alberta School of Business.
How and why did you decide to make the jump from engineering to business?
I’ll start by saying that it wasn’t an easy decision—it took a lot of thought and internal conflict. I went into engineering basically because I thought I liked science and math. I went in right after high school in, like, 2011—forever ago—as a fresh-faced 18-year-old. Looking back on those first two years of university, it was the pinnacle of my university experience: just misery, but success, but grind, but comradery, but hard, late nights, but terrible results. But you make it through and feel like you’ve gone through through the meat grinder, but come out alive.
Then after three semesters of engineering, my grades kept getting better, but my desire to be in the faculty kept dropping lower and lower. I was so burnt out after three semesters—I pushed myself so hard and with changes in my personal life and lifestyle, I think I was so burnt out that I realized, “Holy crap. I’m supposed to be starting a co-op in petroleum engineering,” and filling out job applications while thinking, “I don’t think this is what I want to do with my life.” I was getting by decently well but not enjoying a second of it, and I needed to figure out something different.
It’s amazing to me, looking back, that I decided to pull the plug. I was doing well, I had friends in the faculty, all these other things, and I could have pushed through, but with close friends and family supporting my decision, I felt that I could make such a big change. I knew it’d be hard to basically restart school after three really hard semesters, but it felt as if I was making the right choice.
You’ve changed your major twice in the Faculty of Business—what did you switch to and out of, and why?
When I got into business, it was like, “What should I go into? Well, I should go into finance,” because that’s what people go into when they go into business. “You want a good job? You should go into finance. It’s for smart people and people who are good at math and all that stuff.” But I eventually figured out that my instinct for caring about people and wanting to focus on workplace relationships and what that meant was important, and there was a place for me in the Faculty of Business. That was SMO. And it took finding a great prof—Charles Keim, who taught my introductory SMO class in my second business semester—for me to clue into the fact that there was a place for me in the faculty and that I did make the right choice to switch into business because there was a field I was genuinely interested in. It took a lot of playing around—switching my major from finance which is sort of the engineering of business, to BUEC and B LAW, because I kind of like my introductory business law class, to finding SMO and thinking, “I love people in organizations, I love the idea of organizational cultures, and leadership and management, and I can actually study that.” I felt like I was truly learning for the first time in that [SMO] class. It propelled me to want to take my degree that way.
What are some of the biggest things you’ve learned from your time in business and in university in general?
In one of my last classes for this year, we were shown this list of things that great leaders avoid doing, and number one on the list was, “Win too often.” Great leaders don’t win too often. I kinda liken that to a lot of people’s experiences at university, where they set out to do something. Whether it’s to become a doctor, physiotherapist, graduate with a business degree, whatever—a lot of smart people set out to do that, and they get into school, and they absolutely crush it. They get their 4.0’s, they’re on that road, and they get everything they set out to get. And I think, “Wow—what could that person have learned if they’d faced the adversity of not being able to do what they thought they wanted to do from the beginning?” For me, if I’d gutted out engineering, for instance, I don’t know where I’d be. I wouldn’t be on the same career path or as happy as I am now. The amount of people who have found things in them that make them way happier than where they used to be, because they faced the reality that they couldn’t do the thing they originally wanted—they couldn’t “win” all the time. It’s interesting to see how they’ve found things that they’re truly passionate about after figuring out what else they can do. And I’m terrified of failure! It’s one of my biggest weaknesses. But so many people are so set on their one singular goal, that they miss out on other opportunities that exist for them if they’d not succeeded in their original plans. I’m pretty perfectionist, but just from my experience seeing other people and looking back on what I’ve faced, I want to be able to embrace those failures more. That’s something I want to be more comfortable with in the future.