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Reacting to study on career earnings, Tampa Bay residents say liking their job is most important

TAMPA — Eric Riddle has a lot of interests. Music, literature, cars, you name it.

But when it was time for the 22-year-old University of South Florida student to declare a major, he picked for practicality: accounting.

"I knew that postgraduation I'd have a job," Riddle said, a fat textbook sprawled in front of him at the USF library. "You know, financial stability."

In the light of a recently released study from Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce, he made a smart choice. Numbers now show that people who major in fields like engineering, computer sciences or business out earn those who go into arts, social services and humanities.

Duh, right?

But there's another key factor in the big What-To-Do-With-Your-Life question that the study doesn't address — a factor Riddle also took into consideration.

Do you do what you love?

Seems like most of us do.

From six-figure-earning engineers to frugal artists, people interviewed across Tampa Bay said the personal satisfaction they get from their jobs is just as important as their paychecks — though none would reveal exactly how much they make.

"I say it all the time — I love my work," said Tampa mental health counselor Leah Benson.

Benson has bachelor's degrees in French and photojournalism and a master's in counseling psychology. She was almost talked out of psychology by a family friend, but ended up there anyway.

"I don't want to pretend it's all hearts and flowers and that I don't think about the financial aspect of it," Benson said, "but I love what I do, and I don't think about doing anything else."

On the other side of the pay scale is St. Petersburg chemical engineer Joseph Griner, who pretty much feels the same way.

"This is a perfect profession for me as a person," he said. Still, the money doesn't hurt.

Local singer Lisa Casalino tried careers at opposite ends of the financial spectrum before settling on her current gig as a nightclub crooner.

With her degree in music education, she first worked as a teacher. Then after 12 years, she switched to real estate.

The money was great, but the job wasn't quite right. So she "took a leap of faith," and started singing in nursing homes, then at private parties, then restaurants. Now she's booked most nights of the week.

"Obviously I'm thankful for my gigs," she said, "But it's not about the money."

Well, it kind of is.

Casalino acknowledged that she may love her job but has to spend less for that privilege.

Benson pointed out that she went into private practice after years working for lesser-paying social service agencies because of the money. Still doing what she loves, but in a way that makes the most sense.

According to the Georgetown study, those who major in counseling or psychology report the lowest median earning — at about $29,000 — following early childhood education, theology and social work, to name a few. The median earning for performance artists is $40,000.

Petroleum engineers are the highest median earners, raking in an average of $120,000. Chemical engineers aren't far behind with a median of $86,000.

Griner put it this way: "I don't know if it's fair or fortunate or unfortunate, but I think it's pretty obvious that folks in humanities-related stuff don't quite find the rewards as high, at least financially. Emotionally or professionally, I'm sure they do."

He said he just happens to be rewarded in all those ways.

USF career counselor Drema Howard tries to steer students toward majors that will fulfill them similarly.

It's important that students consider their skills and interests, but they need to be realistic about which interests translate into jobs, she said, particularly considering the sour economy.

USF junior Linda Sihweil started college on the medical school track, prompted by her parents. But she quickly switched to international studies after realizing how much she disliked science. Now she hopes to someday work promoting human rights, with the United Nations or Amnesty International.

As for money, "I'm not even thinking about that. I want to help make a difference."

So does Amanda Hodgkins, a 20-year-old biomedical sciences junior. Hodgkins, who has a bleeding disease, wants to be a hematologist to research treatments and cures. The money will be nice, but it's not about that, she said.

David Davis, a USF senior, switched from studying financial investments to electrical engineering. They're both potentially lucrative fields, but engineering was more of a passion, while the financial route would've been more for the money.

"I figured if I had to go to work every day, I might as well enjoy what I'm doing," Davis said.

That's certainly a big part of a fulfilling career, said Sandro Aristil, a Raymond James investment consultant who graduated from USF. One of the things Aristil likes most about his job is the ability to make a difference in people's lives.

Another great part? That's easy.

"The money," he said. "Certainly."

Reach Kim Wilmath at kwilmath@sptimes.com or 813-226-3337.

Reacting to study on career earnings, Tampa Bay residents say liking their job is most important 05/25/11 [Last modified: Thursday, May 26, 2011 12:40am]

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