by Rachel Heston-Davis
Derek ’06 and Holly (Eaton ’05) Velazco could rightly be called a Greenville University “power couple.” From small-town teens to seasoned FBI workers, their story reads like a script for success.
They met in romantic comedy fashion Derek’s freshman year when Holly spotted the cute new Velazco boy chatting with another girl. “She has a boyfriend,” Holly said quickly, inserting herself into the conversation and impressing Derek so much that he decided Holly was the woman he would marry. Three years later, they tied the knot as Derek finished up a triple major in English, religion and history. Holly earned a degree in media promotions. They landed first jobs with the organizations where they interned—Derek at the FBI, Holly at United Way—and established successful careers. Derek served the bureau as an analyst in crimes against children and then as a special agent preventing terrorist acts; Holly served the nonprofit world. When Holly joined the FBI in an administrative support role four years ago, it seemed the perfect full-circle. Today, the pair balances their important work with raising a child.
How did the Velazcos—as a couple and individuals—find such a successful life path? It wasn’t luck, say Derek and Holly, and it wasn’t as easy as a quick retelling makes it sound.
Behind each mile-marker of career success are hours of hard work, skill development, uncertainty and a willingness to undergo personal growth. They encourage today’s students to roll up their sleeves and get ready to do the same.
Derek and Holly purposely honed several key skills during their undergrad years.
This proved foundational to their career trajectories.
“[My education] prepared me to read, speak and write in such a way that I was able to conduct myself in most any situation,” says Derek. He remembers leaning into these abilities during the applications and interviews that eventually led to his first FBI job.
Holly recalls the personal investment of Veronica Ross, emeritus professor and former chair of the communication department, who taught Holly public speaking and presentation. Holly didn’t enter college with confidence about public speaking, but she left Greenville able to take the stage and deliver a compelling and clear message. This would contribute to her successful career in the non-profit world before joining the bureau.
Flexible Relational Style
At the office or in the field, Derek and Holly must speak with and relate easily to people of various backgrounds. The exposure they gained at G.U. to people of different regions, races, classes, and branches of the Christian faith strengthened their interpersonal skills.
Writing and Academic Engagement
The tutelage of Greenville professors helped Derek engage deeply with academic material and develop excellent writing abilities. This helped him secure an honors internship with the FBI during the summer between his junior and senior years of school, which opened exciting doors to his future career. He still relies on these skills to improve his effectiveness as an analyst and investigator.
Holly agrees, saying, “[Greenville academics] helped prepare me in all facets for the professional realm.”
Strong Work Ethic
Even before internships and real-world jobs, Derek and Holly practiced “a hard day’s work” at Greenville University. They both worked at the Sims Student Union and still remember the friendships they forged with coworkers and supervisors.
The Career Ladder’s First Rung
Derek and Holly say internships served as an invaluable first rung on the career ladder.
“Coming from a small town, I didn’t have much confidence to go out into the world,” Holly recalls. Strong encouragement from G.U. faculty and staff pushed her to seek internships despite her nerves. The internship she completed with United Way took her out of her comfort zone and fostered growth. Best of all, it led to her first job after college.
Derek feels he excelled at his internship with the FBI because of the time he spent developing academic and interpersonal skills beforehand. Though the application process was competitive, Derek held his own and was accepted. He worked alongside experienced FBI agents that summer to learn what day-to-day life inside the bureau truly entails. He made good first impressions and gained network contacts.
“I can’t stress enough how important internships are,” Derek says. Career plans may change after graduation, but the experience gained in an internship can open any number of doors.
When asked for advice to undergraduates about how to squeeze the most value from an internship, Derek answers quickly: “Be willing to do whatever.”
His determination to say “yes,” even to unexpected tasks, helped him optimize his summer with the FBI. He observed peers miss out on opportunities because they wanted every task to be easy and predictable. “Once you have that position [at an internship], don’t waste it and not engage,” he cautions. “Engage with every opportunity.”
“Don’t let fear get in the way of doing something that could be a big experience,” Holly adds. Whether that’s fear of public speaking, fear of the unknown or fear of failure, she urges students to set fear aside before it constricts their experiences.
Make The Most Of It
Derek and Holly recommend four ways today’s Greenville University students can make the most of their college years:
- Get involved. “College is a time to explore and find different things that you’re interested in,” Holly says. “Be open to new things and new ideas.”
- Embrace diversity. “College is the first time you start to get [exposure to] people of different backgrounds,” Derek says.
- Investigate STEM. Derek believes a STEM background provides a good foundation for many careers. “That’s where the world in general is headed,” he says. He often wishes he had incorporated STEM into his studies at G.U.
- Have fun. Derek and Holly remind students that college won’t last forever. A few short years pass and then it’s over. They hope students take the time to notice and appreciate every experience that comes to them.
Still Abides The Memory
When they talk about their G.U. experience, the Velazcos can’t help but show their enthusiasm and gratitude for all who crossed their paths.
They speak fondly of influencers like Richard Huston and Scott Neumann, the political science professors who displayed “an amazing amount of patience” to make Derek into the best writer and thinker he could be.
They recall coach George Barber letting Derek play basketball, “Even though I’m short and slow,” Derek jokes.
Staff members they interacted with at the student union, and even in the Records Office, made Derek and Holly feel cared for, and empowered them to grow from high school graduates into true adults.
Holly sums it up best: “I had the opportunity to meet some good folks!”