When any student asks Tony DeLaRosa if they should accept a job interview, he shares his personal experience.
He had invitations to interview at both Oakland Community College and UM-Dearborn. After feeling he nailed the OCC interview, he considered telling UM-Dearborn no.
His wife convinced him to go anyway.
He got the UM-Dearborn job. He got a rejection letter from OCC.
“Because I thought it went so well at OCC, I thought, ‘I’m not going to UM-Dearborn,’ and she said to just go and get the experience,” said DeLaRosa, assistant director of experiential learning at the College of Engineering and Computer Science. “If someone wants to interview you, you’ve got to go for it. This opportunity was there, I accepted it and been here ever since.”
That was in 2001, and UM-Dearborn has provided a rewarding way for DeLaRosa to help students now who are a lot like he was.
An eventual first-generation college graduate, DeLaRosa grew up in a small town in the Thumb area and was admittedly “not the strongest student.”
“I was a little unguided, a little unmotivated,” he said. “Even though education was always promoted in the household with my parents, their experience didn’t allow them to assist me in that.”
After graduating high school, he went to work in the automotive industry doing factory work. A few years into that, he realized the college education he elected not to pursue was something he desired.
He transferred to Oakland University after a semester at St. Clair County Community College.
“I lived in the dormitories that first year but always felt a little odd being sort of that elder statesman of 22 or 23,” he said.
The following year, in 1989, he lived off campus and took a job working concessions at the newly built Palace of Auburn Hills, home of the Detroit Pistons from 1988 to 2017 before being demolished last year.
When DeLaRosa started working there, the Pistons won the first of two straight National Basketball Association championships.
“It was exciting, it was new, and I met all kinds of different people,” he said. “My wife and I met working in the concession stands. Attending those events, you’re involved in all that excitement in the region.”
What the job at The Palace did not offer was health insurance, so he took a job at UPS as a loader. His schedule, while maintaining a full course load at Oakland University, was to work at UPS from about 4-7 a.m., go to classes and then work events at The Palace at night.
When The Palace’s owners purchased Pine Knob, now DTE Energy Music Theatre, he had the opportunity to work there as well during the summers. That helped foster a love for concert-going that he and his wife shared.
“This was that great grunge stuff in the early to mid-1990s, and part of wanting to work there was to be exposed to that,” he said.
DeLaRosa graduated in 1993 and spent a few years working in the admissions offices of Oakland University and the University of Detroit-Mercy. The last two years at Detroit-Mercy was spent in career services, paving the way for his position at UM-Dearborn.
He sees a lot of himself in many of the students he encounters and assists.
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“A lot of the kids here are first-generation students, who maybe don’t have parents sort of guiding them through that process,” he said. “They come here, they’re smart kids. It’s exciting to be able to work with that group. I’ve really never found a dull moment being here.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has altered the way he connects students with opportunities, but he’s innovating to ensure opportunities are there for both parties. He organized a virtual job fair in February on a Monday, an unlikely day to choose if the event were conducted face-to-face.
He also created an employer-student exchange event recently that allowed employers to not only share job and internship opportunities but provide company overviews and industry trends. Businesses could sign up for time slots, and students could join via Zoom to any of the sessions.
“I’m an office of one, so this provides a lot of versatility, and you can do more with less as it relates to staff,” he said. “Students are concerned about one thing: They want that job or that internship. That’s there. However, so is the opportunity to listen and learn from these professionals.”
His two sons are students at UM-Dearborn, the younger one a freshman on the lacrosse team. Interestingly, DeLaRosa just discovered he helped the team’s coach get an internship as a CECS undergrad in the 2000s.
Away from the office, DeLaRosa said he enjoys cooking, working on his cars and doing work in the yard. That included building a large deck on the rear of their house a few years ago overlooking a sprawling yard.
“I like getting out there on that rider and cutting the grass,” he said. “It takes me about 45 minutes, but it’s really relaxing.”