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The Pulse: Traverse City Native With Autism Flourishes In Professional World

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The Chicago Tribune recently wrote an article about Justin Pierce, a 30 year old man from TC who works at EY in Chicago, previously Ernst and Young. Justin works as an account support associate, and Justin is autistic.

Justin grew up in Traverse City and said that he very much liked it.

“I love Traverse City it’s beautiful, and a great place to grow up, but I wanted to go out and…see the world.”

Justin is doing just that. He is living on his own in Chicago, although this isn’t his first time living alone. Justin lived alone during college when he attended Grand Valley State University, where he studied applied statistics. Justin has fond memories of Grand Rapids, not just from college but also from childhood.

“Here’s a little bit of an irony, growing up in Traverse City whenever the family wanted to go on vacation we would go downstate to Grand Rapids, and of course everyone who lives is in Grand Rapids when they want to go on vacation they come up north to Traverse City.”

Justin chose to study applied statistics because he wanted to work in analytics, analyzing data and trends. He didn’t have a particular idea of what kind of analytics he wanted to work with, just a natural inclination towards the different way analytics can be applied to all facets of business, tech, healthcare and commerce, among many other fields.

Hard work pays off, and Justin’s new role at EY is direct proof of that. He is working with analytics as an account support associate.

“I just now got a new project where I’m learning quite a bit about probability, and text retrieval systems.”

Landing a position that he loves so much was no easy feat. Justin has put in a lot of time and effort to get where he is today. He received an associates in Liberal Arts from Northern Michigan College in 2009. From there, Justin attended Grand Valley State, and graduated with his Bachelor’s in 2014.

Many college students dream of walking across the graduation stage and having a job already lined up postgrad, this wasn’t the case for Justin. It took him four years to land a job that was directly related to his degree.

Justin aggressively applied to job openings for a year after college, with no success. Frustrated with not receiving any encouraging leads or news, he turned to Michigan Rehabilitation Services for help.

Michigan Rehabilitation Services, or MRS, is a program funded by the state to assist people with disabilities in finding employment. Beyond helping people with disabilities find employment, they also offer education related services and training course in retaining employment. Justin said that MRS has been a critical part of finding employment in his desired field.

“I was able to get experience at a summer internship at Meijer, that helped quite a bit, and I was able to get experience that I carried over to my current job.”

Justin interned at the Meijer headquarters in Grand Rapids and the skills he picked up have helped him as a young man just starting out in a career. Because Justin works with numbers and formulas, it’s important for him to be able to explain what the numbers mean to a client who may not be as mathematically minded. Being able to thoughtfully explain numbers and data was a skill he picked up at his internship, along with learning to explain why certain data is important to the business as well as the customer.

Justin’s newfound business skills translated well to the week-long interview process he went through at EY. The week-long process was more of a professional assessment than the traditional, verbal interview. The week, called Super Week, tested skill and ability of applicants. The other applicants are on the spectrum as well, and a friend that Justin had met at Michigan Rehabilitation Center also went through the week-long assessment and got hired in at EY the same week as Justin.

Justin misses Traverse City sometimes. “Here in Chicago you don’t necessarily have green as far as the eye can see, and don’t even get me started on the driving.” But, he loves his new life as a young professional in a big city.

“My apartment and my office are within a half hour walk of each other. You have to build up your comfort zone, finding a coffee shop you like and other places you like to go.”

Justin has made friends at work, but the best part of his new life?

“Being able to be independent and self-sufficient. Having your own roof over your head, being able to afford your own bills and have somewhat of a disposable income.”

Justin hopes that other people on the spectrum can find the success he has, and he says the most important part of that is keeping track of every step taken.

“Keeping records, as a statistician, has helped me cope with this process,” Justin said. “You know how a journey starts with a single footstep? Well, even if that first footstep doesn’t go anywhere just keep walking and keeping track of all the little steps you make.”

The journey has been quite a long one for Justin, but all of those little steps added up to a big move from Traverse City to Chicago, but more importantly, from graduated to hired.