CalTech Initiative for Students

Career Advising

Career Services: Beyond Resume and Interview Prep

May 01, 2024

Marisa Demers

Phil Naecker (BS ’76) and Jennifer Hritz  (BS ’23)

Caltech is changing how it connects students to meaningful careers, and a gift from Philip (BS ’76) and Nancy Naecker is putting these efforts on the fast track.

A gift from alumnus, mentor, and information technology executive Philip Naecker (BS ’76) and his wife, Nancy Naecker, is helping to transform career development at Caltech. The couple’s generosity, which provides no-strings-attached support, frees Caltech leaders to experiment with holistic career services and identify ways to amplify alumni engagement in the process.

Phil Naecker hopes the impact will extend beyond today’s students.

“We are facing some deep challenges, from poverty to healthcare to the future of the planet,” Naecker says. “These are complex issues with millions of smaller problems embedded in them. If connected to the right job opportunities, Caltech students are exceptionally well positioned to make the impact the world needs.”

Students across all six academic divisions are already benefiting from the Phil and Nancy Naecker IST Fund for Student Success, which is co-managed by the Career Achievement, Leadership, and Exploration (CALE) office and Caltech’s Information Science and Technology (IST) initiative. The Naeckers’ gift has been used to establish an alumni mentorship program for student interns, a collection of oral histories highlighting alumni career journeys, and a career exploration course taught by life coach Anna Resnick (BS ’19) that taps into the principles of design thinking.

Nancy and Phil (BS '76) Naecker

The End of Imposter Syndrome

Naecker, who lives near campus, has maintained strong ties with the Caltech community since graduation. He has served on the boards of the Caltech Y, the Caltech Alumni Association, and the Caltech Gnome Club. The Naeckers are also members of the Caltech Associates.

Over the past decade, Phil Naecker has focused his attention on Caltech students and their success after graduation. Many Techers do exceptionally well when they leave Caltech, he says, but some stumble over preventable mistakes. For example, he has seen imposter syndrome get the better of undergraduates who omitted significant accomplishments—such as serving as author on a published academic paper or designing software that flew on a JPL mission to measure the cosmic microwave background radiation—during the application process. Even after mastering job-search mechanics, many others have broader questions about career paths, changing fields, and becoming leaders.

“A Caltech education is well suited to meeting the needs of the modern world,” Naecker says. “Once they leave campus, Techers quickly find themselves rising to leadership roles and migrating to careers outside of their majors. I’m glad this gift has already created more opportunities for alumni and students to come together and to enable Caltech graduates to approach their job searches with greater confidence, creativity, and success."

It Took One Phone Call

Naecker’s personal experience attests to the powerful and positive impact alumni can have on students and their careers. When he was nearing the end of his senior year at Caltech in 1976, Naecker had a change of heart about his post-graduation plans. The out-of-state graduate programs that accepted him had become less desirable to the Texas native since he met Nancy, a nursing student at Cal State Los Angeles. He wanted to stay in Pasadena, but he needed a job.

He explained his situation to Jim Black, former executive director of the Caltech Alumni Association, who called alumni William Carroll (BS ’48, MS ’49) and John Fee (BS ’51) and asked if they had any openings at their firm, James M. Montgomery Consulting Engineers. The job was Naecker’s before he left the interview.

For the next 10 years, Naecker worked at Montgomery, helping to clean the nation’s waterways and provide safe drinking water to millions of Americans. Carroll and Fee continued to serve as mentors.

When he was in his 30s, Naecker decided to change course and pursue a career in computing and information technology. He recently retired as chief technology officer for a quantitative finance firm.

A Holistic Approach to Career Services

Claire Ralph met Naecker in 2016, when she was in charge of outreach and partnerships for the Department of Computing + Mathematical Sciences (CMS). Together, they created CMS Mentoring Days, a series of speed-mentoring events for students in the department. Now in its eighth year, the program has expanded to serve students in electrical engineering and finance as well.

In 2019, Ralph was appointed director of the Career Development Center and oversaw its name change to CALE, reflecting its enhanced mission of fostering self-discovery, meaningful connections, and leadership development. She continues to bounce ideas off Naecker as she explores new ways to serve students. “Caltech has the honor of teaching these incredible minds,” Ralph says, “and it’s our responsibility to make sure they graduate feeling supported and confident about their next steps in life.”

Naecker agrees and hopes his gift will encourage other alumni to connect with students.

“A small amount of effort from alumni provides a huge payoff for students,” Naecker says. “It’s a rewarding experience, and, in some ways, it’s a full-circle moment because we get the opportunity to help our former selves!”

Let us know what the Caltech student experience means to you.