Jake Gordon: embracing the full potential of a liberal arts experience
Jake Gordon '18 has always strived for excellence, and at Muhlenberg, he’s had a chance to view the results of hard work. In the last three years, he’s worked as a mentor to local high school students, introduced dozens of prospective students and their parents to Muhlenberg, launched a startup and wrestled overseas in Europe.
When he first began his college search, Jake knew what he was looking for: a school with strong academics and Division III wrestling. But the California native found it difficult to come by a school that matched these criteria on the west coast, so he started to seek out colleges out east.
“I didn’t know anything about Muhlenberg,” Jake said when recalling his first visit, “but then I actually got on campus and really fell in love with the college.” And even before he was enrolled as a business administration major and political science minor, he found himself looking forward to joining the wrestling program, which at the time had only a handful of members on the team.
While others may have been discouraged at a smaller team, he saw an opportunity.
“I was encouraged to be a part of that,” he said, “I knew that coming to a school like Muhlenberg, I would be able to take on more of a leadership role immediately. I’d be able to get more experience as an athlete.”
Jake admits that coming in freshman year as a varsity starter was more difficult than expected, but he had a great support system that backed him every step of the way. He credits that support to his on-campus mentors, like wrestling coach Shaun Lally.
"Coach Lally really took me under his wing and pushed me to get the most out of myself," explained Jake. "He's shown me opportunities to develop—where I had to grow."
The following summer Jake went on to wrestle in a DIII program in Europe, where he was able to further hone his abilities. By that point he was training five to six times a week in the hopes of a great season the following year. His training paid off. Jake finished his season with 19 wins and placed third overall in the Centennial Conference.
His experience on campus extends beyond athletics; Jake works as a tour guide for the admissions department, participates on the academic judicial board and works with neighboring William Allen High School’s college admissions mentoring program (CAMP).
Jake discovered CAMP after a discussion with another mentor, Michele Deegan, department chair and associate professor of political science. “Dr. Deegan reached out to me about the program and told me that it would be a great opportunity for me.” The engagement and connection with local high school students in the midst of their own college search and application process blossomed into a rewarding experience.
This past year Jake entered the Muhlenberg Innovation Challenge, an entrepreneurial contest where students compete for business incubation funding, with friend Michael Havkins. The two showcased their business proposal to fellow students, alumni and professors, and the concept received considerable enthusiasm.
The two proposed a service to connect students on campus who are in need of new attire for events to students who are interested in renting out their clothes and making a small profit. This rental service helps relieve stress for students who feel pressured to wear a new outfit to every formal or event by providing them with affordable options right on campus, with an added benefit of providing clothing owners with passive income.
"My girlfriend's in a sorority and Mike’s girlfriend is on the track team, and we just saw that every time a formal event came around, it was a complete panic to try and rent a dress," he explained. "It's a scramble to find something that fits, and if you're going to multiple formals each year, it’s just not feasible to wear a new one every time." Thus, the concept for their on-campus rental service, DressedGPS, was born.
After winning both the overall challenge and crowd favorite, Jake and Mike began turning their idea into a reality. They ended up in contact with Pat Fligge ’10, director of alumni and parent engagement, who reached out to Phil Lakin ’09, US Head of Recruitment for Gett, a mobile app for booking taxis and other forms of transportation. With his own considerable experience in the New York City start-up scene, Lakin loved the idea and offered the two the opportunity to go to the city and develop their business concept in a start-up incubator.
Over this past summer, Jake continued his work on DressedGPS, developing the website and preparing to launch the business.
While it’s clear Jake is very self-driven, he acknowledges all of the help and encouragement he’s had along the way.
"My parents are really just the best support system I could ever ask for,” says Jake. "It’s been nothing but positively and guidance from them.” And while his dad still makes it to campus for many of Jake’s wrestling matches, attending college thousands of miles from home came with its own challenges.
But Jake has flourished, which he credits to close connections with campus staff, like Melissa Falk ’92 in admissions—a mentor who is always ready to listen or offer advice—or Mary Beth Kallen in the office of disability services—providing support for students like Jake who have dyslexia or other learning needs.
Throughout his journey at Muhlenberg, Jake’s found—he’s earned—success. And thanks to that dedication and the relationships he’s made on campus, he has truly been making the most of his liberal arts education.