Alumna Erin Stahowiak, ‘94, is living proof of the power of the all-too-popular collegiate catchphrase, “The Lawrence Difference.”Stahowiak is currently Director of Catering at McCormick Place, a Chicago convention center. Her main duties include meeting with clients and planning events. Her clients hail from around the world, and it is in dealing with such a wide variety of cultures that Stahowiak has felt some of the benefits of a Lawrence education.
“My major was anthropology, and I deal quite a bit with people,” Stahowiak says. “Lawrence has provided an excellent gateway for that, in general. My knowledge of people has been utilized.”
A typical day for Stahowiak “involves lots of meetings, citing visits for future conventions as far ahead as 2006, and planning the logistics of events here,” she says. She claims that logistical planning is especially difficult, since there is 2.2 million square feet of exhibit space in McCormick Place. She also coordinates shows, manages six salespeople, and coordinates with the chef (which can involve food tasting).
Another of Stahowiak’s advantages from studying at Lawrence was that she developed strong reading and language skills.
“Of course, the Freshman Studies program [helped with writing skills], and I did a few independent studies. The whole academic program is pretty writing-intensive.” Stahowiak has noticed a marked difference between the writing program at Lawrence and that of other colleges and universities.
This writing-intensive program, Stahowiak claims, has impacted her career. While at Lawrence she never considered herself a strong writer, on the job in McCormick she is often asked to give writing assistance.
Stahowiak began her career working at Heidel House in Green Lake, WI, while studying at Lawrence in order to put herself through college and save money for traveling. After graduation, she and a friend backpacked for two months across Europe.
When Stahowiak returned to Heidel House, she was promoted from banquet waitress to catering manager. She remained there for a year and a half before she went to work at McCormick Place.
“I decided it was time for me to move to a big city, so I started circulating my rsum and reaching out to my contacts in Minneapolis and Chicago, and fortunately there was a position.” She has worked for McCormick Place for six years.
Among the extra-curricular Lawrence experiences that helped Stahowiak prepare for her current position were coordinating Celebrate!, serving as an RLA, being an LUCC representative, serving on the Campus Events Committee, and being a member of the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority.
The experience that most affected Stahowiak, she says, was “maintaining balance between my course-work, my social life, and events outside of class. Developing a career can be very intense and intimidating. Maintaining that balance will always benefit you in the long run.”
Erin Stahowiak’s advice to Lawrence students is, “Actively utilize the Lawrence connection, people that are already in the workforce. Utilize the Career Center; utilize older siblings and friends. I’ve seen amazing things happen that way.”