Career conference lights more light

Beth McHenry

Lawrence juniors and seniors gathered Sunday, Feb. 18 for the inaugural Alumni Career Conference, “Shine Light, More Light on Your Future,” to absorb words of wisdom from over 40 alumni and 15 faculty and staff in a variety of fields.
In addition to brunch and an informal gathering following the afternoon’s events, the conference featured breakout sessions addressing both specific career paths and the general practicalities of life after Lawrence.
The conference opened with an address by alumnus John Landis ’84, who co-sponsored the event with the Alumni Relations Office and the Career Center.
Landis’ idea for the career conference was originally inspired by his conversations with Chris MacGillis ’04, when MacGillis, now a law student at Marquette University, was also an undergraduate looking for direction.
Landis glibly remarked that if he could help MacGillis, “Imagine what I could do with some real talent.”
Following Landis’ introduction, keynote speaker Susy Schultz ’81 and an accompanying panel of alumni emphasized the value of a liberal arts education from Lawrence and set the tone for the rest of the afternoon.
Alumni on the panel stressed the importance of “learning to think,” a skill that is not stressed at many other schools.
Schultz recalled not her classroom experience but her experiences in life at Lawrence, such as the year that she and her classmates rebelled against a state law prohibiting premarital sex by turning themselves into the police.
Attendees then broke into smaller, more personalized “breakout sessions.” The breakout sessions, which Kathy Heinzen, director of the Career Center, considers “the heart of the conference,” were available to all students, even those who could not attend the brunch.
Heinzen stated that the sessions “allowed students to hear about a myriad of career options within their field and also ask questions.”
There were two sessions, one focusing on specific careers such as law, healthcare or performing arts and the other on “practical considerations” such as resume writing, graduate school and networking.
Landis initially approached Lawrence faculty in the summer of 2005 to brainstorm ways in which Chicago alumni could help Lawrence students build connections in the professional world.
In 2006, Landis proposed the idea for the conference to Director of Alumni Relations Jan Quinlan and Athletic Director Bob Beeman. Implementation of the plan began in early fall of 2006, when Heinzen and the Career Center joined the effort.
Landis used his own alumni friends – most of whom graduated in the early ’80s and now live and work in Chicago – as the basis for the alumni panelists.
The Alumni Relations Office and the Career Center were able to develop other groups, such as the recent alumni who sat on the panel about “the gap year” between graduation and graduate school.
Although the Alumni Relations Office and Career Center have collaborated on similar programs, such as “Following in their Footsteps,” in the past, those programs were not on the same scale as Sunday’s conference, in terms of both attendance and length.
Sunday’s conference was also unique because it provided opportunities for both formal presentation and informal, personal interaction between alumni and students.
Although there were a few complaints, the conference was met with overwhelming success. Quinlan said that they were very pleased, not only with the turnout from alumni and students, but also with the helpfulness of the program as a whole.
“We thought that the sessions that we heard about or experienced ourselves really provided useful information for students,” she said.
“They provided hope for students that there are other people who have become successful and there are ways to get there and there are people who can help them.”
Quinlan and Heinzen plan to speak with Landis on Monday to discuss future plans for the Alumni Career Conference.
Both Quinlan and Heinzen hope that the program will continue and possibly expand to more geographic areas and career paths.
Many students felt that some career paths were missing and that the timing of the conference was inconvenient for students.
The scheduling of the conference will also be reexamined for future years, probably through evaluations given to participating alumni and students.
Quinlan noted that some students also wished to attend more than one career panel. Future career conferences may allow students a greater variety of areas to explore.
Quinlan concluded, “This provided a glimpse into your future and the future is bright for people who go to Lawrence.