Career conference highlights value of networking with alumni

Tammy Tran

The annual “Shine Light, More Light on Your Future Career Conference” was held at Lawrence University on Sunday, Feb. 27.

The conference was a collaborative effort between the Career Center and Office of Alumni and Constituency Engagement. This is the fourth annual event geared toward providing networking opportunities for Lawrence students and alumni.

“The career conference started as an idea presented by a couple alumni,” stated Director of the Career Center Kathy Heinzen. “Led by John Landis, they wanted an opportunity for the students to network with alumni. And so we started the first career conference and have been holding it every year since 2007.”

Twenty-five alumni participated in the first “Shine Light, More Light on Your Future Career Conference” in 2007.

From year to year, the theme of the career conference has varied. This year, the conference focused on translating liberal arts skills to life beyond the university and was attended by 45 alumni and 65 students.

“We hope that students begin to understand how people who have gone before them have used their liberal arts degrees and backgrounds,” remarked Heinzen. “We hope students are able to expand their networks to include professionals in a field that is of interest to them.”

The conference began with brunch at Andrew Commons, where students and alumni had the opportunity to mingle. Participants then gathered for an opening panel discussion about applying the liberal arts education to life after Lawrence.

Following that panel, students and alums broke off into smaller general sessions about gap year options, graduate and professional school and skills such as résumé writing, interviews and networking. Speed networking also allowed many students and alumni to meet one another.

After a short break, the conference resumed with a series of panels focusing on specific occupations. Students were able to select which panel to participate in, while alumni talked about their own background and experiences in their respective careers. The conference ended with an informal networking reception.

“I genuinely enjoyed the conference,” stated senior Ernie Ji, who participated Sunday. “It was great to be able to see successful alums come back and help the current students figure things out.”

Ji continued, “My favorite part about the conference was that the event was a reaffirmation of the fact that not all is doomed — the biggest thing I learned from the conference was to be positive about the future.”

Ji reflected on his liberal arts education, saying, “I hope to apply the skills that I have acquired through my experience at Lawrence University all the time, be it at a graduate school program or in the workplace. More specifically, the writing, research and public speaking skills that I have acquired during my education at Lawrence will serve me well wherever I go.”

Erin Haight Chudacoff, the associate director of alumni and constituency engagement, described the career conference as a win-win situation for alumni and for students.

She explained, “In this challenging economy and job market, job seekers are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of networking. Our talented and successful alumni are looking for meaningful ways to give back and remain engaged with the university that helped launch them on their career trajectory.”

Heinzen agreed that students should remember that seeking out alumni for networking and career advice can be invaluable. “We encourage students to take advantage of these opportunities,” she stated. “Alums really want to be a resource and want to help.”

Pleased by the participation in last Sunday’s conference, Ji said, “I would like to commend all of the underclassmen that attended the event. It is great to see that students at Lawrence are responsible in thinking about their future and making concerted efforts at staying competitive.”