Jan. 23, 2003 – Vol. 22 No. 8

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    Alumni share career experiences with third-year students at annual College event, ‘Taking the Next Step’

    By Josh Schonwald
    News Office

    Carla Hendra joins other alumni in sharing career paths at annual ‘Taking the Next Step’
    They have read Plato, Aristotle, the greats of world literature and social thought. They can construct and deconstruct an argument. They are finally getting a handle on “close reading.”

    But just as their academic confidence grows, just as they have passed the mid-point of their Chicago education, a new question confronts third-year students: can the “Life of the Mind” get me a job?

    More than 100 Chicago alumni helped answer this question at the Westin Michigan Avenue Hotel on Saturday, Jan. 18, as part of the College’s Sixth Annual “Taking the Next Step” event, an all-day forum designed to help students plan their futures.

    “We talk and write a lot about the value of a liberal education, about how the Chicago experience is transformative,” said John Boyer, (A.M. ‘69, Ph.D. ‘75), Dean of the College, “but nothing is more powerful as a testimonial than demonstrating by example.”

    More than half of the Class of 2004 attended this year’s “Taking the Next Step,” which was sponsored by the Maroon Key Society in conjunction with the Dean of the College, the Alumni Association, Career & Placement Services, the Office of the Dean of Students in the College, the Office of the Reynolds Club and Student Activities, and the University Community Service Center.

    Students could choose from various sessions with such titles as “Investment Banking and Consulting: How to Work a 40-Hour Week by Tuesday Night” and “I Had No Idea What I Wanted to Do When I Graduated.” All told, Chicago alumni offered insights on more than 20 careers, including law, medicine, media, investment banking, teaching, academia, government, computing, library science, theatre and music.

    The varied offerings of “Taking the Next Step” created some interesting choices for students. On the third floor of the Westin, a third-year could, for instance, listen to an alumna discuss her career as an associate at Goldman Sachs, then walk a few steps across the hall to hear how an alumnus had a chance to play his saxophone with Big Jay McNeely.

    Third-year students (left to right) Jennifer Hur, Dele Adeyemo and Nina Prasad chat together before the Taking the Next Step event gets underway. Adeyemo later attended the session that covered investment banking. He said his interest in the event was to have the opportunity to hear directly from alumni about how he could prepare for an upcoming internship interview.
    For many students, this smorgasbord of career opportunities provided a sampling of possibilities.

    “I’m not sure what I want to do at this point,” said third-year Jennifer Bussell, a molecular biology concentrator. Typical of many students, Bussell is looking at very different career paths. She’s considering journalism, science and medical school.

    Other students came to “Taking the Next Step” with a clear idea of what they want to pursue.

    Dele Adeyemo, an economics concentrator, is hoping to land an internship at a particular investment bank. For him, “Taking the Next Step” was a great chance to prepare for his internship interview later this month. “I wanted to hear it straight from the source–what type of skills do they want?” said Adeyemo, who attended the investment banking session. “What should I be doing to prepare myself for this job?”

    One of the key reasons for offering the program to third-years is to give students a chance to use the next year to plan and prepare for their career choices.

    In the “Journalism and Media” panel, for example, several panelists emphasized the value of gaining practical experience before entering the job market. Charles Goodwin, a linguistic concentrator interested in journalism, heeded the message. Goodwin, who had never worked in college journalism, said he hopes to use the remainder of his time in school to do some work for the Chicago Maroon, the Chicago Weekly News or WHPK radio station.

    The panelists provided nuts-and-bolts tips for first-time applicants such as how to package their credentials, who to contact and how to contact them (e-mail vs. telephone). The alumni shared real-world stories on how they got where they are and advised the students about what to expect in their first job.

    Third-year Jennifer Bussell
    Marc Evans, (A.B.,’89) Senior Vice President of Los Angles-based Laura Ziskin Productions, a film production company, warned prospective interns that duties “could include filling the refrigerator with Snapple.”

    But more than anything, panelists echoed a familiar message: A liberal education will pay off.

    Keynote speaker Carla Hendra, (A.B.,’77) president of advertising giant Ogilvy One Worldwide’s North America operations, told students about her circuitous career path, which involved working in the fashion industry, applying to business school and considering applying to medical school, before entering the advertising business. “The point,” Hendra said of all her career moves, “is that with a Chicago education, I never felt any barrier to any potential career. I had the confidence that anything was within my reach.”

    Like other panelists, Hendra emphasized the value of a Chicago education that, to some, sounds irrelevant to the advertising world. Hendra, who studied classical music, economics and humanities, said she learned critical thinking skills–the ability to question, to argue, to develop a strong rationale–that have benefited her throughout her career. She also credited the rigor of the Chicago experience with helping her in the business world. “The business world is much like Chicago. It’s a sink-or-swim environment.”

    In addition to helping third-years, “Taking the Next Step” also has become increasingly popular with alumni panelists, said Bill Michel, Assistant Vice President for Student Life and Associate Dean of the College. Michel, who helped conceive “Taking the Next Step” six years ago, said the event has become a sort of “alumni reunion.”

    This makes perfect sense, explained Boyer. Not only does the event strengthen the Chicago community–giving alumni a chance to come back to the city, meet fellow alumni, and see how the College is changing–but also it gives them access to prospective employees. “This is a tremendous source of educated, hard-working people.

    “We’re not a lifetime employment bureau, but we are a place that worries about our students’ futures, and we want to do what we can to create a context that can help students and alumni help themselves,” said Boyer.

    Giving third-years the opportunity to hear former students describe their transition from the “Life of the Mind” to the job market is meaningful, said Bussell. “It’s really important to see that networking with alumni is advantageous for us.”

    As for alumni, Boyer said so many ask him: ‘Why didn’t you do this when I was in college?’ “When I hear this, I know we’ve scored a victory.”