January 10, 2006

Students Step out for career advice

About 500 U of C students gathered downtown at The Fairmont Chicago hotel last Saturday, marking for some the beginning of a lifetime of business-casual events. The ninth annual Taking the Next Step, sponsored by the College Programming Office and Career Advising and Planning Services, featured around 180 alumni offering the keys to post-graduate career success for third-years.

With ample opportunities to schmooze and establish connections with alumni, the event introduced students to the professionalism so often viewed as uncharacteristic of U of C students. Lunching and chatting with alumni at the daylong event, students received practical advice about networking, finding mentors, making career choices, and marketing themselves.

Featuring two keynote speakers and 14 alumni-led panel discussions on topics including law and careers with nonprofit companies, the program aimed to help everyone from the pre-meds to the future “starving artists,” who were invited to a panel called “Working in Entertainment & Creative Fields: Dispelling the Myth of the Starving Artist.”

Panelist Mobilaji Akintune, A.B. ’02, owner of entertainment company bCompany, Inc. poked fun at the common perception of his profession: “I’m still hungry,” he said jokingly.

The event featured two keynote speakers: the co-host of morning TV program Good Day Atlanta, Suchita Vadlamani, A.B. ’93, and the chief of medical services at Veterans’ Affairs Medical Center, Paul Volberding, A.B. ’71. Vadlamani remembered her days at the U of C fondly: “I miss being surrounded by so many intellectually curious people,” she said.

The two speakers bookended the panel discussions, where alumni provided students with guidance on attending grad school, making themselves stand out in the job market, and breaking into different industries.

Meghan Chapman, A.B. ’04, a legal assistant, encouraged students to go abroad “if they have an itch,” while Will Burns, A.B. ’95, A.M. ’98, who worked on the Barack Obama campaign and is currently the senior advisor to Illinois Senate President Emil Jones, recommended delving into problems closer to home: “We need to rebuild Illinois,” he said.

Khalia Poole, A.B. ’99, an environmental protection specialist who described being promoted three times in five years, said that the keys to success are in being “relentlessly persistent, confident, and sincere.”

Sculptor Jeffrey Hesser, A.B. ’91, encouraged young artists to practice: “If you’re waiting to be inspired, you’re going to be waiting on tables for a long time.” Heidi Thompson, A.B. ’01, M.B.A. ’05, advised students, “You have to be true to yourself,” then a moment later adding, “That’s really corny.”

Mollie Kazan, a third-year in the College, said she benefited from the event more than expected. “After this I’m more unsure, as I see how many options there are,” she added.

Shehzad Jooma, a third-year in the College, had a mixed review: “A lot of it gives you hope and takes away a lot of hope,” she said. “Some of these people have jobs that 1 in 1,000 people get. But there were really good tips on how to network.”

Appreciation for the University and fond memories from alumni were common sentiments throughout the day. “I learned how to learn at the University,” said U.S. Deputy Chief of Mission, U.S. Embassy to the Holy See, Chris Sandrolini, A.B. ’82.

Vadlamani said during her keynote address that “the Core will be one of the best things that ever happened to you.” She added proudly, “That which does not kill you makes you a U of C grad.”