By SARAH GARNETT
The University of Mary Washington’s College of Business completed a two-day program called Career Chats on Tuesday, March 26 and Wednesday, March 27. The program is designed to benefit students and give them a better understanding of life after graduating from UMW.
College of Business Dean Lynne Richardson started the Career Chats program in the spring semester of 2012. Her successful experiences at other universities led her to see ways the program could grow at UMW.
“The idea came to me when I was at Ball State. We had a program there that was similar…and it was boring. I just watched students and you could read the bored expressions on their faces. After that, we had alums come back and go into classes and talked a little bit about themselves, and the program developed from that,” said Richardson.
The program brings back UMW alumni who spend two days going around to different classes and speaking about their experiences after they graduated from Mary Washington. According to Richardson, “The hardest sell was to get the faculty to give up their class times in order to bring these people back.”
This year, 26 alumni participated, and spoke in a total of 42 classes.
Richardson explained that the program benefits both the students and the alumni.
“Students are now exposed to a variety of career opportunities that they may never have been exposed to,” said Richardson. “They also learn that it is okay to not know what you want to do when you graduate, because typically most of these people didn’t have a clue either, and they’re doing quite well. So it’s kind of reassuring for students to find out that you’ll figure it out eventually.”
The biggest thing Richardson said students take away from the program is “that career paths are not linear. You don’t necessarily go to work for one company and stay with them for the rest of your career. You do right turns, you go into different industries, you say ‘I hate what I’m doing now’ and totally punt that career.”
Senior business administration major Rebekah Eyob has experienced Career Chats over the last four years.
“It gives a very nice outline of the various and different career paths that you can take,” said Eyob. “I think your parents can tell you something, and professors can tell you something, but when someone who has actually experienced something tells you that, it is comforting to know you are on the right path.”
The program allows students to make connections with the alumni who come back. The alumni often can become mentors, and in some cases have even offered students jobs and internships.
“The alums love to come home,” said Richardson. “This is home for them, so they come back and get a chance to see the campus, share their stories, and they feel good about giving back, not just their time but also their stories.”
The program also allows faculty to connect with the alumni. Through this connection, the faculty are also exposed to new jobs and opportunities, and the alumni are able to make connections with faculty members so that if they have a job or internship opportunity, they can call a faculty member and ask if they know of any students who may be interested or a good fit.
“I think if you have the right speaker that can identify with the audience it can work really well,” said marketing professor Dan Wolfe. “It didn’t bother me to give up my class time because I thought the speaker was incredibly appropriate.”
Currently the Career Chats program is only done annually within the College of Business. Richardson supports the idea of the program expanding to other departments.
“I think it would be huge if it was. I know that other departments are doing things where they are bringing alums back. But this concerted effort where, for two days, students are completely engaged with alums in their classes, I think it creates a buzz,” said Richardson.
Junior communication and digital studies major and business administration and marketing minor, Michael Gilchrist has participated in several Career Chats.
“I think the career chats were great because it showed what graduates from Mary Washington can go out and do,” said Gilchrist. “I feel like most students are nervous about going out into the workforce and are scared, but I believe that the Career Chats give students a sense of confidence post-graduation. I enjoyed listening to the alumni speak to us and hearing how they got to where they are now.”
As a communication and digital studies major, Gilchrist did not get to hear from any alumni in that department.
“I think the communications and digital studies department should do this program, because it’s beneficial for any major and shows how many career possibilities there can be after graduation,” said Gilchrist.
“The College of Business tries to act as a leader,” said Richardson. “We are always trying new things, and other people look at what we are doing and say, ‘we can do that too’. We can be the leader and put out new programs.”