While amassing 1,200 Facebook friends might be a social triumph for some college students, it won’t necessarily be enough to land their first jobs after graduation, or get them into first-choice graduate programs.
As countless Whitman alumni will attest, when it comes to reaching educational and professional goals, one of the best resources available is a network of alumni who are willing to mentor young graduates and help them gain real-world experience. Where social media may lead to doors of opportunity, a strong network of fellow alumni can help open them.
"It’s the same old story, you need to have experience to get experience, and to get experience you need to have experience," said Ben Stone ’73, director of the Sonoma County Economic Development Board (EDB) in Santa Rosa, California. "The more you can show all of the practical experiences you’ve had, the more persuasively you’re going to speak to potential employers and graduate schools about what you’re capable of producing."
In October 2010, thanks to the Sava and Danica Andjelkovic Endowed Lectureship, Stone returned to Whitman to talk with students about the value of networking, share advice on experience building and discuss the unique internship opportunity offered through the EDB. Each year, Stone and his colleagues select six recent graduates from across the country to take part in a 12-month paid internship program. These highly qualified interns, selected from a pool of more than 500 annual applicants, get the opportunity to develop and manage programs that support local economic and employment bases.
Of the nearly 100 interns Stone has worked with since starting the program 13 years ago, 10 have come from Whitman, including Justin Hayashi ’09, who completed the program in June 2010. An Asian studies major from Kirkland, Washington, Hayashi was selected by the board, in part, for the breadth of leadership experience he gained while in college. Stone and his colleagues were especially impressed — and amused — by the fundraising project Hayashi developed as captain of the tennis team. He and his teammates raised money for a community service trip by charging $5 to tuck in their fellow Whitties with bedtime stories and lullabies. The tuck-in project raised more than $500, but more importantly it provided Hayashi with a real-world example of his project management capabilities, helping him to secure one of the EDB’s coveted positions.
"Usually when you’re starting a new job, you’re sort of nervous and maybe a little uncomfortable as you settle in," said Hayashi, who now works in Boeing’s Business Career Foundation Program. "At the EDB, I could immediately start throwing out my ideas, and the staff would give me honest feedback and suggest how things might work better."
How can I connect?
- Visit the Career Consultant Network online. Students and alumni can utilize this database of Whitman alumni, parents and friends who have volunteered to provide career guidance, informational interviews, and internship and job information. The site includes networking tips.
- Alumni Networking Receptions — When your reunion comes around, watch for opportunities to participate in a networking reception, where you can share your expertise with students interested in your field.
- Visit Whitman Online to find an online community with searchable contact information of other alumni.
As part of his internship, Hayashi was given the opportunity to launch and manage a new program called "Restaurant Week," a targeted campaign designed to increase revenue in the county’s food and wine industry during the traditionally slower winter season. He worked with the Sonoma County Tourism Bureau and 90 area restaurants to develop and market the program, which enticed more than 15,000 diners with fixed-price, three-course menus at area restaurants. The program was an enormous success, generating more than $1 million in new economic activity, landing on the front page of the The Los Angeles Times travel section and, ultimately, earning the 2010 Innovation Award from the National Association of Development Organizations.
"You could just see that the restaurants were packed, and the owners were really thankful for the extra business," Hayashi said. "The EDB staff really coached me throughout the entire process. They guided me while still letting me maintain control of the project, and their mentorship gave me a better understanding of project management and creating something from the ground up."
Applied professional experiences such as Hayashi’s are an immeasurable way of realizing, firsthand, how the critical thinking, writing and intellectual skills gained through a Whitman liberal arts education can be applied to a career. But Stone assures that students don’t have to wait for graduation to start gathering experiences and exploring their professional interests.
"You have to look at yourself like a product, and the earlier you get started on creating your brand and telling your story, the better," Stone said. "Let’s say you’re a biology major who wants to become a doctor. There’s nothing saying that you can’t go to a local hospital or county health department and ask to volunteer for a few hours each week. Taking that initiative not only shows determination to potential medical schools, but it exposes you to the actual work you’re interested — or think you’re interested — in doing."
Sarah Deming ’10, an economics major from Tacoma, Washington, began a one-year internship at the EDB in July 2010. She already sees the value of combining the critical thinking skills she developed at Whitman with the professional experience and mentoring provided by Stone.
"You learn a lot in college, but not everything can be readily applied to the real world," Deming said. "For example, I researched Burgundian court fashion of the 1400s for an academic class at Whitman. That isn’t something I can necessarily apply to economic development, but the skills I learned on how to research, find sources and synthesize information have really helped me excel in this job."
She’s also making good use of her time in California by connecting with people from other organizations and Whitman alumni in the area.
"For me, networking isn’t about asking for favors. If you believe in your own good work then it’s a mutually beneficial process," Deming said. "If Ben recommends me to someone, and they end up hiring me and I do a really good job, then that person is going to thank Ben for the recommendation and, obviously, I’m happy to have the new opportunity. It’s the best of both worlds."
— Joe Gurriere
Networking resources available for students, alumni
Sarah Deming ’10 stands by the photo wall of interns — including many Whitman alumni — who have worked for the Sonoma County Economic Development Board. Deming began her internship there in July 2010.
What’s the single-best way to identify opportunities to gain hands-on skills and make professional connections? According to Susan Buchanan, director of the Whitman Student Engagement Center (SEC), it’s all about networking.
The SEC helps students recognize what they can gain outside the classroom through leadership, sports, clubs, volunteerism, part-time jobs and internships. The SEC also works with the Office of Alumni Relations to provide access to the college’s Career Consultant Network, comprised of 1,500 alumni, parents and friends from a range of professional backgrounds, who agree to mentor students and alumni.
"If you look at the attendance of Whitman reunions and the rates of individual giving, alumni participation is very high across the board," Buchanan said.
"Part of that participation is offering career advice to students and fellow alumni. Our database of volunteer alumni is an amazing resource and can be searched by career, location or affiliation."
Buchanan points to a number of other ways students can build their personal networks and experiences, including attending networking receptions during alumni reunions and accessing a host of internship opportunities that come through her office each year — many of which are made possible through alumni contacts.
Students also may apply for the summer Whitman Internship Grant, funded by a combination of gifts and endowments, including the David Stevens Internship Endowment. The grant provides a stipend of $2,100 for students completing nonpaid summer internships that are relevant to their educational and/or career goals. Last summer, it enabled 32 students to take part in a variety of internships across the country and around the world.