For Anne-Marie Zell Schwerin ’85, her Real Talk session gave her a chance to give back to the college, which she credits with giving her the skills she needed for her current position as executive director of the Walla Walla YWCA.
When it comes to choosing majors or exploring career paths, Whitman students have access to a broad range of resources. But nothing quite compares to the real thing: face-to-face conversations with working professionals.
Whitman’s new Real Talk series provided an opportunity for students to collect valuable information from alumni about various career tracks. The relaxed and intimate workshops included small-group discussions where students were encouraged to ask questions about entering the professional world.
“All of us Whitties have great aspirations for our futures, but for many of us, it’s difficult to imagine what the steps are, exactly, to achieve our goals,” said Kayvon Behroozian ’14, who developed the series over the summer as an intern at Whitman’s Student Engagement Center.
“So connecting with alumni who have gone through the process to get into the fields and areas that we students are interested in is one of the best ways to fill in the blanks. The students attending the sessions are genuinely interested in being there, and the small size of the program allows for open and organic conversation between alumni and students.”
Local alumni from class years that ranged from 1978 to 2005 shared their experiences in various professional fields – from health care, to graphic design, to wine sales.
“We’re delighted that we’ve been able to develop an informative, productive and low-stress program to bring students together with a group of alumni who have achieved success in a wide variety of businesses and organizations,” said Noah Leavitt, assistant dean for student engagement.
“Feedback from students who have attended one or more of the Real Talk sessions indicates that they are indeed getting their questions answered, and are also feeling more confident about how their liberal arts educations will give them an enormous range of options for future careers.” J. Preston Frederickson ’02, an assistant city attorney for the City of Walla Walla, led a recent session covering careers in law and government. As a member of the Whitman Alumni Board, Frederickson has a vested interested in staying involved on campus and has gone out of his way to provide students with the knowledge they need to achieve their goals.
“Whitman College will always be a cause worth supporting,” he said. “I love sharing my experiences with others, and I love to hear others’ experiences.”
This kind of back-and-forth exchange is what defined Frederickson’s Real Talk workshop. It was a discussion with the students rather than a lecture. Frederickson paused and asked each student individually if he or she had any questions, thoughts or concerns. The dialogue continued until all the students had left the room, one by one, with answers to their questions.
“I hoped to open students’ minds to the practical considerations of careers and long-term personal goals and aspirations, so that they can begin now to plan for one, five, 10, 20 years into the future and feel satisfied and happy with their decisions along the way.”
Anne-Marie Zell Schwerin ’85, executive director of the Walla Walla YWCA, led a Real Talk session on non-profit management and community advocacy. She said her Whitman College experience prepared her well for her career.
“It was the best preparation for working in nonprofit management,” she said. “Whitman emphasized strong thinking, analysis and communication skills. I use them every single day. I realized early on most things aren’t learned in school, but school gets you ready to learn and deal with whatever comes up. I know that I had success in all my jobs because of the mindset and skillset developed in a liberal arts environment. We learn how to figure things out.”
— Isaac Sappington ’16