Career exploration trips connect students with alumni in real world

Alumni in Washington D.C., Charlotte and New York City give advice to students in all majors seeking career opportunities

Maria Rachal

Who better than Washington and Lee’s own alumni network to show students where their degrees can lead them?

That’s what inspired Dean of Career Development John Jensen and his colleagues to launch career exploration trips two years ago. To date, Career Services has offered trips over Fall Reading Days and February’s Washington Break to Charlotte, North Carolina, New York City and Washington, D.C. where students experience a variety of industries by meeting with W&L alums and hearing about their work.

“These trips fit with our long-term strategic plan of how we want to better serve students and help everyone find the perfect fit for them,” Christopher Browning, ‘11, Associate Director of Career Development, said.

During the recent Reading Days, two groups of W&L students travelled to Washington, D.C., as well as one group to New York City and one to Charlotte.

The Washington, D.C. trips targeted students interested in public policy and government and students interested in accounting. Both trips were coordinated in conjunction with the Williams School.

“It’s great to have academic departments and faculty partnering with us; we compliment each other well. It’s a program we’d like to continue to expand,” Browning said.

Public policy and government trip participants attended an alumni government relations panel in addition to visiting organizations like The International Monetary Fund, the US-Japan Council, The Federal Reserve, consulting firm Berkeley Research Group and Share Our Strength, a nonprofit dedicated to ending child hunger in America.

Accounting students had the chance to meet with alums at PricewaterhouseCoopers, who hosted an event where other accounting firms presented as well. By the end of the day, students had heard from alums at PwC and from the rest of “the big four” auditing groups – Deloitte, Ernst & Young and KPMG.

“I thought it was a great opportunity to learn about the different areas of the accounting field and to be able to hear about everything from W&L graduates working at the big four accounting firms,” Rachel Baer, ‘18, a trip participant, said.

Seeking to help students on less defined pre-professional tracks, Career Services offered an inaugural trip to New York City designed to show humanities majors careers in publications, advertising, public relations, museums and others. All alumni featured on the trip were humanities majors at W&L.

“We’re wanting to reinforce that students should choose a major that they’re passionate about,” Browning said.

New York City trip visits included Saatchi & Saatchi, a global communications and advertising agency network, with graduate Bryan Stuke, ‘12, and Palladium Group, a strategy consulting organization, with graduate Ben Ersing, ‘12.

Another reprised trip was the general career exploration trip for undecided first-years and sophomores to Charlotte. Students got a taste of the Charlotte banking scene at FirstCitizens Bank, a commercial bank where Kathy Boone, ‘95, works, and Piper Jaffray, an investment bank with W&L alumni representation from the classes of 2001, 2002, 2014 and 2015.

Charlotte trip participants also learned about commercial real estate at Kimco Realty, North America’s largest owner of open-air shopping centers, got a view into the world of retail and merchandising at the headquarters of Belk, and gained an understanding of sports marketing and broadcasting from 1985 classmates who now work in NASCAR.

Career Services will continue its Washington Break trips to New York City in 2016 for students interested in investment banking and finance as well as for students interested in advertising, marketing and communications.

“As far as I know, there aren’t many schools offering as many career trips as we are,” Browning said. “We’d like to look at new possible trip ideas to expand offerings where there aren’t any right now.”