Students gain insight from alumni on social impact careers

Twelve alumni speak to students on building socially-minded careers at the annual Summit on Social Impact Careers

Elyse Ferris

Washington and Lee kicked off its annual Summit on Social Impact Careers on Nov. 11 with alumni speakers who shared their experiences in the realm of social impact.

The summit was sponsored by the Shepherd Program, the Office of Career Development and the Williams School.

The summit included 12 alumni across seven sessions between Friday and Saturday, each of which focused on different aspects of preparing for a career in nonprofits or social justice. The alumni speakers stressed the importance of open-mindedness, effective communication and building skill sets.

Matt Lubas, ‘18, said he looked forward to learning from the sessions on what it is like to build a career with social impact.

“I’m trying to figure out what to do, so I’m excited to take away experiences of what other people have done and their thoughts about it,” he said.

Christy Felling, ‘93, gave the first speech, “Three Questions that Changed Everything.”

Felling, a politics major, worked for the Center for American Progress and the Wall Street Journal. She currently leads the No Kid Hungry campaign as the director of Media and Public Affairs for Share Our Strength.

Felling addressed questions that shaped her own career path towards fighting child hunger: What is my motivation? What am I good at? What am I afraid of? What are my five ‘whys’?

“We are laying stones to the cathedral around poverty,” Felling said. “Those problems will not go away in my lifetime. Our enemy is apathy. The number one thing I have to do first is get people to talk about our issue.”

Felling urged the audience to build their skill sets and experience.

A panel of four alumni, “GPS Your Purpose,” followed Felling’s speech. Brian Becker, ‘04, Jennifer Dean, ‘12L, David Foster, ‘98, and Paul Negron, ‘03, spoke of their personal career journeys which led them to their current socially-minded positions.

They pointed out that many careers begin in the private sector and lead to jobs with nonprofits or other socially-minded groups.

“It’s helpful to focus on the day in front of you and applying yourself,” Dean said. “Before you know it, you have that solid foundation that you didn’t realize you were laying the bricks for.”

The third session, “Filling the Gap,” allowed a panel of alumni to share their service-related gap year experiences. Alex Baca, ’14, Nicole Gunawansa, ’14, Alex Klein, ‘17L, and Shiri Yadlin, ’12, spoke of the meaning and logistics behind their gap experiences.

A networking reception followed the Friday sessions.

Saturday’s sessions began with a talk from David Foster, ’98, titled “Charting Your Path: How to Choose the Right Opportunities on the Road to Success.”

“Happiness is about having choices,” Foster said. “Build your skills, build your story, build your network, build your experiences. Add perspective to your life. Do what you need to do to have a diversity of experience.”

Brian Becker, ’04, Quiana McKenzie, ’08, and Alex Baca, ’14, spoke in the following panel, “Making Money for Others.”

Becker said business is often about building trust.

“At the end of the day, they need to feel like their investment is worth it,” he said.

A panel on “Reading, Writing, and Social Media” followed. Christy Felling, ’93, Jamie Goodin, ’10 and Justine Sessions, ’05, emphasized the importance of effective communication and exposure to an array of news sources.

Paul Negron, ’03, and Justine Sessions, ’05, held the last panel, “Creating Your Personal Brand,” before the summit ended with a networking lunch.

Felling said she was glad to be back on campus to speak.

“W&L produces some of the best minds,” she said. “The more we can get these minds and show them all the different paths, the bigger impact we can make.”