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Student-Alumni Connections for Career Development Flourish Online

In-person interviews and job shadowing may have to wait, but undergraduates continue to make career-building connections with alumni mentors.

Screenshot of a Zoom call between Irving Gonzalez and Matt Wheeler
Irving Gonzalez, left, and Matthew Wheeler discuss strategies for academic and career advancement via Zoom.

Irving Gonzalez ’21 has revised his career goals many times since he was a middle school student in New York City, but one thing has remained constant: his desire to graduate from Syracuse University. A SUSTAIN scholarship , which supports underrepresented students in STEM majors, made it possible. Next year he expects to complete degrees in biotechnology and neuroscience through the College of Arts and Sciences and economics through the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs .

Integrating three different majors into one career path and then facing a major interruption due to the coronavirus pandemic has been challenging. But the Office of Undergraduate Academic and Career Advising in Arts and Sciences and Maxwell has adopted a unique approach that enhances the level of support students receive. “Since students’ academic and career journeys are intertwined, every advisor is an academic advisor and a career advisor,” says Matthew R. Wheeler, associate director of alumni relations for the College of Arts and Science’s academic and career advising team. Wheeler’s position was created within the past year to enhance outreach to alumni to create new opportunities for students. The department continues to serve its students through Zoom and online meetings to ensure that students flourish academically, and career exploration is emphasized. “We engage alumni specifically to support our students’ academic and career development through programming, and asked them to be available for video chats and phone calls with students. We’ve received a tremendous response,” Wheeler says.

We engage alumni specifically to support our students’ academic and career development through programming, and asked them to be available for video chats and phone calls with students. We’ve received a tremendous response.

Sharing Knowledge and Experience

Typically, alumni-student programming like informational interviews, workplace visits and job shadow experiences takes place over academic breaks. “Because of COVID-19, the program is limited to remote connections, but it is no longer bound to a particular timeframe,” Wheeler notes. “We intend to use this as the basis for an ongoing alumni networking/mentoring program so that our students will always have open opportunities to engage with alumni through the Arts and Sciences and Maxwell advising office. Our alumni have a wealth of knowledge to share, and students are eager to learn from them,” he adds.

The student-alumni connection is especially important in difficult times like this, according to Wheeler. “The pandemic has disrupted our students’ lives, but it doesn’t mean they have to put their career development on hold,” he points out. “This provides them with another tool, shows them that their college and alumni communities are here to support them, and also provides a fulfilling experience for the alum. It’s a chance to support students during an extremely challenging time.”

Irving Gonzalez portrait
Irving Gonzalez ’21 is majoring in biotechnology and neuroscience in the College of Arts and Sciences and economics in the Maxwell School.

Gonzalez’s original career path was shaped by his mother’s battle with a neurological disorder that took her life before he graduated from high school. “I was determined to become a neurologist,” he says. “Because I was still grieving the loss of my mother, little did I know there was a learning-filled rollercoaster ahead of me.”

He now hopes to combine his undergraduate foundation in science and global markets with a law degree and pursue a career in intellectual property law. “People are always imagining new ways to create valuable products for the medical field, like the anti-seizure medication my mother took,” he says. “I want to be able to protect the rights of companies to own what they create.”

Good Matches for Great Careers

Thanks to the alumni mentoring program, students like Gonzalez can now explore career options in a variety of industries before they graduate. “Last semester I was matched with a CFO at a biopharmaceutical company and a shareholder of a diverse law firm,” says Gonzalez, who is still in contact with those mentors. “Recently, I have been matched to an associate at a therapeutics company, an investment corporation leader, and an assistant professor of law practice at Boston College.”

Prior to “meeting” their mentors, students are required to attend a training session via Zoom that emphasizes networking skills and reinforces appropriate, professional behavior in their interactions with alumni. “They are encouraged to network on their own, but by facilitating a connection for them we allow them to ease into networking with talented and experienced professionals who can be influential in their careers,” Wheeler says.

Gonzalez is so grateful for the opportunities that have come his way since he first set his sights on Syracuse University that he wants to pay it forward. “I’m a first-generation college student, and receiving this scholarship was one of the greatest things anyone has ever done for me,” he says. “Syracuse has equipped me with more resilience than I ever imagined, and I am thankful. Once I establish my career, I’d love to mentor a future Syracuse University student. Why not give back to the institution that has given me so much?”

Mary Beth Horsington

This story was published on .

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