Students and professionals connect on Columbia College's main campus.
By Whitney Dreier
Good food and good company are essential for gray, rainy days, and the crowd that gathered for Speed Networking on Oct. 17 enjoyed both. Hot soup and sandwiches were available to the 30-plus students and 12 local professionals (many of them alumni) who gathered in Dulany Hall for the second-ever such event, hosted by Career Services and Alumni Relations.
“When I was a student, there wasn’t anything like this,” says Courtney Lauer-Myers ’11, legislative assistant to Senator Jane Cunningham. Although Lauer-Myers graduated in December 2011, just two months prior to the first Speed Networking event, she was excited to contribute this time around as an alumna and area professional. “As long as students come in with an open mind, hopefully they’ll be able to understand that there are opportunities everywhere,” she said prior to the event.
Students began the evening in the Lee Room with a crash course in how to network; the Career Services staff offered tips on introductions, handshakes and appropriate questions to ask during a networking event, among other things. “It teaches softer skills, such as how to talk to people, and how to conduct yourself,” says Don Malson, Director of Career Services. The students, who registered in advance, also received 30 business cards that listed their names, contact information, major and year in school.
At 6 p.m. the doors to the Banquet Room opened, and each professional sat at a table with two or three students. Every 7 minutes a bell (specifically a cowbell belonging to Senior Director of Alumni Relations Susan Davis) rang, and students moved clockwise around the room. “It’s kind of like speed dating, but not,” Malson jokes.
Students were not looking for jobs or undergoing interviews. Rather, they asked the professionals about their workplace experiences and for advice about the “real world.”
Carol Winkler ’93, a plan administrator for MFA Retirement Plans, sat at a table with seniors Dee Ann Nowlin-Green and Kasey May. “If you do networking, if you get to know someone, it makes a difference,” she told the girls. “If we’re checking references, and someone knows you, it gives you more credibility.” She also advised them to do their homework when applying to jobs – research the requirements and make sure to include them (if you have them) in a cover letter and resume. Toward the end of the 7 minutes, May asked Winkler for her best interview advice. The response? “Be composed. Be able to speak well and answer questions without having nervous habits – twisting your hair or rocking in your chair – so we can focus on what you’re saying without being distracted.”
Junior Jessica Houston was among the students who attended. “I’m excited to be here; I know that networking is a huge part of being successful and being happy where you work,” says the business administration major. “It’s also really exciting to meet alumni.”
Bill Johnston ’82, an account executive at Shelter Insurance, felt the same way about interacting with students. “It’s a good opportunity to help students – to let them talk to people in the business community in a semi-casual atmosphere – and to give back to the college.”
After visiting every table, students mingled with professionals at a dessert social. Over cookies, brownies, Rice Krispy treats and cupcakes, all agreed the evening was successful – and necessary in this economy. “Anything you can do to encourage students is good,” says Lori Meyer ’87, an underwriting supervisor at Shelter Insurance. “The job market is a little scary.”
“It’s weighing on their minds,” Malson agrees. “Is there going to be a job for me? Well, who else would know but people in these professions? You never know what will become of these connections.”