Under Construction encourages students to build skills, careers

Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences recently launched Under Construction, a networking event intended to connect current Dietrich College students with alumni who have made successful careers in a variety of fields, including public policy, entrepreneurship, and technology. Hosted on Feb. 23, at the Oakland Holiday Inn, the event consisted of lunch with alumni of Carnegie Mellon’s humanities programs, followed by a panel session.

“Your education allows you to go in many directions,” said Deitrich College consultant Debra Ignelzi. “This event is about learning how to do that.”

Before the alumni entered the event, senior decision science major Chris Sparks offered advice on how to interact with the alumni and potential recruiters. “You need to present yourself in such a way that they remember you,” Sparks said, explaining that he often introduces himself to potential employers with the phrase, “I see myself as a lighthouse.”

As the event began, Beverley Wheeler (DC ’76, HNZ ’78), the former president of the Carnegie Mellon Alumni Association, opened with words of encouragement for the students “to take advantage of the alumni association.” She reassured the students that the alumni would be incredible resources for them.

Keynote speaker Joshua Knauer (DC ’95) pointed out many examples of men and women who have formed successful companies with their “soft” degrees, including himself. Knauer has a degree in environmental ethics and policy. Since graduating, he founded a successful Internet-based business, Rhiza Labs, and also served on the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.

“Those of you sitting here are going to have at least seven jobs in your career life,” he said, emphasizing the need for creativity in a job market that lacks job security. Knauer went on to address the influence of the upcoming economic sequester by the federal government, and how this situation emphasizes the need for one to further develop one’s career. This fact, Knauer noted, especially applies to those who wish to work in startups. In an interview after his speech, Knauer cemented this concept, adding that “a startup is inherently irrational.”

Knauer added that the creativity inherent in the liberal arts helps much more than the more technical degrees do, but he still believes that “it’s better to have some control over your future career.”

In her speech, Emily Feenstra, a senior international relations and politics and policy and management double major, encouraged her fellow students to ask questions about the advantages and disadvantages of the alumni’s fields.

The panels offered at Under Construction provided an open forum of discussion for students.

The topics included marketing, education, museums, public health, and think tanks.

In the panel focused on entrepreneurship, students were given guidance on how to ask for money from investors.

“I learned a lot of valuable things about the life of a consultant,” junior policy and management major Branden Wiles said of the discussion at the entrepreneurship panel. “It’s so general and so broad, to have CMU alumni coming to tell you about it ... is definitely a valuable insight to have.”

Regarding the panel on think tanks, Stanley Krasner, a sophomore economics and math double major, stated, “I think it represented a really nice cross-section of alumni who all had interesting stories and perspectives.”

Krasner also served on the student committee advising the event.

The feedback on the program from attending students was generally positive.

“Under Construction was a great experience for me.... I was able to talk to and learn from Dietrich alumni who are in the midst of doing what I want to do,” sophomore international relations and politics major Chloe Hawker stated via email. “I learned a lot about the industries and made some contacts with whom I’m excited to follow up and cultivate a professional relationship.”

Sophomore creative and professional writing double major Jaime Fawcett thought the event was informative. “It was really cool seeing what alumni from Dietrich College are doing,” she said.

However, Fawcett felt that the event also had some shortcomings, saying that students did not have ample time to pose questions to many of the speakers once their presentations had concluded.

Overall, Fawcett believed the event was useful.

“I think it is a good process, but I feel like they should open it up to freshmen.”

She thought that first-year students would benefit from the stories of alumni just as much as upper class students would.

As the event neared its end, Feenstra closed the gathering by saying, “You’re building on your experiences, not figuring out your end goal.”