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Kalamazoo College

Director's Notes

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from Joan Hawxhurst

Getting to Follow: Student-Driven Career Programming

February 15, 2016 at 1:46 pm
By Joan Hawxhurst

Last week I had the delightful opportunity to follow rather than lead. I helped support a panel discussion conceptualized, organized and implemented by Rey Hernandez ’16, one of the seniors in our “Crafting a Life” seminar last fall.

Among the “Crafting a Life” assignments were informational interviews that allowed each senior to develop a relationship with a K alum in a career field of interest.  For Rey, the field was urban planning. Through a series of conversations about values, accomplishments, and career experiences, Rey had gotten to know Erin Thoresen ’02, a transportation planner for a design and consulting firm in Atlanta. Urban Planning Panel 2

Rey is this year’s Departmental Student Advisor (DSA) for K’s Public Policy and Urban Affairs concentration, and as he realized the benefits of learning from alumni professionals in this field, he began to envision an opportunity for others in the concentration to benefit from the wisdom and experience of alumni like Erin.  His idea that DSAs could organize panel discussions featuring alumni from their discipline became the focus of a group project in “Crafting a Life,” and I was thrilled when he reached out after winter break to tell me he was organizing a panel discussion entitled “Alumni in the Urban Planning Profession.”

Rey set a date and began making arrangements.  He arranged for Erin and fellow alum Justin Dula ’99, Community and Regional Planning section manager at the Delaware County Planning Department, to join the panel via Skype.  He invited local alumna Andrea Augustine ‘00, who had spent time as the first female City Planner for the city of Kalamazoo, to attend in person.  With the help of concentration director and economics faculty member Chuck Stull, he spread the word among students, thirteen of whom showed up for the event. 

Urban Planning Panel My jobs, on behalf of the CCPD, were to reserve a room and bring food.  Rey maneuvered his way through the Skype set-up, using a laptop, webcam, and microphone provided by Media Services.  He provided a handout with biographical and contact information for each panelist.  He welcomed the audience, introduced the panelists, and moderated the discussion. He wrapped up on time, thanked the alumni and students in attendance, and wrote thank-you notes afterwards.  It was an informative and well-executed event that Rey will be able to point to in job interviews to showcase his organizational skills and public speaking competency.

As Rey and I talked about this event, we hoped that it might inspire other DSAs to develop similar alumni connections for students in other majors and concentrations.

In brief remarks at the end of the evening, I encouraged other students to imagine themselves organizing panel discussions featuring alumni in their major, or alumni in career fields of interest to them. Time will tell if Rey’s example prods others to take on similar leadership roles—and I look forward to more opportunities to be the one who follows.