The Office of Personal Career Development (OPCD) has launched the university’s first Virtual Alumni Panel, amassing a network of 34 notable UD alumni from all four colleges — including two with Bachelor of Science in physics degrees and 27 with Bachelor of Arts degrees in 15 different disciplines with majors such as art, history, English and classical philology — and connecting them with current students seeking professional career advice.
After collaborating with the Office of Alumni Relations, UD’s four colleges, and other departments on campus this past year to refine and make actionable the university’s Quality Enhancement Plan (Discern. Experience. Achieve.), the OPCD then distributed a community-wide survey to students and alumni with the aim of increasing engagement and ultimately growing UD’s student-alumni network. The survey, in turn, led to the development of the Virtual Alumni Panel.
“We have responses from alumni all over the country,” said Amy Young, associate director of personal career development. “We’re getting more and more questions and submissions from students, indicating a deep interest in what our alumni have to say.”
Since its launch, more than a dozen students have engaged with these alumni advisers, asking various career-related questions, such as “How can I build my professional network? How can I get started as a professional writer? Should I go to graduate school for engineering?”
Together, these panel advisers who respond to these questions represent a larger network of UD professionals whose success was cultivated by their liberal education and who now work across various industries and fields. These alumni advisers include Mathew Carruthers, BA ’92 (physics), structures technician at SpaceX (the private aerospace manufacturer founded by Elon Musk to enable the colonization of Mars); Justin Lebon, BA ’06 (history), chief dispatcher at Southwest Airlines; Victoria Williamson, BA ’13 MA ’15 (psychology), program manager at Catalyst Health Network; and UD’s 2017 Fulbright recipient, Phillip Wozniak, BA ’15 (biology), clinical research assistant at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and Ohio State University.
“One of the most difficult aspects of my position is that you can’t give students a blueprint for finding a job,” said Young.
The Virtual Alumni Panel is one solution that the OPCD devised to address this difficulty, which provides students with more than a mere internet bookmark as they prowl the web for career advice.
“‘Networking’ is a dirty word that people don’t understand, even though 70 percent of all jobs are found through networking,” said Young. “Right now our students are in a petri dish of curiosity and creativity at the University of Dallas — by forging connections with successful UD alumni, they can start building a professional network that will follow them throughout their careers.”
With this school year bringing in the largest freshman class in the university’s history, Young expects the Virtual Alumni Panel to continue growing as new students begin searching for professional internships, employment and other career opportunities, and more alumni volunteer to serve as advisers.
“We have to evangelize the benefits of a liberal arts education,” she continued. “At the University of Dallas, and especially in the Office of Personal Career Development, we encourage professional discernment and gained experience, so students can achieve graduation and their desired career aspirations. The new alumni panel supports a large, unified effort.”
On the OPCD blog, current students may submit career-related question to UD’s Virtual Alumni Panel under the tab “Ask an Alumnus”; panelists then weigh in on questions from students, with topics ranging from how to leverage yourself on LinkedIn to cultivating lasting relationships and gaining valuable skills in your career.
“Students can address their question to one specific alumnus or to the entire panel,” explained Young. “Once a student submits a question and we receive a response from an adviser, we go through an editing process before publishing the results on the OPCD blog.”
“‘What is the most effective means of building relationships?’ I’ve learned that the best way to build professional relationships is to contact people directly,” said Stanley Muckenthaler, BA ’75 (economics) MBA ’77, retired vice president and director of sales and business operations at Fujitsu, Cisco and HP; he wrote on his Virtual Alumni Panel profile, “UD taught me the discipline of critical thinking, to consider all aspects of a situation and to see the big picture.”
Throughout the academic year, the OPCD also regularly hosts on-campus events and lectures to connect students with alumni and potential employers. Last year, more than 129 employers visited campus to recruit students, and just two weeks ago, the OPCD hosted the panel discussion “So You Majored In What?” in which several UD alumni shared advice with current students on how to leverage their liberal arts degrees.
The on-campus discussion invited students, faculty and staff with an opportunity to pose the panelists with a series of questions, such as “How did your background in liberal arts help you in your career? How do you balance the pursuit of education with the pursuit of a specifically liberal education? Do you use your major in your job?”
“I wandered in the desert for a good long mile,” responded Steven Harrell, BA ’09, communications specialist at Jackson Spalding. “With a liberal arts degree and especially with an English major, you’re really trained to tell stories and to synthesize large swaths of information from an intelligent point of view.”
“You’ll be surprised — you’ll use your major in unusual ways,” said Bob Hyde, BA ’75, who received his bachelor’s in education and now serves as senior vice president at the Bank of Texas.