UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State alumnus RJ Cilley still keeps in contact with his former Schreyer Honors College classmates. They can give him an ear or perspective that his co-workers cannot.
“I always put a lot of weight into connections,” Cilley said, “but I don’t think I really understood, as an undergrad, how important they were going to be in the future.”
Three dozen Schreyer Honors Alumni met with more than 120 Penn State students at the Forest Resources Building on March 25 for Connect, the Schreyer Honors College’s annual alumni-student career event.
Cilley, the vice president of business operations for Hudson's Bay, Lord & Taylor and Home Outfitters, was one of several alumni who discussed their nonlinear career tracks and urged students to expect the same.
“You have to personally define what you want to get out of your career, but you might get there in different ways,” Cilley said. “I think always having a vision of what you want to do is most important, and then have that flexibility that the path is not going to be the way you set it up Day One.”
That message was well-received by students, many of whom are preparing to enter the workforce after graduating in May.
“I’m considering going more of a nontraditional path,” said Schreyer Scholar Amanda Reese, a senior majoring in biology and molecular biology and Spanish. “It was somewhat comforting to hear a lot of people talking about how some of the experiences they didn’t ever anticipate shaped their career path. It made me feel better about the future.”
Alumni took questions during various panel sessions, including those on the medical and law professions, graduate school, consulting, innovation and entrepreneurship, finance and “Real World 101.” They discussed careers in the private sector, nonprofits and academia and how they intersect.
“You heard a lot of different life lessons with similar threads,” said Luke Gockowski, a senior mechanical engineering major and Presidential Leadership Academy member who recently took an interest in entrepreneurship. “There was somebody who’d been an entrepreneur for 40 years, and he had three set mantras. Somebody (else) was closer to graduating, and didn’t have that experience yet but knew about e-commerce, for example, how to guide consumers to certain channels so they buy more of your products.
“You need both of those types of information.”
Following the sessions, students met with alumni in small groups or one-on-one, working to build some new connections that could help them in the coming months or years.
“It’s greatly appreciated,” Reese said. “It definitely boosts your confidence when you’ve got the contact info of somebody when you’re trying to cold-call or email them. It gives us hope that we’re going to be able to soon strengthen and contribute to that alumni network.”