By: Michelle Ferguson

Second-year marketing students and Algonquin alumni logged on to Twitter Jan. 16, as part of an in-class networking exercise.

For 30 minutes, students were able to connect with past graduates using a hashtag — #ACgradchat. The chat focused on succeeding in today’s industry, and provided a virtual networking opportunity for current marketing graduates.

“Part of my job is to teach them about networking,” said Patti Church, who organized the event as part of her skills in the workplace class, “but I want to teach them about virtual, as well as physical networking.”

With no travel involved, around a dozen alumni from across the province, as well as some in Halifax, were able to log on and share their insights — including Toronto-based CBC meteorologist Jay Scotland, local radio personalities Stuntman Stu and Mauler, and some of Algonquin’s internal staff.

The simplicity and the directness of the online platform allowed access to a broad mix of people, who may not have been available for a more traditional networking event, said Church. Even President Kent MacDonald was able to share his thoughts and insights between meetings, she said.
“To get him to physically come to a classroom like that, it takes two months — if you’re lucky.”

To get the conversation started, Church prepared a series of questions, but students were also encouraged to start “sideline” conversations of their own. The stream was projected at the front of class to make it easier for the class to follow.

The questions focused largely on what skills current employers valued most and how to look for first-time work experience. And although most of the advice reflected in-class material, Church said it helped to have industry professionals reinforce the concepts.

“I can tell them what they need to do, but to have outsiders tell them I knew would be more powerful,” she said.

Alumni almost unanimously highlighted the benefits of volunteering and the value of continuous learning, either formal or informal.

Samantha Hartley, a 2008 public relations graduate who now works as a direct marketer for the Conference Board of Canada, tweeted: “Volunteer, volunteer and then volunteer again. Great way to build resume/skills/experience and meet mature professionals.”

Brandon Waselnuk, a recent graduate of the business marketing program, now works at IBM as a user experience program manager, as well as teaching assistant at the college. An avid tweeter, he said he hoped the students got a lot out of the conversation, but that he was a little disappointed at how few actually took part.

“I just found that they missed an opportunity to ask questions,” he said. “They missed an opportunity to try and connect with us.”

Although Church said the event went “beautifully,” she was a bit surprised at how “novice” some of the students were at using Twitter, especially as marketing grads on their way out. Some students had no idea how to use the tool and just watched their fellow classmates.

Danika Weiss, a second-year marketing student, said that even though she’s still not “super comfortable” with Twitter, she thought it was a great way to meet people and stay connected with them. To Weiss the chat was “different,” but informative.

“Everyone’s always on their phones on Twitter,” she said. “But we could actually see it how it is a great learning tool and a trend in our industry.”