By Tamir Virani
For students nearing the completion of their post-secondary education, the mere thought of entering the real world to find a job is enough to send shivers down any spine. Luckily, the Algonquin College Foundation hopes to help alleviate at least some of the anxiety with Industry Talks, a networking event aimed at connecting college alumni with current students.
The event, which was hosted Nov. 27 for the first time in the Student Commons, brought back alumni from the business marketing program on a speaker panel for current students in the program.
“Alumni relations fell back under the (Algonquin College) Foundation about two years ago and we’ve been really excited about it,” said Graham Thompson, manager of Major Gifts and Alumni Relations.
Since then, the foundation has been brainstorming ways to increase alumni connection to the college and keep Algonquin in the minds of students who have moved on to the workforce.
“There’s a lot of proud alumni out there and we want to keep the connections tight, and engage current students,” said Thompson. “With every year there’s anywhere from six to 7,000 new members being added to the group.”
That student engagement evolved into Industry Talks, with Algonquin’s business marketing program serving as the pilot for its first test launch.
“We knew there were certain pockets wherein faculty were bringing in former students so we wanted to start with business marketing because we knew that Bill Garbarino (the program’s director,) already had those established connections with his former students,” said Thompson.
Bill Garbarino, the business marketing program director, has already organized a number of events involving his current and former students at the program level through Ottawa 67s hockey games, outings to Mooney’s Bay and other gatherings.
“It’s been a relatively small scale so far but the foundation recognized there were a lot of things this program was doing to maintain connections,” said Garbarino. “They came to me and said ‘we want to start a new concept.’ They said ‘we want to get alumni talking to current students.’”
Garbarino accepted, noting it would be a natural extension of what he was already doing. It was through this relationship that Industry Talks was born.
“It’s crucial for students to see the success of graduates, see that they were able to get a job after graduation and move their career to a whole new level,” Garbarino explained. “They can see stats online but to actually see it through the eyes of those who have gone down the path, it’s a powerful message coming from alumni.”
For the event itself, six diverse alumni were chosen to speak on a guest panel and answer questions from current students. The audience was composed of current students and other former students as well.
Despite a blistering snowstorm the night before, the event kicked off without a hitch beginning with the guest panel and ending with refreshments and the chance for both former and current students to mingle and form connections.
“These events allow students to ask questions without pressure. It gives them the opportunity to see a large variety of things to go on,” said Sarah Ormon, one of the six guest panel speakers. Ormon graduated from the business administration program in 2009 and is currently a product marketing manager at InGenius Software. She is an advocate of maintaining connection, especially with former classmates.
“This event provides a perfect forum for students to find out where they fit in,” she said.
Jennifer Willmetts, another guest panel member and former student, added that it’s important for students to apply everywhere after graduation and give themselves more credit than they think.
“Dream big. When I graduated my motto was ‘be a sponge’, always ask questions and just have the thirst for learning,” she said.
The guest panel touched upon key skills, establishing strong network connections and the importance of leveraging program experience. They also stressed the importance of physical and mental health, through things such as yoga and reading and ‘technology shutdown weekends’ in which you remove yourself from the grid entirely for two days.
With the outcome of the event, it is likely the Algonquin College Foundation will reach out to other programs to host as well.
“Now that we’ve had one, we will survey students and get some ideas for other potential topics,” said Thompson.
“What’s nice about this is that it’s a structured and repeatable formula. It’ll ensure there are ongoing connections and it will keep alumni close to the college,” Garbarino added. “Some of these alumni will be in hiring positions and these connections will make them keep the Algonquin pedigree in mind when hiring.”
Keep an eye on the Algonquin College Foundation website at http://www3.algonquincollege.com/foundation/ to find out when the next alumni-related event will take place.