Students and Alumni Get “Real” About Life After Graduation

Emily Lin-Jones

“I had no idea what I wanted to do when I got out of school,” said alumna Kate Morrison ’95 to a small group of students gathered in Reid Campus Center 240 on Monday, Oct. 22. For the next hour, she described her journey to her current career as a freelance web and graphic designer and answered questions from students interested in entering that field. The event was the sixth installment in the Student Engagement Center’s Real Talk with Alumni series, a semester-long series of workshops that invites local alumni from a variety of professions to share insight and career advice in a small group discussion setting.

Alumna Kate Morrison ’95 shared her career experience after Whitman with students this Monday. Photos by Halley McCormick.

According to Assistant Dean for Student Engagement Noah Leavitt, the series was developed in response to student feedback requesting more opportunities to be in direct contact with alumni.

“This came about because students, over and over, tell us that they would really love to have more contact with alumni,” he said. A survey of last year’s senior class found that 97 percent of respondents wanted a top priority of SEC to be creating more opportunities for student engagement with alumni.

Potential participants must register by submitting a brief application explaining their interest in a particular session. Each session of Real Talk can accommodate a maximum of 15 students.

“Our goal for these is small discussions, for the students who are coming to have really productive and meaningful exchanges with someone who can be informative and potentially professionally helpful to them,” said Leavitt.

Students at the Real Talk presentation this Monday.

The discussion-based aspect of the sessions is intended to facilitate more networking between students and Walla Walla-based alumni, creating potential connections to local job openings and internships.

“Being in Walla Walla, it’s tough to get in contact with alumni in many cases,” said junior Kayvon Behroozian, who helped develop the Real Talk program over the summer as an SEC intern. “But we have so many alumni that are local that are doing amazing things. This is one of the best opportunities you can take, because we have alumni from all different professions and a good variety of them are represented in the Real Talk series.”

According to senior Lauren Maher-Payne, the current SEC office intern, a majority of student participants have found the program useful.

“All of the feedback has been enormously positive. I think that people have taken away different things, but everyone has found something they can apply to their life,” she said.

In her session, Morrison shared her experience working for nonprofits, doing marketing for various companies and starting her own design business. She offered advice on finding employment after graduation, advising students to be flexible and ready to learn on the job.

“Know how you work best and look for opportunities wherever you find them,” she told attendees.

Students came to the session armed with plenty of questions about acquiring marketable skills, self-employment and design.

“It’s really nice how kind of informal it is,” said first-year Cody Burchfield. “I feel like any questions in this realm I have I could now ask her, and she would respond.”

Maher noted that the Real Talk series marks the first visible step in an ongoing effort by SEC to respond more to student feedback and bring in more alumni contacts.

“I think it’s key that we’re responding to students’ needs in a manner that extends throughout the entire semester,” she said.

The SEC hopes to invite all the alumni and students who have participated in the Real Talk workshops to a reception in November, and is looking into continuing the series for the spring semester.

The next Real Talk session is on Monday, Oct. 29 and will focus on small business management, with alumni Alasdair Stewart ’94 and Holly Nelson ’98.