Trustees, Overseers Part of Networking Event For Students

Sara Platnick

A group of 20 trustees and overseers, in addition to meeting for February committee meetings, spent time on Feb. 3 to meet with students in an on-campus networking event hosted by the Student Engagement Center.

The purpose of this event was to connect a range of Whitman students with alumni contacts who could be a resource later when students are seeking employment. Networking allows students to build relationships with people that can later provide them with advice, guidance or suggestions, and helps them learn how to communicate with others in a professional setting.

“We are giving students an hour to learn as much as they can from people who have the current students’ best interests in mind and are also there to be helpful…The board members choose to add this event to part of their time at Whitman [during trustee meetings] because they really want to make themselves and their knowledge about the professional world available to students,” said Associate Dean for Student Engagement Noah Leavitt.  

Before the networking event took place, the SEC hosted training for students attending so that they would be more comfortable and prepared for the Wednesday afternoon event. Students were walked through how to act professionally, how to communicate most effectively and how to make a good first impression.

“The term network sometimes puts a queasy feeling in the pit of [students’] stomachs because it can have a negative connotation of [a] schmooze-y kind of space, but really networking is about building relationships, making connections with people and having great conversations…I think that’s where being able to be confident and present in that space, to understand how to be effective in that space, is a really helpful skill,” said Kim Rolfe, Director of Business Engagement at the SEC.

Some of the tips that the SEC gave students included asking open-ended questions to continue a conversation, asking for business cards if you want to follow-up with somebody later, using a good handshake and maintaining eye contact when introducing yourself and always chewing with your mouth closed.

Students were invited to the event by the SEC and were selected for a variety of reasons. The SEC wanted to select students who had shown involvement with professional development and networking in the past, and wanted students from a wide pool of areas, rather than selecting students from one year, activity or academic interest.

“We wanted to get a broad spectrum of students, and one of the things we did is [identify] students who have been coming in and engaging with us and actively seeking information about how to network with employers, how to talk with professionals out in the world, how to go about finding internships and how to use LinkedIn and the Whitman alumni database…We selected students from this pool,” said Gayle Townsend, assistant director of career development at the SEC.

Overall, students and the SEC found the event to be successful, as students were actively engaged in conversations with the trustees and overseers for the duration of the event.

“The overseers were incredibly friendly and they all knew that we wanted to get to know them, and they all knew that we were pretty nervous and so they were incredibly friendly and were open to communication. They gave me their business cards, which was very sweet…I feel like I’ve gotten some really fantastic connections that I can utilize in the future, and I’ve just gotten to know some really interesting people, both current and former Whitman students,” said senior Samantha Grainger Shuba, who attended the event.