In the Spotlight: Alumni Pay It Forward, Taking the Next Step

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by Anne Groggel, Staff Writer for the University Community Service Center Newsletter

For undergraduate Leyla Gutierrez, last Saturday began as usual, with breakfast. However, this time she shared her morning coffee with over 1,200 second and third-year students and 300 alumni, who gathered in the Loop for 'Taking the Next Step' (TNS). TNS is an annual forum where alumni give back to students, offering practical career advice and the opportunity to re-imagine their career potential beyond the scope of their program of study.

Fields in the non-profit sector, and the importance of volunteerism were highlighted at this year’s TNS, which drew alumni for diverse panels, ranging from Banking and Financial Services to Education, Teaching, and Policy. Gutierrez attended a session on NGOs, Policy and International Relations. It was "a great networking opportunity—I walked away with a great contact to help me seek internships," she said.

Taking the Next Step is " an effective way to interact with professionals," according to Scott Morris AB ’86, MBA ’92.

Whether attending panels, lunch roundtables, or taking in the message of keynote speaker David Medina AB ‘91, students like Collen Belak, class 2012, found solace in hearing about alumni experiences. "It was reassuring knowing that they were once where I am now," Belak said.

Medina currently serves as the Peace Corps' Director of Public Engagement and External Relations. As Director he manages national Peace Corps initiatives that promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans. Medina also builds and maintains partnerships between the Peace Corps and non-profit organizations in the United States. Growing up 15 minutes outside of Hyde Park he "wanted to devote my life to helping the poor and I knew U of C would do just that.”

Medina recalled talking about his shared experiences of South Side Chicago. Medina's CV is not only impressive, it speaks to the importance of student involvement early on in areas they are passionate about. While he stressed that "learning how to think critically and collaborate with individuals from many different backgrounds" as something he gained from the University of Chicago he urged students to gravitate more toward community service. During a panel session he explained that extracurricular activities are one of the things he considers when interviewing candidates. “It was interesting to hear their stories about community service because it shows how to find a balance between getting a career and serving others," said fourth-year Evette Addai.

Daniel Peiser, AB '84 recommended that students volunteer. "For a career in the not-for-profit field, volunteerism offers students an excellent avenue for both entering the field and faster career advancement. " He currently works as a consultant in not-for-profit management and development. Peiser shared his experience with students having spent over twenty years working for non-profits in Canada and the United States.

Peiser introduced volunteering as a functional entry for students to learn areas in organizations while giving students "a chance to do good” through volunteering for an organization that may relate to their chosen career field.

“The SummerLinks program, [for example], is a great opportunity for students who are contemplating a career in community service - one which I wish I'd had back when I was in The College," he said.


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