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Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet

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Wine bar on 2200 Penn opens doors
By Ella Mitchell, Contributing News Editor • June 14, 2024

GW facilitates small-group career sessions with alumni, students

Senior Matt Golden said the events serve as a way to network with professionals without the added pressure of a formal setting.

The University’s newest alumni engagement initiative is also helping students network and find jobs.

Officials hosted the first-ever “Coffee with Colonials” events this month, kicking off a program sponsored by the Office of Alumni Relations that matches groups of current students with alumni volunteers to discuss career advice. Officials and students said the events have helped students connect with interested alumni who can guide their careers and offer life experiences.

University spokeswoman Maralee Csellar said “dozens” of students have participated in the program so far, and the initiative will continue as long as students and alumni are benefiting from the sessions. She said alumni volunteered to participate in the program after officials sent the opportunity via email and publicized it at alumni and career events.

“We wanted to create more opportunities for students and alumni to interact with each other in more informal settings,” she said.

Csellar said students and alumni have told officials that they appreciated the connections made during the sessions. Alumni volunteered to participate in the program after learning about it from emails from the alumni office and marketing at alumni and career events, she said.

She added that there is no set topic of discussion for the coffee sessions, and each conversation varies.

“Some students may want advice about a general career field, while others may want to discuss the company that the alum works for,” she said in an email.

She declined to say how many students and alumni the University is aiming to reach.

A total of four networking sessions with six alumni were offered in March, according to emails from the alumni office. Students could attend sessions with professionals in different fields like political communication and special education.

Alumna Helen Ulan, a digital strategist at Digital Management, Inc., and her husband Tom Ulan, a consultant at a computer services company, hosted a session earlier this month at their home to talk about their careers. Ulan graduated with a Master of Fine Arts in 1987 and said she also taught visual communication as an adjunct professor at GW for a decade until 2005.

Four students attended the session, and Ulan said the event allowed them to both learn about a field they were interested in and network in a small group. She said she volunteered to host the event because, as a first-generation student, she remembered the multitude of questions she had about finding jobs and navigating college.

She said her experience in a broad range of digital strategy jobs – managing social media at Verizon for more than a decade and helping Fortune 500 companies implement interactive software – also helped students understand how to adapt in a changing field.

“I had a multidimensional career path,” she said. “Some of these jobs weren’t there when I started my work life.”

One of the attendees, sophomore Jesse Cardinal, said he initially applied to go to the event because he was interested in the Ulans’ expertise in digital communication. But he said the event focused more on connecting with the family, and the couple was “charismatic” and wanted to know about students’ lives and experiences.

Cardinal added that the pair was supportive of the students’ career goals and answered questions about what it was like to work in the field. He said he would feel comfortable reaching out to them in the future because they showed “authentic” interest in the students.

“It was a lot more geared toward what they could help us do,” he said. “It was less about them than I thought it would be.”

Senior Matt Golden, a psychology major who also attended the Ulans’ event, said the meeting was similar to an information session that students might attend while conducting a job or internship search with professionals without the added pressure of a formal setting. He said the small group, instead of a one-on-one information interview, allowed students to relax while still learning about a field they were interested in.

“It’s a good setting,” he said. “You can meet people with similar interests, and the meeting is already set up and it’s much less awkward.”

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