GRI Alumni Brought the D.C. Professional Experience Directly to Students Via Zoom

By Katie Spofford ’22

One thing that has always stood out to me about William & Mary, and the Global Research Institute in particular, is how far students will push themselves outside their comfort zones in order to learn. Even in the best of times, meeting new people can be daunting. When the world  moved online and video chatting became the norm, the normal fears were elevated by poor internet connection and someone inevitably muting themselves. So, imagine my surprise when I logged onto Zoom to host the GRI’s virtual Career Conversations event and saw nearly 70 smiling faces looking back at me.

An adaptation of GRI’s D.C. Day, an annual networking event held in Washington for students to connect with alumni, the new Career Conversations promised a wide range of graduates discussing the transition from student to professional life. In this new format, students were matched with alumni in a series of breakout sessions. Alums from the classes of 1980-2020 spoke on their work in international development, global health, and government consulting, to list a few. As a host, I jumped in and out of breakout rooms throughout the event. The alumni were even more exceptional than their resumes indicated, offering wisdom and anecdotes about living in Europe, chasing down a story lead, and pursuing democracy abroad. In the words of Venu Katta ’16, “Some of my conversations touched on specific skills that are advantageous, thoughts to consider when applying to graduate programs, and hiring mechanisms into public service. I enjoyed these conversations as a student to get more nuts-and-bolts help with preparing myself for professional life and now am grateful to be able to help even a little bit for students on the other side.”

People in professional attire and name tags, in one on one discussions.

Venu Katta (right) chatting with W&M student at our 2019 DC Day.

Students came prepared with thoughtful questions, opening the door for deep and personal conversations. Alumni discussed the changing workplace amid a pandemic and the struggle of making connections over video chat. Many students shared that they enjoyed the online setting more than in-person networking, as they were able to take rapid notes on their laptops while still engaging in the conversation. The overall effect was that of office hours with a well-liked professor, pairing a small group setting’s intimacy with professional connection-building.

As a rising junior, I saw many familiar faces. Research Assistants from all of GRI’s projects as well as students just looking to grow their networks came out in full force. Particularly as we begin what is promised to be one of our most academically challenging years, it is heartening to see students, faculty, and alumni trying to maintain the W&M community we all know and cherish. This summer has left many students confused and nervous about the effects of a global pandemic on their future career plans. Myself, like many others, mourned the loss of networking events, workplace community, and the day-to-day relationships we have had to go without. While no Zoom meeting could ever fully fill the void of in-person communication, the Global Research Institute’s Career Conversations event came pretty close. I wasn’t alone in these positive feelings, Zenobia Goodman ’22, a member of the TRIP project, related, “By meeting with a bunch of W&M alumni, my career goals felt realistic and I now feel so much more confident about my future.” While there is so much uncertainty about the upcoming year, I am confident other students and I will persevere through these new circumstances with a network of faculty, staff, and alumni rooting for us all to succeed.

Categories: Careers, Research, Student Blogs, Student Leadership Development, W&M in Washington

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