Windy City NetworkingPosted by admin on 3/14/13 • Categorized as Featured Stories
Chicago Field Day taps the college’s “most valuable asset”—its alumni.
By Lynn Vollbrecht’06
For nearly three decades, Econ Day has been a mainstay for economics majors at Beloit, taking students to Chicago for a day of face-to-face networking with alumni and conversations about life after college.
According to Director of Community-Based Learning Carol Wickersham, such an experience is “too rich an opportunity for only econ students.” With advice and help from Econ Day organizers, and the idea that a Beloit student’s education is made all the richer by direct interaction with alumni, Wickersham set about organizing a parallel event in 2010: Chicago Field Day. It operates on the same premise as Econ Day, but broadens the scope to attract a wider range of students.
While inspired by the success and popularity of Econ Day, there was another driving factor in Wickersham’s decision to create a comparable event for non-econ majors.
“Partly it was seeing the model of Econ Day, and [Allen-Bradley Chair in Economics] Jeff Adams was very generous in helping to shape the day,” she says. “But part of it has been to realize that one of the most valuable assets Beloit College has is its alumni. Alumni are incredibly generous with their time and expertise.”
Organized by the Liberal Arts in Practice Center with help from the Office of Alumni & Parent Relations, the most recent Chicago Field Day took place in November 2012, with 53 students participating. Instead of organizing each Field Day around one department, Wickersham instead aims to focus on a cluster of disciplines; the first year, it was social science, the second, English, education, and psychology. Throughout the day, students do site visits and chat with alumni both formally (panel discussions and presentations) and informally, during a networking event.
With its high concentration of Beloit alumni and close proximity to the college, Chicago is a natural fit for events like Field Day. This year, students visited the Chicago Field Museum for behind-the-scenes tours of the collections and Access Living, a nonprofit organization with a mission of advocating for people with disabilities.
“It’s also really helpful to be in the place,” Wickersham says. “There’s something about being in the bowels of the Field Museum and seeing the collections there that make it seem so real.”
For its part, Access Living is housed in a gold-level LEED-certified building, and that’s something that drew in Fulani Thrasher’12, who encountered the organization on the first Chicago Field Day in 2010. Now she works for Access Living, managing a support and advocacy group called the Empowered FeFes.
Access Living was founded by alumna Marca Bristo’74 and employs Gary Arnold’92 as its director of communications. Thrasher serves as the women and girls community organizer.
At the Field Day’s first iteration, Thrasher was a junior sociology major trying to suss out potential career paths. That day’s visit to Access Living was formative and eye-opening.
“The C.E.O. talked to us about thinking about disability and having conversations about disability. I’d never thought about it before,” Thrasher says. Nor had she heard of a C.E.O. taking the time to talk with a group of college students about career options. “The director of advocacy also talked to us about women and girls with disabilities, and I felt like her speech was very convincing and very shocking—the fact that we sort of isolate women and girls with disabilities. They’re not brought into the discussion of feminism and women’s rights.”
The sessions had such an impact that Thrasher emailed the advocacy director when she returned to Beloit. That connection led to an internship that turned into part-time work, which became a full-time position. Now she’s the one imparting advice to Beloit students as they visit Access Living on Chicago Field Day.
“The advice that I tried to focus on was keeping with it—if you start off as an intern or a volunteer, it can turn into a full-time job,” Thrasher says. “You’re not guaranteed a job or internship or anything like that, but it’s this huge resource, because you have people who have one thing in common, basically: they’re Beloit alums.”
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