By Dawson Heath
On Tuesday, March 26, the Department of Writing hosted a networking event for students in the WRT 490 internship class and OPW members. I attended as one of the OPW e-board members.
The purpose of the event was to provide students with the opportunity to build communication skills in a low-stakes, controlled environment with real professionals. Writing faculty Laurence José and Dauvan Mulally organized the event with Lisa Knapp from the Career Center. They invited 9 writing professionals: Robyn Gordon, employee development & internal communications manager at JR Automation; Meahgan Pear, national senior marketing manager at BDO; Pam Patton, copywriter and content developer for print, web, and broadcast; Kari Moore, managing editor at Zondervan; Dave Yonkman, public relations campaign advisor at DYS Media; Rachel Weick, editor at SVK Multimedia & Publishing; Jessica Biegalle, creative lead, digital & social design at Meijer’s; Kristina Pepelko, travel writer, editor, and storytelling strategist; and, Mieke Stoub, marketing manager at Local First of West Michigan.
Prior to meeting the professionals, students participated in a “networking tips” session coordinated by Lisa Knapp on February 28. There, they learned about ways to start a conversation, design and print business cards, and how to learn more about the guests’ professional background.
The evening began with a 30-minute Q&A warm up period with Lisa Knapp and the students. The professionals arrived around 6pm. After a short round of introductions and a stop at the buffet to get some snacks and beverages, professionals and students started to mingle. Despite my apprehension, my experience was overwhelmingly positive. The professionals were generous, made us feel comfortable, and helped us to get conversations started. The atmosphere was welcoming and casual.
I felt a little nervous at the beginning but, after a few minutes, I started a conversation with Dave Yonkman about his career experience and current company. We also talked about my path in the major and post-graduation plans. Dave gave me great advice, the most important of which was “Don’t be afraid to make connections and not take no for an answer.” During the evening, I also talked to Robyn Gordon about the company she works for, JR Automation. One of the reasons I was looking forward to talking to Robyn was that JR Automation has been hiring a lot of GVSU Writing majors; she also has experience as a technical writer, a field I have been considering pursuing. She was kind, gave me great advice and was able to provide me with valuable insight. I gave my business card to both Dave and Robyn.
I was not the only one who had a positive experience; all of the students who attended had good things to say. For instance, OPW member and GVSU senior Kelly Tekiela noted: “I realized that I was nervous for the whole thing, but really the only difficult thing is the introduction. Once that’s done, it’s just a conversation.” Chelsea Best, a GVSU junior, writing major, and fellow OPW member shared this about her experience: “Though networking can be intimidating, I feel lucky to be in a program where GVSU alumni and other professionals are excited and willing to help prepare students for the workforce.” Rachel Kornoelje, another senior, writing major, and OPW member reflected on how the event allowed her to push her boundaries: “To have a ‘safe space’ if you will, to practice our networking skills was extremely helpful, and it encouraged me to step outside of my comfort zone.”
Given the success of this first iteration, Prof. Mulally and José are already planning for similar events for next year. In a context where most jobs are filled via networking, knowing how to make a good impression and build relationships is key for entering the job market.