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Learning from experience

Alums share life lessons with students

Kwaku Alson, Pari Dukovic and Alex Courtney
Celebrity photographer Kwaku Alston ’94 (photo illustration), keynote speaker for the College of Imaging Arts and Sciences’ spring Point A to Point B Conference, chats with students Pari Dukovic, center, and Alex Courtney about their work. The conference was aimed at helping students launch their careers.

Students can learn a lot from RIT grads, and a growing number of RIT graduates are sharing their knowledge and experience through a variety of volunteer opportunities.

“I absolutely love working with college students,” says Mary Ellen Adams Coleman ’86 (computer science), advisory software engineer for IBM’s User Experience and Design Systems and Technology Group in Poughkeeepsie, N.Y. As IBM’s Women in Technology liaison to RIT, Coleman volunteered to work with RIT’s Association of Women in Computing chapter to develop ideas to encourage and support women students. The group established a speaker series featuring women in executive, management and technical positions at IBM.

Among the five IBM speakers who came to RIT over the 2005-06 school year were Paula Spoth Cox ’87 (computer science) and Cynthia Smith Kenney ’92, ’95 (computer engineering technology, M.S. software development management).

“Our goal is to show women students what sorts of careers they can look forward to,” says Coleman, “to encourage them to continue in their studies.”

Larissa Stawnychy, a second-year computer science major, thought the program was quite successful. “Every speaker has been very interesting,” she says. “It’s helpful to hear about their experiences.”

Patricia Vonderahe and Richard Brainerd
Richard Brainerd ’91 (photography) and Patricia
Vonderahe ’87 (graphic design) talked to students about their work on Wegmans Food Markets’ Menu magazine and other projects. Vonderahe, creative director for Wegmans, oversees a team of 35 designers, one photographer and two copywriters. Brainerd, who does the photography for the magazine, is a partner in Studio 2B and Digital Lightning in Rochester. The presentation was part of the RIT Alumni Career Speakers Series sponsored by the Office of Alumni Relations and Cooperative Education and Career Services.

Students in other majors are just as interested in hearing from graduates in their own field. The questions are much the same: What do employers look for? How competitive is the field? What can students do to give themselves an edge?

“Alumni have so much to offer,” says Stefania LoMonaco ’04 (career and human resources development), assistant director of Alumni Relations. “They are a tremendous resource, and students really want to connect to people who are out there in the field.”
Among many volunteer opportunities for alumni, especially popular are four programs offered through RIT’s Office of Cooperative Education and Career Services in conjunction with the Alumni Relations Office. More than 800 alumni have signed on to help in various ways. Alumni serve as:

• Career advisors, who provide advice, guidance and suggestions to students who have questions about the business world. Career advisors are included in the Career Advisory Network database and generally interact with students one-on-one via phone or e-mail.

• Mentors, who are matched with student participants for one-on-one relationships that typically span one academic year. A time commitment of one to two hours per month is required.

• Employment ambassadors, who assist Career Services staff in identifying job opportunities in their companies for co-op and graduating students.

• Guest speaker series participants, who give presentations to students on campus. More than 600 students, alumni, faculty and staff have participated in the past three years.

“The speaker series is a great way for alums to get involved,” says Michelle Magee ’05 (information technology), alumni career services coordinator. “Besides giving presentations on their careers, they’ve helped students with practice interview sessions, talked about job search techniques and participated in workshops and panel discussions. These programs are invaluable to students, and I know alumni enjoy the interaction.”

Kirk Striebich ’89 (economics) says he became a volunteer as a way of staying connected to RIT after he moved to Washington, D.C. Striebich lived in D.C. for 10 years, working for the FBI. Last October, he became supervisory senior special agent for the Bureau’s Santa Maria, Calif., office.

“When you volunteer as a mentor, your student keeps you updated on what’s going on at RIT,” says Striebich. “Plus, it’s a way to give back to the university beyond writing a check.

“In addition to the chance to have a positive influence on someone’s life,” he adds, “mentoring can help you become a better manager, so it’s a way to enhance your own skills.”

Related story: COB volunteers give school kids the business

Volunteer with RIT
To find out more about volunteer opportunities through the Office of Alumni Relations, visit www.rit.edu/alumni or contact Terry Bohling, assistant director of Alumni Relations, at 585-475-4930 or tlbdar@rit.edu.