Everyone could use some advice when starting a career, and a number of alumni stepped forward on February 26 to help by sharing their own personal experiences and perspectives on navigating their professional careers post-Bryant.
The panel discussion, titled “Bridging the Gap,” was a collection of alumni of color who gathered as part of Black History Month events to share about their own paths while at Bryant and beyond. They offered powerful advice ranging from the general to the specific for students and recent graduates of color as they contemplate their own school-to-career transitions.
Each of the panelists introduced themselves, described their current professional roles, and spoke a bit about their time at Bryant, including their own paths through academics and extra-curricular activities that helped shape the professionals they would later become.
“Your diversity, your traits, the things that make you different – they have value. Walk in it, own it, and go for it.”
- Evelyn Hayes ’02
A collaborative effort with the Intercultural Center of the PwC Center for Diversity and Inclusion and the Office of Alumni and Parent Engagement, the annual popular event delivers career advice from multicultural and international Bryant alumni to students of similar backgrounds.
Panelists talked about their experiences finding (and making) community at Bryant, taking advantage of a combination of resources and programs such as athletic teams, clubs, and organizations, 4MILE, W.O.K.E. Athletes, the Multicultural Student Union, and their own personal relationships to forge their own paths for growth and learning.
Diversity, inclusion, and bias at work
The panelists each spent time discussing their different professional experiences as it relates to experiencing bias, and their own organizations’ varied commitments to diversity and inclusion.
Nicole Kim ’19, MPAC ’20, said her employer – Haymarket Books – is a progressive nonprofit book publisher based in Chicago, and she felt there was a strong sense of social responsibility to diversity and inclusion there. Kevin Javier ’12, MBA, on the other hand, said that his employer, EBI consulting, a professional services organization serving the commercial real estate industry, served a far less diverse industry. As a Senior Talent Acquisition Specialist and Leader of Campus Recruiting there, he said there were many opportunities to help client companies focus on expanding their diversity and inclusion efforts through recruiting.
Christina Watts ’16 urged attendees to embrace their differences in a professional setting. A Ph.D. candidate at the School of Biomedical Sciences at Kent State University, she explained how she had turned a perceived challenge into an advantage. “I don’t shy away from the fact that I’m Black, and a female in this space,” she explained, elaborating that in some cases those characteristics could help her access resources others may not have considered.
Evelyn Hayes ’02 agreed that differences can be what makes someone special. She is Chief Auditor with Citigroup’s Institutional Clients Group Technology in New York. As a young Latina who worked hard to earn her place in an industry dominated by mostly white, older men, she said sometimes she would pause and acknowledge to herself, “I’m really proud to be sitting at this table!”
Though each panelist had different first-hand experiences with bias in the workplace, Alexandra “Alex” Ortiz ’18, who works for Bell Helicopter in Strategic Sourcing, urged listeners to speak up when they saw it. “Don’t be quiet about it, because someone else is probably experiencing it as well,” she said.
Skills and competencies to develop
All the panelists urged their listeners to make user of as many Bryant campus and network resources as possible as they seek to develop their own skills and competencies in preparation for the future. “I attribute a lot of my success now, in terms of leadership, to what I learned on [the Bryant] campus,” Hayes said, much of which came from her engagement in organizations and clubs, and the exposure to new people she gained that way.
Quentin “Q” Phipps ’05, a State Representative in the Connecticut General Assembly and the Director of Advocacy and Policy for Excellence Community Schools, emphasized taking advantage of the strong sense of community at Bryant, and talked about the invaluable skills he gained as both a Student Senator and later President of Student Government, and as a Resident Assistant. Both roles, he said, helped prepare him for his career by teaching him to stay calm in a crisis, and to network among a diverse community.
Indeed, networking with Bryant alumni, Hayes said, ultimately landed her a job. She encouraged students and recent grads to leverage that community through resources like career fairs, AlumniFire, and through formal and informal networking.
“And make sure you do more than just get the business card!” Javier added for emphasis. Make sure you make that call and ask, ‘how do I get into your company?’ There will be people to help you.”
Phipps made a strong point of encouraging students to apply for INROADS – an organization designed to help remove career barriers to corporate opportunities for people of color. “If you have not applied for INROADS yet, I will not help you get a job!” he said, only half joking with the assembled audience. Ortiz, who also participated in INROADS, concurred with his advice.
The panelists fielded a number of topics ranging from fostering engagement and participation, to avoiding burnout, making use of mentors, and focusing on individual strengths.
And those strengths, Hayes reiterated, can often be found among one’s differences. “Your diversity, your traits, the things that make you different – they have value. Walk in it, own it, and go for it.”