A group of Simpson College students traded sunny beaches for below-average temperatures in Minneapolis, Minn., this spring break. But if you ask them, there was nothing below average about this trip, as they mapped their futures and connected with Simpson alumni at every stop.
The students were part of an experimental networking road trip organized by Simpson’s Office of Career Development. The road trip concept was the result of conversations between Simpson Board of Trustees member John Lawlor ’73 and the Simpson Career Development team—Director Bobbi Sullivan and Assistant Director Laurie Dufoe. Lawlor’s involvement was fueled by his own passion for mentoring and the many positive mentoring experiences he had as a Simpson student.
“I simply would not be who I am today—and where I am today—if not for some incredibly memorable mentoring experiences,” Lawlor said.
The idea of a networking road trip was born out of conversations between Lawlor, Sullivan and DuFoe contemplating alumni-student engagement and mentoring opportunities outside the Des Moines area. Collectively, the group decided on spring break 2019 for the inaugural journey, and Sullivan and DuFoe started making hotel and transportation arrangements. The college funded hotel, transportation and some meals.
Sullivan and DuFoe asked interested juniors and seniors to apply online, then opened the application to sophomores and first-year students. The group of students who traveled represented various academic interests, including music, theatre, psychology, accounting and business management. The eclectic mix of majors was great for conversation and perspective.
Sullivan said much of the planning regarding alumni interaction happened via LinkedIn, a social media networking site designed for the business community.
“If they hadn’t already, our students quickly built their LinkedIn profiles and connected with alumni hosts via the network while on the trip. The tool is invaluable for students looking to expand their professional circle. I encourage all alumni using the tool to list Simpson College in the education section of their profiles.”
Using LinkedIn, Sullivan reached out to Minneapolis alumni and built an itinerary with times, dates and locations.
From the trip’s inception, Lawlor—principal at Lawlor Advisory—was on board to meet with the students during their stay. He treated the students to lunch and discussed their plans for the future. He also connected the students with Jeff Prouty and Kristin Jonason of The Prouty Project, a firm specializing in strategic planning and leadership development. They led students through an interactive strategic planning and ideation exercise, urging the students to think creatively and purposefully about their futures—which was a clear break from typical, task-oriented thinking. Each student walked away with a strategic plan and next steps for transitioning to life beyond college.
Mariah Young ‘15 of Modern Climate, a brand agency in Minneapolis, spoke with the students about client engagement. After touring the company, they heard from Ashley Ibach of the Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce. Young invited Ibach to Modern Climate to introduce the students to the culture of the city and its diverse employment opportunities.
Brittany Robb ‘16 welcomed the students to Wold, an architecture and engineering firm in St. Paul, Minn. Robb shared her professional experiences and invited her coworkers to talk about opportunities available within the firm. Robb and her peers were quick to encourage the students not to disregard a company based solely on its name. Wold, for example, has a deep need for candidates beyond just architects and engineers due to the many moving parts of the company.
“Getting the chance to connect with current students and share my path from Simpson to my current career was an opportunity I would absolutely take again,” Robb said. “I've appreciated having Simpson alumni events in the Twin Cities because it keeps me engaged with the college.”
Wanting to maximize the students’ exposure to Minneapolis-area alumni, Sullivan suggested Simpson hold an alumni event the final evening of the trip. Alumni Director Andy English ‘05 was quick to get on board with the idea, planning a casual dinner at Rock Bottom Brewery. Sullivan also invited current students living in the area who were not traveling over spring break to join the group.
“I look forward to collaborating with career development and our alumni to host more networking dinners like this one,” English said. “This event was about building meaningful and mutually beneficial relationships. This is a great example of how alumni can impact our students’ Simpson Experience.”
Morgan Merrill, a senior music & theatre arts major, agreed. She is planning a move to Minneapolis following graduation. “Moving to Minneapolis is going to be scary, but knowing now there are alumni there willing to lend a hand is a big relief,” she said. “I’m so excited to start my new adventure!”
Merrill credits the trip with helping her get more comfortable with the move and her future.
“I wouldn’t have made these valuable alumni connections without this trip,” she said.
Sophomore Sarah Prendergast went on the trip to explore employment opportunities outside Des Moines. She shared Merrill’s sense of newfound connectedness with alumni. “It meant a lot to me to have alumni and trustees show interest in my career development,” she said. “I realize that I am not alone in my future endeavors—there will always be someone on my side rooting for me.”
Sullivan, who thrives on building relationships between students and industry, is already exploring future events.
“There really is no substitute for this level of interaction,” she said. “We are so grateful to our alumni for participating in this experience. Their first-hand stories and insight are so incredibly valuable to our students.”
“We need to leverage the affiliation we have,” said Lawlor, who urges other Simpson alumni to think of ways they might engage with current students. “Doing so will foster more positive word-of-mouth endorsements and help facilitate continued growth—for everyone. Opportunities like this one in Minneapolis are a win-win.”
Simpson alumni interested in participating in a similar experience and who are located within driving distance of Simpson, are encouraged to contact Director of Career Development Bobbi Sullivan (515-961-1372) or Director of Aluni Relations Andy English (515-961-1547).