While many students took fall break as a brief respite from the bustling first few months of school, 25 Oles flew out to New York City to meet with alumni and explore their vocations. Students that participated in the Piper Center for Vocation and Career’s New York Connections trip spent four busy days exploring careers in the arts, business and journalism.
The trip helped students expand their networks by introducing them to St. Olaf alumni working in New York. More importantly, it pushed participants to think about how liberal arts degrees can translate into real-world careers.
According to Kris Estenson, a Piper Center associate director, the program allowed students to explore a variety of vocational fields by introducing them to numerous alumni living and working in New York City. More than simply connecting students with potential job opportunities, she explained, the trip allowed students a chance to think more critically about their vocational paths.
“We met young alumni that explained to the students how to get their feet in the door and gave other practical advice like how to build a network of friends,” Estenson said. “We also met older alumni that spoke about the path they took to get where they are.”
The trip’s itinerary provided students a glimpse into the lives and careers of alumni and people with connections to the St. Olaf community. Saturday started with students meeting Brenda Berkman ’73, who led them on a tour of the World Trade Center’s tribute museum and memorial. After graduating from St. Olaf, Berkman fought for gender equality within the New York City Fire Department and became one of the department’s first female firefighters.
Sunday emphasized fine arts and provided students interested in the arts with the opportunity to meet with alumni Maren Lankford ’09 and Vanessa Trouble ’91. The alumni explained to students the struggles and triumphs of “making it” in the arts.
On Monday morning, the journalism group met ABC Studios Senior Producer Cat McKenzie ’92 and spoke with Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Gretchen Morgenson ’76 of The New York Times in the afternoon.
Students on the business track met with Dean Maki ’87, Mark Hanson ’89 and Robert Thrash ’94 at Barclays Capital. The alumni, who graduated from St. Olaf with a wide range of majors, stressed the value of a liberal arts degree in the world of business.
Cuitlahuac Turrent ’97, a vice president at Goldman Sachs, echoed their comments when students met with him in a private conference that afternoon. These and other alumni demonstrated the advantage of a liberal arts education and helped participants discern a vocational field.
Art students met with Ward Sutton ’89, a freelance illustrator and cartoonist, at his apartment, which doubles as his studio.
Oles with a taste for theater and music had the opportunity to meet with Charles Barker ’75, the principal conductor of the American Ballet Orchestra and other alumni in the business.
Liza Mussato ’14, an economics major with a management emphasis and a concentration in biomedical studies, heard about the trip through one of the numerous emails the Piper Center sends students about opportunities to explore vocation. Once arriving in the city, she was admittedly a bit nervous before meeting the alumni. However, she explained that her apprehensions quickly disappeared.
“They really opened up to us and told us how St. Olaf helped them and how we could further our own careers,” Mussato said. “It was really cool to hear their stories. I mostly gained inspiration and insight about my own career. I thought the people we met were going to be cutthroat, but that wasn’t the case at all.”
Along with the opportunity to meet high-powered alumni in New York City and explore the possible career options with a St. Olaf degree, Mussato said that the trip bridged gaps between social groups at St. Olaf and broadened her network of friends when she returned to the Hill.
“The experience was one of my best experiences at St. Olaf,” Mussato said. “I didn’t know a lot of the people going into the trip, but after a few days, we all felt like we had been in the city together for weeks. When we got back to campus we were all very close. On campus, the economics majors and the art majors don’t always interact that much, but this trip helped me meet new people.”
Students interested in participating in a Piper Center Connections trip will have the opportunity to apply for the Houston trip in the next few weeks and the Washington, D.C. trip later this year. The Houston trip will focus on the sciences and the Washington, D.C. trip will be slightly less specific, emphasizing law, government, nonprofits and entrepreneurship.
Regardless of which trip students choose, Estenson asserts that the Connections trips inspire students, allowing them to realize the possibilities for their future.
“It was inspiring to see that Oles can make it in New York,” Estenson said. “Students on the trip saw the network of encouragement in the Ole family. They left with a sense of being a part of the community with supportive, talented young people that are doing great things.”