On Saturday afternoon, Northwestern’s chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers hosted a panel of Northwestern alumni to discuss their career paths after college. The event, which was put together by NSBE’s Junior Executive Board, was held in Norris University Center. In addition to the panel, there were light refreshments, a raffle, and live music.
The panel included alumni from a variety of professional arenas, including electrical engineers, an actress/teacher, a lawyer, a real estate agent, a journalist, and more. NSBE Junior Executive Board President Barney Gray, who is also a freshman in the McCormick School of Engineering, said that it was important to the Board that the event was open to all Northwestern student, not just those in McCormick. “We thought that having people from all types of different disciplines, engineering, law, business, would draw a more general crows to our event and that’s what we were wanting,” Gray said.
The panel was conducted as a question and answer session. The alumni gave the students in attendance advice on how to make it through undergrad and tips for their professional lives. In regards to getting through the rigorous course work at Northwestern, the alumni urged students to ask for help when they need it, attend office hours, and make friends in classes so that they can study together. Creating a balance between academics and extracurricular activities was also driven home, as extracurricular activities can be places to explore interesting organizations outside of your element and blow off steam.
The biggest piece of advice echoed by all the alumni was the importance and value of networking. The panel affirmed that personal connections and friendships were just as important as what is learned within the classroom. The Associate Dean of Journalism at the Medill School of Journalism, Professor and Northwestern alumnus Charles Whitaker advised that students forge a relationship with at least one professor before they graduate. The alumni on the panel recalled that many of the jobs that they got after college were attributed to who they knew, not just what they knew. Gray noted that the importance of making connections was a big reason that the Junior Executive Board decided to put this panel together, as opposed to just any other event.
Rhonda Ferguson, a Northwestern alumna of the McCormick School of Engineering, felt that it was important for her to come back and participate in this panel because she was an active member of NSBE as a Northwestern undergraduate. “NSBE is largely responsible for me successfully navigating through Northwestern,” she said. “I still keep up with some of the NSBE folks that I met while I was here.” Ferguson added that the connections she made while at Northwestern were very useful. “To have people introduce you to other people, it just keeps building on that. You can help them and they can help you.”