Career Connections

In a down economy that grows more uncertain with each passing day, the Class of 2009 will face special challenges upon entering the job market after graduation. But at the beginning of the year, the Duke Alumni Association (DAA) gave them two opportunities to get informed, and ready, for what lies ahead.

In January, the DAA held its annual Fannie Mitchell Career Conference in coordination with the career center. William Wright-Swadel, the director of the career center, worked with DAA staff members to bring ninety-eight alumni to campus to participate in panel discussions and networking sessions with current Duke students.

Some 750 students attended the conference. They heard from alumni representing a range of ages and career fields, including business, education, law, and nonprofits. More than 700 alumni had applied for the panelist positions—many more than could be accommodated. Many of those unable to make it to campus said they remained eager to assist current students.

In that spirit, an alumni group from the Triangle formed a partnership with the DAA and the Student-Alumni Advisory Board (SAAB). Created in 2008 and made up of students from across the university, SAAB encourages student involvement with the DAA and helps the organization coordinate its programs with students. The three groups held a series of dinners this spring aimed at giving alumni the opportunity to provide career advice to current students in an informal setting.

Alumni from farther afield are able to get into the action with another tool from the DAA: DukeConnect, a computer database that makes it possible for students, faculty members, and alumni to share career, life-stage, and other advice. The database was revamped recently and fine-tuned to make access easier and more secure.

Students are able to contact more alumni on DukeConnect than was possible before, according to Beth Higgins '07, networking coordinator with the DAA and the point person for the career conference. In the past, students were limited to ten contacts with alumni a month. That number has been increased, while, at the same time, security measures have been built in to protect alumni from spam and ensure that the messages they receive come from genuinely interested students.

This change in policy gives students greater opportunity to go beyond their immediate interests and explore career choices that might be less traditional, Higgins says.

Alumni can use DukeConnect to network with other alumni on a range of topics, from changing careers to achieving work-life balance. For example, mothers who have taken time off from a career to raise a child and are now ready to reenter the workforce can solicit advice from alumnae who have had a similar experience. An alumnus thinking about moving can ask about neighborhoods and housing conditions in a prospective new city. There are also links to alumni affinity groups and advice for people considering graduate and professional school. 

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