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Need Career Advice? Got Advice to Give?

In this economy of elevated unemployment and underemployment, of job uncertainty and shifting career paths, “who you know” has never been more important. by Jessica Allen Bernthal


According to a June 2012 article in Bloomberg Business Week, research shows that half or more of all jobs come through informal channels: connections to friends, families, and colleagues. So regardless of how keen an individual may feel about networking, experts and laypeople agree—it’s essential, whether you’re a seasoned employee looking to ascend the corporate ladder of a recent grad just trying to get a foot on the first rung. Even if you’re headed for the mission field or the halls of academia, networking can be vital.

Wheaton’s own networking tool, Wheaton in Network (WiN), officially launched in March 2012. Nearly 2,000 alumni and parents have signed up to be mentors and advisors —1,200 of these within the first two weeks of the site’s release.

At first only available for student use, WiN just opened up to young alumni (2003-12 graduates) this spring, and in 2014, it will open to all alumni interested in making career connections.

Steven Moore ’12, a business and economics major with aspirations of working in the energy industry, admits he was initially ambivalent about networking to find a job, which to him meant having to aggressively “sell” himself and his skills to potential employers.

“I’m not that kind of guy,” he says sheepishly. “I don’t like the idea of having to be pushy to get a job. It makes a little uncomfortable.”

Given Steven’s claim to fame among Wheaton locals, one would hardly expect him to be so self-effacing. While riding the train to Chicago with his wife shortly after graduation, Steven spotted CNBC personality Rick Santelli across the aisle and decided to introduce himself. The newlyweds were moving to Houston that week, and Steven figured this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. “I’m a fan of Santelli, and I told him I really appreciate his points of view,” he says.

Impressed with Steven’s moxie, Santelli invited him on a tour of the Chicago Mercahntile Exchnage the following day. The next morning, when the politician Santelli was supposed to interview unexpectedly cancelled at the last minute, producers asked Steven to fill in as Santelli’s interviewee and discuss how the job market has affected recent grads like him.

The segment aired on CNBC that day and was highlighted on Wheaton College’s website. It caught the eye of Steve Wilhite ’85, CEO of Summit Energy and vice chair of the Leadership Council. This volunteer council consists of 15 alumni and friends of the College who help address four issues of vital importance to students: distinguishing between vocation, career, and calling; mentoring; networking; and securing internships. Steven had actually met Steve Wilhite the previous fall, when Wilhite served on an on-campus panel to promote WiN. Naturally, Steven gravitated toward him to ask questions about working in the energy field.

“We agreed to stay in touch, and he referred me to an energy manager in Houston, but at the time there was no real sense of urgency,” recalls Steven.

Months after the Santelli interview, when Wilhite learned through the grapevine that Steven was still unemployed, he made a recommendation to members of his staff, which helped Steven get an interview at Summit’s Houston office.

Providentially, this series of events led to Steven getting hired as a client support analyst at Summit, where he serves as an interface between Summit’s clients and its risk management office.

“I consult with clients on their energy usage and make recommendations on how to improve their energy management,” explains Steven, who accepted the position in November. “I wanted a place where I could learn and see a lot of aspects of business, and this is perfect for that.”

In spite of the technological advancements in our world, professional networking hasn’t really changed, says Wilhite, who has watched Summit grow from a small company with 40 employees to an industry leader with close to 900.

“At its core, networking is still the same,” he says. “I got my first job at an engineering company through a gentleman my parents knew from church.”

The big difference for students now is the availability of tools like WiN, he adds.

“The tools can help if you take advantage of them.”

“As a pre-med student interested in doing global/public health work in the future, I have been able to learn about the path to becoming a doctor from people in med school, people in the process of applying to med school, practicing physicians doing global health work, and missionary doctors. Not only are the advisors interested in helping students learn useful career information, but they also want to help them see the practical ways that they can live out God’s calling for their lives.”

—Sarah Noveroske ’14

Taking Advantage of the Tools

Director of Alumni Relations Cindra Stackhouse Taetzsch ’82 notes that perhaps the greatest challenge for students lies in simply figuring out where to start, what to do, and who to talk to.

“Nearly 900 students have attended the required one-hour WiN training seminars, but getting them to reach out to WiN advisors and mentors is a little trickier. It’s a huge culture change for Wheaton students to plan early for life after graduation, but we’re grateful for alumni and parents who understand how important this is,” she says.

WiN was developed by Emily George DeLew ’08, director of alumni connections, for the purpose of connecting students and alumni to thousands more alumni across a variety of disciplines almost instantly. The network brings mentorship, career advising, and professional development opportunities within the click of a mouse. But it’s not a job board, nor is it just about helping students get hired. Rather, WiN provides answers to those “What’s next?” questions by harnessing one of the College’s greatest assets—its alumni.

Wherever students and alumni may be in the process of preparing for life after college, the network can be a resource to help them along that path. For example, freshmen can start asking questions to discern if a major is right for them; sophomores can learn from alumni about their experiences with programs beyond the classroom; juniors can inquire about internships and job shadowing opportunities; and seniors and young alumni can learn about the top cities for their careers and more.

WiN allows students and young alumni to connect with alumni advisors to ask vocational questions on a casual, anonymous basis, or to sign up to be a part of a longer mentoring relationship with an alumna or alumnus in their field of interest.

The network even includes a faculty dashboard that allows professors to track how students in their department are interacting through WiN, and to recommend specific advisors and mentors for students.

“I met my advisor for lunch several times over the course of four months in D.C. We got to talk a lot about the distinctions between working in the private sector versus working for a government agency. My advisor encouraged me to remain disciplined in my pursuit of God through vocation and to not compromise for short-term career gains.”

—Eric Lowe ’13

Beyond Coincidental Connections

Thanks to the network, connections don’t have to be serendipitous— they can be systematic.

For instance, when it came time for Charity Fort ’12 to choose a graduate school, she used WiN to connect with alumni who had attended Duke and Harvard, the two universities at the top of her list.

“The connections I made were incredible,” says Charity, a business and economics major with a minor in international relations and a certificate in pre-law. “Both alumni gave me honest advice from their experiences. One of them told me about how he and a group of students met every morning before classes to pray together. I was so impressed by that. It really encouraged me and gave me a lot of peace.” In the end, it helped Charity to decide on Harvard Law School, where she’s now a first-year law student.

A business/economics major, Derek Babb ’14 says that not only has his mentor taught him a great deal about finance—he also helped him find a summer internship. 

For recent graduate Alyssa Edman ’12, WiN connections helped make her dreams a reality. She says, “I wanted to work abroad, but didn’t know how to really go for it and make it happen.” Through WiN, she found some people who gave her advice, and recently, she returned to the U.S. after an internship with the Kosovo Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “It was an incredible time, and I know that my experiences taught me a lot about my- self as well as made me more marketable to potential employers,” she says.

But the benefits of WiN aren’t just for those who “get” advice and inspiration—they extend to those who “give” as well. Tim Johnson ’97 signed up to be a WiN advisor shortly after he received an email from the alumni relations office last spring.

Having taken a road less traveled, Tim encourages students who may be having trouble discerning a clear professional path. The former music major completed elective studies in business and helped start a couple of small businesses while at Wheaton, co-owning a soda machine in Fisher Residence Hall and operating a computer service for students. Today, he consults with nonprofits on their technology, new media, and product development needs.

“I really enjoy working with young entrepreneurs and students,” says Tim, who admits he would have loved to have had a program like WiN as an undergraduate. He’s already connected with three students, one of whom he is mentoring.

As more students and alumni join Wheaton in Network in the future, perhaps the best benefit will be the opportunity it provides for students and alumni to share how faith is integrated into the everyday for those from every walk of life.

“It’s a privilege to share my experiences and what I’ve learned with students,” Tim says. “I think there can be a lingering question of how an individual can follow Jesus in business, and I want to be able to engage students in answering that. I like having that light bulb go off with a student when I talk about how we as Christians can and should love our competitors the way that Jesus loves us.”

WiN 101

With Wheaton’s new networking tool, you can:

  • Become a mentor or advisor today
  •  Make an impact on a student
  • Gain valuable career development advice
  • Visit to learn more about the program and to sign up

How does WiN work?

Students and alumni sign up online. Young alumni may serve as advisors and mentors, or make connections themselves. Students attend a mandatory training session before they create their online profiles.

Alumni names, class years, and companies remain anonymous until they accept a contact request.

Questions? Contact: the WiN team at 630.752.5047

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