Taubman College’s Week-long Career Intensive Brings Alumni, Employers, Students Together for Advice, Connections

Like every other aspect of life, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused Taubman College to reimagine how to provide career and professional development opportunities and support to students and alumni.

When travel restrictions and the university-wide elimination of spring break forced the cancellation of the annual Spring Break Externship Program, staff began thinking about alternative ways to bring alumni and students together. The result was the inaugural January Career Intensive, held the week of January 11, which virtually connected alumni, employers, and students around the world in a series of workshops, roundtables, and employer information sessions. Alumni and non-alumni professionals also held nearly 350 individual meet-and-greets with students.

“Since we were unable to host our externship program this year, we were thrilled to open up several new virtual avenues for these meaningful connections even before our main Taubman College Career Fair on February 9,” said Lou Ecken Kidd, director of career and professional development.

Because the January Career Intensive (JCI) took place during the final week of an extra-long semester break, students were able to focus on the online events and reflect on their career goals and questions without simultaneously dealing with the pressures of classes. As a result, “the students’ level of engagement was amazing,” Ecken Kidd added.

Representatives from 18 organizations — including architecture, planning, and urban design firms of all sizes, as well as nonprofit organizations — hosted information sessions and met one-on-one with students. Alumni also connected with students via a Speed Networking event that drew praise from participants on both sides of the virtual table.

“It was nothing less than expected from the University of Michigan,” said Monograph CEO Robert Yuen, M.Arch ’11, M.S. ’12, of the caliber of students he met. “After a year we will all remember, I am so impressed with the grit, the attitude, and the focus this cohort of students presents. The future is very bright.”

 The JCI also featured traditional sessions on resumes, cover letters, and portfolios; interviewing and negotiating strategies; and networking and mentorship, as well as alumni panels on identity and social justice — topics that speak to the University of Michigan’s public-focused mission and how alumni carry that mission into their work.

“We all have responsibility no matter where we sit. There is something you can do, there is power that you hold,” said Corinne Kisner, M.U.P. ’13, executive director of the National Association of City Transportation Officials. “Understand the perspectives that you are hearing, and those that you are missing.” She also encouraged students to be intentional about personal and professional decisions: “Slow down and take the time to question what aligns with your values.”

Another panel of alumni talked with students about how to pursue jobs outside of the United States. The panelists dialed in from China, India, and Ghana. Beyond the practical advice and encouragement, these and all of the other panelists demonstrated to students the passion, power, and reach of the Taubman College network.

“You rethink what is inferior and superior when you travel. You have to rethink all of your tools when you are on the ground working in a culture that is not familiar to you,” said Nana Bonsu Adja-Sai, M.U.D. ’10, M.Arch ’11, an architect with Modula Group in Ghana, when asked about the benefits of working abroad. “And the first people around me when I was looking for a job overseas was the network of Michigan alumni.”

Students who participated in JCI expressed gratitude for that alumni network, as well as the guidance as they prepare for their next steps. Some are seeking their first professional internships or full-time positions; others are reentering the workforce with a new professional focus. Emily Soderberg, M.U.R.P. ’22, says she chose to participate in JCI to refresh her understanding of how to best represent herself through her cover letter, interview, or other interactions. As her summer internship search intensifies, “I hoped that JCI would help jumpstart that process and provide me helpful tips,” she said. “I’m happy to say that it did!”

Amid the uncertainties of launching their post-Taubman College careers, especially during an ongoing pandemic, alumni stressed to the students that they should have confidence in themselves, their training, and their connections.

“Finding your career path can be overwhelming, but believe in yourself and your education,” said Srinidhi Venugopal, M.U.P./M.U.D. ’18, a business representative and urban designer at Ramboll Studio Dreiseitl in India. “Don’t settle for the first job you get if you’re not happy. There are always new doors and new opportunities, and people to help you get there.”

Soderberg says that advice will stick with her.

“My key takeaway is to feel confident reaching out to alumni, professionals, and organizations that interest me, even if there aren’t explicit internship or work opportunities posted on their website. This is something I’ve felt anxious about previously, but the overwhelming response of our alumni was to not overthink it and know that professionals in our field are almost always happy to help answer questions and offer advice. And even if an opportunity may not present itself now, building a strong network also means planting seeds that may blossom later down the line.”

Amy Spooner