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Spring break trek ignites career exploration for Emory students

Spending their spring break in New York City proved to be the ultimate field trip for 25 Emory College and Oxford College students participating in the Pathways Center’s inaugural Career Trek to New York City.

Career Treks are designed to leverage Emory’s expansive network of alumni and expose undergraduate students to workplaces and career trajectories they may not have considered. For the sophomores, juniors and seniors who participated, it was an experience that ignited new ideas and expanded their view of what’s possible with their liberal arts education. 

New York’s place as the financial and media epicenter of the country, and its role as a hub for technology, commerce and culture, make it a popular destination for Emory alumni — the very people the Trek aims to connect undergraduates with to enhance their classroom experiences.

“There are nearly 11,000 Emory alumni living and working in New York. The opportunity for students to meet them in their workplaces, ask questions about their Emory experience and learn from their stories was invaluable,” says Branden Grimmett, vice provost and Emory College associate dean who leads the Pathways Center.

“Everything about the career discernment process can seem daunting, but by keeping the career trek interpersonal and connected to the shared Emory experience, students benefited from the wisdom of our alumni in a non-intimidating way,” Grimmett adds.

Students participated in either the arts or finance track and were paired with companies and alumni who aligned with their interests. By tapping into Emory’s well-positioned alumni in the area, students connected with Emory graduates in their workspaces across the city.

Students visited Goldman Sachs, the Museum of Modern Art, The Wall Street Journal, JP Morgan, Christie’s Auction House and Google. They also enjoyed a showing of “Hadestown” on Broadway, which included a meeting and conversation with the play’s Tony-award winning producer Jonathan Demar 13C. Other sites included Apollo Global Management, the U.S. District Court/Eastern Division, the Brooklyn Museum, KKR and documentary film company Retro Report. 

“Students think of majors and career paths as a map, but when you get off the map and into the world, it’s easier to see what life can be like,” says Ed Goode, the Pathways Center’s director of experiential learning who organized the trek in partnership with Emory College’s Office of Advancement and Alumni Engagement.

“We can know things in the abstract, but when we put students in contact with other human beings, it is revelatory,” Goode says. “It’s like going from a black-and-white world to one in full color.”

Pathbreaking opportunity for students

This was Emory sophomore Ali Hirsch’s first time in New York. The Montana native has always envisioned living in a technicolor New York after her undergraduate career.

Whether that life would focus on a post-grad career or grad school — and in what field — was the bigger question mark. Her experience at the Pathways Center’s Sophomore Summit cemented an interest in storytelling, a passion further nurtured during the Trek.

Hirsch, a sociology and English double major, was especially excited to see potential career avenues after talking with Jonathan Demar 13C, U.S. District Court Judge Robert Komitee 92C and journalists, including “60 Minutes” producer Graham Messick 86C and documentarian Brad Rothschild 91C.

“I never liked the idea of networking because it feels so transactional, but to just have a conversation with them was different,” Hirsch says. “It wasn’t just talking to them but comparing notes with the other students afterward that made it so invigorating. It was such a great experience.”

Andrew Bui, a sophomore from metro Atlanta, found similar excitement and reassurance during the trip. Long interested in fashion from devouring Vogue magazines and episodes of “Project Runway,” Bui has been intrigued by the business cycle and strategy of fashion brands in a constantly evolving market.

He planned to major in economics and work in the strategic side of the industry until an environmental science lab course sparked his curiosity about sustainable fashion.

Bui is now a double major in economics and environmental sciences and is co-president of altKEY, a campus organization encouraging students to practice sustainable consumerism tactics by upcycling and buying secondhand clothes.

Lynn Ellen Usdan 81C, the general counsel with the luxury brand LVMH, emphasized the value of that sort of exploration, Bui said, and encouraged him to find broad experiences on campus and early in his working career.

“I am so grateful to hear that gathering a diversity of experiences will help me with strategy in the fashion industry,” he says. “I’m still open to new opportunities. I’m still learning how I can make the most impact in the world. That’s the exciting part.”

Bui will get hands-on exposure to the work this summer as an intern in the corporate strategy department of David Yurman, an American fine jewelry brand, in its New York office.

“I want to reconnect for coffee with some of the alumni I met, which I believe will only help me decide my path,” Bui says. “There is no place in the world like New York City, but it was the extraordinary people who made this Trek special. And because of them, I now have a story to tell and people to share it with.” 

Sharing alumni wisdom

Networking and exposure to possible jobs and careers are essential to career exploration and development, says Mark Walden 16Ox 17C, who cohosted the visit to Goldman Sachs with other Emory alumni, including Darren Cohen 96C, Jackson Isaacs 14B, Jan Debeuckelaer 09Ox 11B and Anushka Gupta 08B. 

“Figuring out one's future plans is often perceived as daunting and overwhelming for a number of reasons,” Walden says. “I strongly believe exposure is critical to one’s trajectory, so I was thrilled to participate in the inaugural NYC Career Trek. I see great things ahead for these bright students. It was truly a pleasure to connect with them and share my journey from an undergrad political science major to Wall Street.”

For Emory College Alumni Board president Sonia Sharma 93C, the opportunity to connect with multiple students during the Trek’s alumni reception on the last night of the trip was inspiring.

“They were engaging and eager to hear our stories regarding not only what we do professionally but also how we discovered our passion and purpose. It was an honor to share our insights and experiences with these students and to hear how they valued this unique opportunity to come to New York City and meet with Emory alumni,” Sharma says. “The students were all so gracious in saying that they learned so much from the alumni that they had met during the Trek, but the truth is that we learned a great deal from them as well.”

Such career exploration and guidance opportunities were limited for liberal arts students like herself when Sharma was a student majoring in psychology and religion.

Multiple alumni came out to meet current Emory students during a special career trek reception, including (l-r) Sonia Sharma 93C, students Isaac Snyder, Edgar Sanchez and Noah Lian, and alums Derek Strum 00C and Lauren Katz 99C.

“Our career journeys were not necessarily a clear, straightforward path. This takeaway was something that many students attending the Trek did not appreciate until they met with alumni,” she says. “Giving back to Emory by supporting and mentoring these students is an incredible feeling. Seeing the resources that Emory is investing in career exploration is exciting, and we look forward to seeing this program grow in the years to come.”

Planning for future Treks is now underway. Goode says the Pathways Center is looking to repeat a New York experience and is working on future Treks to Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., San Francisco and Miami. The office also is coordinating a separate program this summer for six undergraduates who will work as interns in different L.A. media and entertainment firms.

In addition to the Career Treks, the Pathways Center is accepting applications through spring semester for internship funding, which is one-time financial assistance to help students access domestic and international opportunities.

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