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Liberal Arts Students and Alumni LinkUp for Professional Formation

Written By Debbie Black

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“It’s inspiring to see that a liberal arts degree can take you anywhere you want to go and the mentors I met are living proof of that.”

Braden Sigua, ’20

The beauty of a liberal arts degree is that graduates enter the workforce having honed a variety of transferable skills, ranging from critical thinking and research to analysis, communication and cross-functional collaboration. They’ve explored a variety of different philosophies and perspectives and can evoke innovative approaches to problem solving. These capabilities cannot be taught by employers and position liberal arts graduates for success in a variety of industries.

On the flipside, unlike those gaining technical degrees, liberal arts grads do not have clear career pathways and may be unsure where to start their careers or even what opportunities are available to them, particularly if they’ve not identified an industry of interest.

“There’s a growing national conversation about the humanities and social sciences and the kind of career preparation liberal arts students receive,” says Tonja Brown, internship and mentorship coordinator at Seattle U’s College of Arts and Sciences (CAS). “Liberal arts colleges need to focus on helping students develop the ability to translate the skills they learn in the classroom into language that employers can understand.”

CAS is helping Seattle U students learn to effectively make this translation through its Pathways to Professional Formation initiative. Through work with employers, college faculty and staff and student-focused programming, CAS is committed to assisting students explore and discern professional pathways.

Brown runs the Pathways program. “My position is dedicated to wrapping professional formation into the fabric of our college so it becomes an integral part of the educational experience to which students are accustomed to devoting quality time,” she explains.

One example of student-focused programming offered through the Pathways initiative is the College to Career Series 2020. Designed in collaboration with SU’s Career Engagement Office, the series markets 23 career-exploration programs to Arts and Sciences students, increasing their awareness of the importance of professional discernment.

LinkUp, a signature educational networking event, is part of the College to Career Series. Presented by CAS in collaboration with the Dean’s Leadership Council, Board of Regents, Career Engagement Office and Alumni Engagement, LinkUp connects CAS students with CAS alumni mentors who stood in their shoes and went on to experience successful careers in a variety of industries.

Launched in 2017, LinkUp takes place annually in January and CAS students are encouraged to participate in the event each year they attend Seattle U. Prior to the hour-long networking session, students attend a 45-minute workshop run by the Career Engagement Office to help them prepare. During this time they practice their brief self-introduction or “elevator pitch,” and learn how to follow-up appropriately with the mentors they meet.

“It’s a very casual, come-as-you-are event to break the networking ice and help students start building their professional networks,” Brown says. “Prior to the event we send the mentors an information packet, and ask them to let us know how they prefer to be contacted so we can inform the students.”

The networking hour is divided into three rounds. Approximately 60 – 70 mentors are seated at tables by industry. Students are provided seating maps with names and background information on each mentor. For the first round, each student is paired with a mentor to start the conversation. In the following two rounds, students are free to approach any mentor they are interested in speaking with. A day or two after the event, students and the mentor they were initially paired with receive an event email inviting them to continue their conversation, if desired. Students are also encouraged to reach out to any of the other mentors they met at the event.

According to Viviane Giurgiuman, a senior studying Strategic Communications and Business Administration, “LinkUp has been a great way to get advice, ask questions, and expand my professional network. The speed networking format provides the chance to talk with professionals in different careers and representing different work places like Microsoft, Amazon, CNN, law firms and start ups. I've been able to connect on LinkedIn with most all of the mentors I networked with, and as a college student this is really valuable.”

Braden Sigua, a senior studying Philosophy, Spanish, and Communications, adds, “The networking skills I’ve built and people I’ve met through LinkUp have helped me get jobs and internships all throughout my time at SU. It’s inspiring to see that a liberal arts degree can take you anywhere you want to go, and the mentors I met are living proof of that. LinkUp has been a great learning experience for me, and I would highly recommend anyone thinking about the attending the event to give it a shot. It will only help you learn and grow!"

Brown says the primary goal for LinkUp isn’t for students to land an internship or even to find a long-term mentor. Rather, it is to provide them the opportunity to talk to people with similar backgrounds, to learn about the multitude of career options available to liberal arts majors, and to gain confidence speaking to people in a professional setting. From Giurgiuman’s and Sigua’s comments, it appears the program is working.

“If the experience does open the door to an internship opportunity, that’s fantastic,” Brown explains. “But the door that opens can also be in a student’s mind. They may discover a career opportunity they never imagined was possible with a liberal arts degree, and learn how to get started on the path to their ultimate professional goal.”

College of Arts and Sciences alumni and friends of the university with a liberal arts education are invited and encouraged to impact the life of a student by participating in LinkUp 2021. Be on the lookout for invitations in October 2020. If you have questions, please contact Tonja Brown,