Secret Sauce and Invisible Backpacks

St. Lawrence’s top-ranked alumni network goes virtual

Chloe Mitchell ’21

As I prepared to attend the seventh annual SLU Connect “trip” on Monday, January 25, 2021, I realized that getting ready for a networking event looks quite different today. For me, it meant planning my outfit from the waist up, tidying the background of my Zoom screen, and, most importantly, quieting the five boys that live with me in my townhouse. This SLU Connect “trip” would happen from my room on campus.

While snow fell in Canton, new and familiar faces smiled on my computer; a night full of conversation and networking with alumni from San Francisco to Boston commenced. Although we couldn’t be in the same room or even the same city, the power of St. Lawrence connections was still on full display via Zoom.

SLU Connect is one of St. Lawrence’s signature career preparatory initiatives, and is a collaborative effort between the Center for Career Excellence and University Advancement. In a normal year, students embark on trips to experience what it’s like to live and work in places throughout the country, like Washington D.C. and Big Sky, Montana. Folded into the fabric of these locations, students explore possible career interests and network with St. Lawrence alumni and parents who host office visits, roundtable discussions, and city tours.

After the COVID-19 pandemic restricted travel, campus partners pivoted to a virtual alternative—SLU Connect LIVE.

“Going online actually opened up our alumni net,” says Beth Larrabee, associate director of the Center for Career Excellence. “We were able to highlight an industry, rather than a location, and we could reach people from all over the world—those that may have had too busy of a schedule to come to Canton or make it to a city event.” With no fee to attend the event, Larrabee says there were zero boundaries preventing students from participating.

“From an affordability, accessibility, and equity stance, virtual events are a major win,” says Megan Fry, University Advancement’s associate director of Campaign Events and Development Initiatives.

“With the pivot to online, we decided to incorporate student facilitators to run the conversation between alumni and students,” says Michelle Gould, associate director of the Center for Career Excellence. “This created a great leadership opportunity.” The late January event focused on social impact careers and took place over four nights. It featured panels and roundtable discussions among alumni with careers in government, education, counseling, and policy. Panelists ranged from refugee advocacy coalition members, Boston city councilor team supporters, founders, CEOs, and professional counselors.

It was incredible to watch my peers in action as both participants and facilitators.

Though virtual, the event’s collaborative and supportive atmosphere helped me build confidence as I jotted down notes and posed questions to alumni.

Fry noted that her favorite piece of career advice from these sessions came from Sean Kelly ’15: “You should leave every career event with at least two names of new people to connect with. I don’t think you can understate the value of the Laurentian network.”

My favorite tip from the night came from Don Danforth III ’89, P’20, who urged students to invest in themselves, saying, “Experiences inform choices. Don’t pressure yourself to figure it all out right now. People want to help you, especially those in the St. Lawrence community. Use us as your ‘invisible backpack’ of resources.”

Following the event, I reached out to Lynne Byrne ’88, a licensed professional counselor associate at The Feeling Good Center in Darien, Connecticut. “There is so much pressure to be perfect,” she says. “We get hung up on our self-defeating qualities or the inability to live up to unrealistic expectations cultivated around us. We need to instead lean into our own discomfort and be open to grow from it.”

Byrne says she found her path unconventionally and notes, “Being brave involves vulnerability. Don’t be afraid to take risks because you think you will embarrass yourself, but instead be true to yourself.”

This advice aligns closely with what Fry hopes students will take away from their conversations with alumni and parents.
“Success looks very different for each graduate and parent,” contends Fry. “What they all have in common is that they didn’t stop looking for and growing into the right role for them. I hope students will look at these alumni and trust their own journey and their own process.”

“St. Lawrence has perfected a ‘secret sauce,’ or the friendships that you create right here in Canton,” says Larrabee. “They actually become the most powerful aspect of post-grad life, where personal and professional relationships continue even once out of the comfort of Romoda Drive.”