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October 24, 2013

Alumni panel shares tips and tricks of networking at School of Communication Reunion

By Daniel Herda and Doug Vehovec

The School of Communication Reunion launched its many events with an alumni panel discussion on Oct. 18, where six alumni from diverse communications-related professions spoke to a gathering about their years at Cleveland State and how current students could prepare for the work force after graduation.

The audience was a mixture of students and current School of Communications (COM) professors. Panel members shared their experiences on a variety of topics, including internships, interviews and networking.

Alumni Panel at School of CommunicationAnita Woodward, MBA ’99 and owner of A. Woodward & Associates, moderated the panel. She said that having great communication skills helps people become leaders in the work force.

“We discussed what we wanted to do for our alumni and realized that we wanted to do something for students as well,” Woodward said. “The students are the reasons that the university is here today and that is how the panel was born.”

Not only did the panelists discuss advice for current students, they explained how graduating students could connect with Cleveland State alumni. A benefit of the reunion was the many opportunities that students had for networking.

Denise Polverine, BA ’91 is the director of digital operations for the Northeast Ohio Media Group that manages cleveland.com, the news-oriented website affiliated with the Plain Dealer and Sun News, with its own robust reporting staff at 50 members and growing.

“It’s very important that an institution like Cleveland State stay ahead and the same things I see in the journalism track is what we are hiring people for,” Polverine said. “Talking to someone in the personal relationships made here is a great way to get ahead.”

Alumni Panel at School of CommunicationThe panel further assisted COM students by informing them how important communication skills are in the work force.

Joe Sheppa, MA ’01 and interactive content manager at ideastream, spoke about the skills he learned while a COM student. The nonprofit ideastream manages public radio and public television stations.

“You learn a lot of different things getting a communication degree because it’s not as limited,” Sheppa said. “You can learn about filmmaking, writing press releases, taking photos, personal skills and I think it’s better than some of the other majors.”

Tips and tales of the interview process would be conspicuous by their absence in any networking-focused discussion, and Friday afternoon’s panelists at the unofficial kick-off to Cleveland State’s first COM reunion delivered.

Ken Mather, BA ’91 and assistant commissioner of media & public relations for the Mid-American Conference pointed out that an interview doesn’t always have to lead directly to a job, but can still be a vital networking tool. An informational interview offers an opportunity to gain insights and first-hand perspective of the kinds of job you want, along with building your personal network. He did stress the importance of prefacing your request by making it clear you’re seeking an informational interview, and also on making sure you’re fully prepared for it.

“Follow your passion, find somebody who has a job that you want, and go talk to that person,” Mather said. “Find out how they got there – what steps did they take, and what advice would they give you.”

Mather explained that by following up the informational interview with a request for additional contacts, networking begins. Once you start talking to those contacts, opportunities open up and you learn the skills for success in job interviews. Skills like eye contact, dialogue and strength to overcome the awkwardness of that first real interview.

“When you find yourself across the table at the job interview, it’s not as daunting,” Mather said.

Discussion moderator Woodward solidly endorsed the technique. She added that people are very often willing to share their time for an informational interview. She and several other panelists also echoed Mather’s advice to prepare in advance and to ask the right questions to get the most from the experience.

George Pursey, MA ’83, shared his own story about his job interview at global aluminum company Novelis. Armed with his degree in organizational communication, Pursey interviewed for a customer service job. Across the table was a fellow liberal arts grad, who believed Pursey would be a good fit thanks to his communications background.

Now, 30 years later, Pursey still works at Novelis as market director, responsible for marketing and sales across North America.

“There’s no question in my mind that one of the reasons I’ve been successful in that is because of the communication training I got here,” said Pursey.

All of the panelists agreed that Cleveland State’s downtown position is one of its greatest treasures. Perhaps the greatest training available is outside the classroom, where professors urge students to take advantage of the metro market at their fingertips. Accessible year-round, the downtown Cleveland community allows interactions for business, networking and learning that rural or even suburban campuses do not. The panel emphasized how important that accessibility is for gaining real-world experience and opportunities.

“You have access to so many types of businesses that you wouldn’t have at another college,” Woodward said. “But you have to go out there and do something about it.”

And that’s just what each of the versatile panel of alumni did. They are united by the commonality of their curiosity about Cleveland State’s communication courses during their time at the university.

Dee Perry, ’81 and host of ideasteam’s Sound of Applause program, cites a direct connection between Cleveland State and the career path she followed. After moving to New York City for a time, she came back to Cleveland and enrolled in the communications program, which she said sounded much more interactive than her English studies had been.

Like more than one of the panelists, she credits her professors for having a major impact on her by getting her to think a different way, to go out and get exposure and foster critical thinking.

Several panelists shared the sentiment of being unsure about any sort of career path when they started school. But there was something about those communications courses that drew them in. With encouragement from professors ready to help however they could, the panelists followed their passions and translated their time at Cleveland State into diverse avenues of success.

Jim Brazytis, ’94 and marketing communications manager for label and packaging materials at Avery Dennison, emphasized the vital nature of communications skills. He urged the audience to pay attention in their studies, encouraging listeners to go out and look for opportunities to make their own breaks through bold action and taking chances.

“Most of us, as graduates, feel a certain sense of desire to help today’s students move forward,” Woodward said as she wrapped up the event. “We realize how much CSU has helped us, and we’re open to talking to today’s students and trying to help them.”