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Career Center Kicks Off Annual Diversity Networking Program

Written by Matthew Yan

Students and Mentors at DPLN DinnerThe Career Center kicked off the annual Diversity Professional Leadership Network program with an inaugural dinner on Wednesday, September 4, 2019. The mentorship program is designed to connect students from underrepresented groups with mentors from major companies. This connection will increase their knowledge of the workplace and help them develop skills to use in their future careers.

Headed by the Career Center’s Marianna Savoca and Kimberly Dixon, the event allowed students to learn about the skills that companies are looking for when hiring. Instead of looking for a laundry list of qualifications and accolades, most employers said they wanted employees with transferable skills. One of the most common skills they asked for was the ability to be open to learning and new experiences. “Be open,” said Alan Lehrer, a senior specialist in university relations for Canon. “Not just for the program but lots of things. If people reach out to you, they want something in return.”

This openness is what got Shelby Tietjen, a Stony Brook alumnus, a spot in the three-day training program with KPMG, one of the four largest accounting firms in the world. She was introduced to the program by her accounting professor, Dr. Christie Comunale, who encouraged her to enroll even though Tietjen lacked any work experience before applying. Her participation in the program got her foot in the door for an internship and later a full-time job as a Senior Audit Associate. “We’re not looking for someone who knows everything,” Tietjen said, “We’re looking for someone willing to learn and work in a team.”

Kimberly and MariannaAll of the employers present echoed these sentiments. They said they wanted people who are hardworking, engaged, practice time management, well-spoken, and team-oriented. Several employers spoke about how they were not looking for specific majors or career fields. “It doesn’t matter if you’re not pre-med, you’re not laboratory sciences, you’re not nursing,” said Briana O’ Shaughnessy, a coordinator for workforce readiness at Northwell Health. “There’s a home for you at Northwell Health.”

Grades, coursework, and experience were held in equal esteem in the mentors’ discussions with their mentees. Students were advised to explore all the potential career options available to a major beyond the obvious. For instance, Lehrer said English and sociology majors can go into marketing without taking any marketing classes. He also encouraged students to bring a variety of skills to the table. Employers are especially interested in those with technical skills and the ability to jump into a conversation and provide valuable ideas.

Three DPLN program graduates: Shamar Griffith, Carlos Soto, and Nicole Polanco also took the stage to offer words of encouragement. Griffith and Soto made mention to their mentors at Travelers Insurance. The mentorship and professional development provided, helped Soto land an internship with Mastercard as a marketing intern. Soto was also able to secure his position through the INROADS program last summer. INROADS is an internship program that breaks down the barriers for students of color to enter corporate America. INROADS is an international organization with over 28 offices serving nearly 2,000 Interns at over 200 companies. 

Above all, the program hopes to push students to reach heights and go places they had not thought possible. Jia Wei Cao, a career coach for diversity initiatives at the Stony Brook Career Center, challenged mentees to “get out of [their] comfort zone” and look for jobs even in places that seem unrelated to their field of study on the surface. “Just about any major you have, we have that kind of work,” said Linda Johnson, the lead specialist in talent acquisition for PSEG. “So don’t be a stranger.”