In February, hundreds of alumni flooded campus or checked in online to meet with current students and impart their knowledge on life and the world of work.
The annual convocation, known as Panther Alumni Week (PAW), is a meeting-of-the-minds during which students have the chance to make meaningful connections with alumni who have gone on to achieve success using their FIU education. PAW is the brainchild of FIU Trustee Gerald Grant, Jr. ’78, MBA ’89, an alumnus and successful businessperson who now gives back to the university as a longtime member of its Board of Trustees.
“The purpose of PAW is to get alums engaged with the university again,” Grant said. “We have changed so much, and this gives them an opportunity to see what FIU looks like today, and come back to share their story about how FIU prepared them for the future. They can talk about the success they’ve had because of the skills they gained here, and how those skills translate to the real world.”
Throughout the week, alumni and students interacted in a variety of settings, both in-person and online, including a panel hosted by the Black Student Union; a Masters of Art Education alumni art exhibit; speed-mentoring sessions between alumni and students at MMC and BBC; and more. In addition, PAW Connect, the virtual networking platform, remotely linked more than 100 students and alumni who couldn’t make it to campus – PAW’s highest online turnout yet.
On campus, alumni met more than 4,000 students at networking events and classroom visits, during which they shared their wisdom on the job-hunting process, interview skills, how to follow your passions in your career, and how to best make use of an FIU education.
“It helps the students picture themselves in the future to see the other alumni who have graduated and do the things they want to do,” Grant said.
Professor Rochelle Patten teaches a special topics course in the School of Communication + Journalism designed to prepare students to navigate the professional landscape. In her class, she hosted SCJ alumnus Chris Santiago ’15, a senior multimedia producer for FIU Athletics who formerly worked for the CW and the Miami HEAT.
Santiago noticed the students were practicing their resume-writing skills in class that day, so he spoke about tailoring his resume and his portfolio to each job he applied. Taking the extra step helped him stand out among the applicant pool and land a series of meaningful jobs in his young career as a sports videographer.
Patten was pleased with the exchange between Santiago and her students.
“They really enjoyed it because he talked about what it was like for him as a student trying to get internships, and what it was like after graduation applying for jobs, honing the resume, interviewing for jobs, and being persistent and having an open mind.
“And I’m glad he did. I discuss that in my class, but to hear it from someone who just went through that himself was very valuable,” Patten said.
Since PAW’s inception in 2012, alumni have reached more than 18,000 students, and events have spanned every college and school at the university. And as FIU’s alumni base and student population continue to grow – with 224,000 alumni and 57,000 enrolled students – the program will only expand in impact.
“If you are a student at FIU and looking for some inspiration, outside counsel and the opportunity to network with career professionals, then Panther Alumni Week is a must for you,” said Duane Wiles, executive director of the Alumni Association. “If you are an alumnus and looking for an opportunity to give back that’s not time consuming and is personally fulfilling, then Panther Alumni Week is a must for you. Connecting students with alumni is always the right thing to do!”
Hungry for more Panther wisdom? Here are some tips from PAW 2019 participants:
“Let the fear of the unknown be your fuel and ignite the road to your future.” –Jessica Alvarez, finance and accounting
“Work hard, be courteous and remember that please and thank you go a long, long way.” –Zack Myers ’15, theatre
“Even if you don’t have 100 percent clarity now, endeavor to stay aware of what fulfills and inspires you. What has served me greatly is to maintain a growth mindset, courageously stretch beyond my comfort zones, and to generously contribute to a purpose and vision that is greater than myself. My wish is for each of you is to stay inspired and offer your best to the world. It truly does make a difference.” –Cherisse Figueroa MS ’10, human resources management
“A career is a journey, and every experience will be a valuable learning opportunity that will help you to grow and excel both personally and professionally.” –Nicole Mixon-Perez, Ph.D. ’14
“Persistence and tenacity are key, and though you will get knocked down, you must pick yourself back up and continue undeterred.” –Mario Funk ’09, sociology and anthropology