Jump-Starting Careers

Illustration by Jonathan Hill

Working Weekend brings alumni and students together for networking.

By Randall S. Barton

Scores of alumni traveled from across the country to participate in Reed’s first Working Weekend, an event featuring speakers, panels, and synergy designed to help students and recent alumni get a jump start on internships, contacts, and careers.

Sponsored by alumni and parent relations and career services, the event took place the first weekend in February and brought together 134 alumni—including 71 presenters and others involved in program planning—who shared wisdom about their career paths with more than 230 students.

The event began as the brainchild of entrepreneur Adam Riggs ’95, who originally conceived a speaker series to encourage and empower students contemplating starting up a business, and gained further momentum from the Life Beyond Reed Committee of the Alumni Association, which includes Adam, Jay Hubert ’66, Gloria Johnson ’79, John Bergholz ’83, Jody Hoffer Gittell ’84, Jon Paul Davis ’93, Eric Speckman ’93, and Chantal Sudbrack ’97.

“Reedies have a lot of the qualities that define entrepreneurs and are needed in order to build organizations and businesses,” Adam says. “These include being hard working, thick-skinned, and willing to dig deep and find what you find without having a lot of agendas.”

He established a network of alumni who put together a list of possible panels and presenters. In the process, the entrepreneurial piece became part of a larger focus on career paths and options.

“For example, graduate school is a good choice for a lot of people,” Adam says, “but it’s not the right choice for a number of people who choose to go. People shouldn’t choose graduate school because they’re unaware of other options.”

Alumni paid their own way to campus, moderated or participated in panel discussions, and met individually with students. On the first day, students attended panels in 10 subject areas, including clean technology; e-commerce and the internet; the law; culinary arts; life and physical science; the changing faces of publishing, PR, and entertainment media; innovation in education; nonprofits; and diplomacy, statecraft, and government. Saturday’s concluding event was a panel entitled “Reedies Hiring Reedies.”

Reed powerhouse alumni turned out in number. A panel entitled “Ecommerce/Internet: Believe the Hype” included among others, Puppet Labs founder Luke Kanies ’96, Michael Richardson ’07, cofounder of Urban Airship; and Dan Baggott ’95, principal engineer and head of search at CafePress.com.

Ingredients for a culinary arts panel featured such tastemakers as Michael Gibbons ’84, partner in Portland’s Papa Haydn and Jo Bar restaurants; Mark Bitterman ’95, selmelier and co-owner of The Meadow, a specialty food business located in Portland and New York; Kurt Huffman ’93, director of Chefstable; Steve McCarthy ’66, proprietor of Clear Creek Distillery; Amy Wesselman ’91, cofounder of Westrey Wine Company; and Sebastian Pastore ’88, vice president of brewing operations and logistics for Craft Brew Alliance.

Alison Wise ’96, who co-chairs a regional chapter of Advanced Energy Economy, moderated a panel on clean technology, which espoused the idea, “the bigger the problem, the greater the opportunity.”

Students were invited to discover how to use their science degrees without becoming professors in the Life and Physical Sciences panel, moderated by Gloria Johnson ’79. Those considering a future in the education sector were able to learn about innovations in education in a panel moderated by trustee Jody Hoffer Gittell ’84, a professor of management at Brandeis University’s Heller School for Social Policy and Management. Other education panelists included Andrew Mason ’90, executive director for Open Meadow Schools, and Mark Chen ’95, who is helping with the Educurious project, which integrates game play into the redesign of high school biology, English, and algebra.

A particularly popular panel, moderated by trustee Jan Liss ’74, executive director of Project Pericles, provided advice for nailing a job in the nonprofit sector, including the merits of having either an MBA or law degree.

During a three-day StartUp Lab, teams of students were led through ways of presenting and marketing their original ideas to investors.

The winning team was composed of two inventors from Oregon Episcopal School who logged onto the StartUp webpage and invited Reedies Gabriel Forsythe-Korzeniewicz ’12, Finn Terdal ’13, and Clemmie Wotherspoon ’12 to join them. The team presented an invention called Emotitron, an algorithm that determines a speaker’s emotion by measuring 57 different features of an audio signal against a prerecorded signal already defined by a human listener as “angry,” “sad,” or “happy.” Its high school inventors have already won the prestigious 2010 Siemens Competition in Math, Science and Technology and have been featured in the New York Times. One possible application is helping autistic children recognize and interpret emotion.

The weekend also provided opportunities for alumni from different vintages to meet and discuss their work. The demand for interaction between alumni and students already existed, says Adam, but Working Weekend created the opportunity for them to connect professionally.

“Reedies are predisposed to helping Reedies,” he says. “We don’t have 200,000 alumni in the world. We have about 15,000 alumni. The size of our community is a huge asset. That small number creates an affinity for the other people in the group.”

Meaningful career help and advice can change the trajectory of a career. While students must stay focused to get through the curricuum at Reed, Working Weekend provided an opportunity to look up from their studies and learn how others have maneuvered towards a career goal through the strength of their education, the force of their personality, or the associations they’ve made.

The weekend was judged so successful that plans are underway to repeat the event next year. Mark your calendars for February 1–3, 2013. Interested alumni should send email to Adam.

Go further

More about Working Weekend.

More about the StartUp Lab.