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May 12, 2011
MARYVILLE, Mo. - As Northwest Missouri State University student Rebecca Irwin neared the completion of her undergraduate degree program this spring, she set her sights on building a career in social work.
Like many students, Irwin had some doubts about whether she was making the right decision, but she got some affirmation when she connected with Shonte Byrd, a woman who was once in Irwin's shoes and one of several alumni of Northwest's Department of Psychology, Sociology and Counseling, who spent an afternoon at Northwest this spring sharing their experiences and advice with current students.
Irwin, a native of West Covina, Calif., graduated from Northwest this spring with a bachelor's degree in comprehensive psychology and sociology. She said she next plans to attend graduate school.
"I want to help people and make a difference in my community," Irwin said. "(Byrd) confirmed to me that I'm on the right track. I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing, and it's not necessarily about money but following my passion."
Byrd, a family resource specialist at Kansas City-based Spofford, said: "Northwest exposed me to different cultures and helped me become more culturally competent. In my job, I work with a lot of different populations of kids who come from a lot of different economic and racial backgrounds, so it was an easy transition for me to come from Northwest and go into that job because I had been exposed to working with different populations of people."
The exchange Irwin experienced is not uncommon at Northwest, which emphasizes the importance of maintaining connections with its alumni as well as community members and other professionals in a variety of career fields and academic disciplines.
University departments ranging from music to geology to family and consumer sciences employ professional advisory boards that meet regularly. Using their "real world" perspectives and counsel, Northwest faculty members can strategically adjust programs and curriculum so students may gain an advantage in their professional careers.
"The professional advisory boards used by our faculty provide key information regarding the changing conditions in the field," Provost Doug Dunham said. "Often times members serving on these boards are Northwest alumni, which is beneficial because they really have a vested interest in our students' success. It also provides our students with a unique opportunity to network with professionals in their discipline."
Recently Northwest's Department of Mass Communication leaned on its professional advisory board for advice about redesigning its student publications space into a converged newsroom laboratory.
"It's really important in these economic times to make sure that our current students network and learn what it means to be a professional and understand what's going on in the job market," said Dr. Carla Edwards, chair of the Department of Psychology, Sociology and Counseling. "It's also really important to honor our alumni who have been successful in their careers and to share their expertise."
While the sessions are often informal, the meetings also provide valuable opportunities for students to glean resume and interview tips as well as insight to what professionals look for in prospective employees. The Department of Computer Science and Information Systems this spring hosted a meeting where students could ask questions of its advisory board members.
"I asked a few questions relating to my degree and the type of work I will be going into after graduation," said Tyler Ramaekers, who graduated this spring with a bachelor's degree in interactive digital media and will begin work in July at Cerner. "They were able to give me advice related to my personal background. Overall, the whole event carried an ‘ask anything, answer anything' tone in which students could ask any questions they wanted, regardless of the topic, and the professionals would answer it directly."
As professional advisory board members meet with Northwest students, common themes persist. Work hard. Gain experience. Reach out to other professionals.
Heather Wright, a fund accountant for State Street Corp. in Kansas City, stressed the importance of networking. She earned her bachelor's degree in accounting from Northwest in 2008 and obtained her master of business administration a year later.
"Don't be set on one thing," Wright said. "I am doing a job that when I started at Northwest I would have never wanted to do, and I love my job. I am working with clients all over the world and meeting people I never thought I would meet. I just happened to meet the right people along the way to get the job."
For Northwest alumni and professionals who volunteer their time to help students, their participation on advisory boards is an opportunity to give back to the University as well as network with prospective employees.
Thuy Copeland, a member of the Department of Computer Science and Information Systems' professional advisory board, said the faculty and professional mentors she engaged with as a college student played a key role in her success. She earned her bachelor's degree in interactive digital media with a concentration on visual imaging at Northwest in 2006 and works as a web developer for Angus Productions Inc. in St. Joseph.
"Northwest invested a lot of time and effort into grooming me for a great career," Copeland said. "If I can enable future students to gain highly valued and marketable skills, then I have returned the favor."
Now, as a Northwest alumnus, Ramaekers can speak to the knowledge he gained from not only his instructors but professional mentors.
"These resources are out there; use them," he said. "Networking with professionals, students and faculty is the best possible thing you can do to secure a positive future for yourself. Take any opportunity that could potentially lead to a full-time job, internship, or even an interview."
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Mark Hornickel, Communication Manager
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Northwest Missouri State University
215 Administration Building | 800 University Drive | Maryville, MO 64468