By Mike Foster
For Ryan Kennery (BA ʼ09, MA ʼ11), it was the Alumni Association’s annual Etiquette Dinner and First-Time Homebuyers seminar that were most useful as he made the transition from student to professional life.
Today, Kennery, who is director of communications for Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson, is repaying his alma mater for the advice and support he received by representing the Alumni Association board as a champion foruO2.0, a new program offering services, seminars and networking activities for future and young alumni.
The program, launched with a cocktail reception last month, gives all of the University’s career-building initiatives a reboot and expands on its event offerings. More than 30 events will take place over the next academic year, under a partnership which involves faculties, the University’s Career Development Centre, the Alumni Association and Johnson Inc., the latter’s long-time partner, which has committed to an annual sponsorship of $25,000 over the next 10 years.
The program aims to get future and young alumni thinking about their “second chapter” with the University of Ottawa — hence the 2.0 in uO2.0. The plan is not only to get current students thinking about their lives as alumni before they graduate, but to also offer alumni who have graduated over the past 10 years a chance to stay connected with their alma mater.
Kennery says students can pass all of their classes with flying colours but they might not know much about personal finance or how to build contacts in their fields.
“The program builds upon the foundation of your education and allows you to answer that question, ‘What’s next?’ You might do very well in your classes but after graduation you are put into new situations,” says Kennery. “What the uO2.0 program does is it brings you together with people facing some of the same challenges and questions, and it pairs you with industry experts to get those questions answered.”
Fourth-year economics student Phil Spencer says he gained useful insight at a recent event in the Deconstructing Success: How Social Sciences Alumni Built Their Careers series. A CO-OP student who went to Benin, Spencer hopes to work for an NGO (non-governmental organization) after he graduates in December.
“I was getting advice from people who had been in the field (with NGOs) over the past three to five years. It is a lot easier for a student to imagine himself three to five years down the road, rather than 20 to 25 years,” says Spencer, who has also volunteered at many alumni events.
He learned from a Humanitarian Coalition speaker that an internship can often lead to a full-time job and that experience working in the field in developing countries is held in higher regard by NGOs than working a desk job.
“The events helped me to refine my ability to network,” says Spencer, who has secured a research assistant internship with economics professor Christopher Ksoll. Spencer hopes to use the contacts he has made to secure a job with NGOs working in India or Ghana.
Some of the events planned over the 2015-2016 academic year include a public sector career fair, career development workshops, mock interviews and networking, expert advice on financial health and an engineering and high tech career fair. Previous events have included workshops on dressing for success and managing your social media image and a series of talks from professionals — From Backpack to Briefcase — about how they managed their early careers.
Laurie Smith (MA [History] ʼ02) has spoken at two Backpack to Briefcase events, explaining her work as a heritage consultant providing advice to governments and the private sector on how to protect and manage the value of heritage buildings.
“I thought they were great venues for students and alumni to talk about work opportunities in unusual fields,” says Smith. “I also enjoyed meeting fellow alumni who were working in fields similar to mine.”
Kennery agrees that giving back to his alma mater by sharing his expertise is fulfilling.
“It is always a great way to have questions bounced off you. I find it rewarding because it allows me to better understand some of the burning questions for students. In my industry, public relations, because it moves so quickly, it is always valuable to me to know where particular audiences are focusing their attention,” says Kennery.
Alumni who have graduated within the past two years can access free career services offered by the Career Development Centre. Discount rates are available to those who have graduated more than two years ago.
Louis de Melo, University vice-president, external relations, says uOttawa has seen tremendous growth in its student population over the past 10 years and that the program will help build lifelong relationships, particularly among young alumni, who now make up 35% of uOttawa’s 200,000-strong alumni network.
“We are proud of this comprehensive program, which is directly in line with our strategic plan to enhance the student experience and build strong relationships with our alumni,” de Melo says. “The program builds upon the learning that takes place in the classroom by giving participants a chance to add to their knowledge and skills. This promises to be very useful in an increasingly competitive job market.
"Our students and alumni are already our best ambassadors. We strongly believe this program is a win-win. It will help our future and current alumni to prepare for their lives as professionals, kick-start their careers and expand their networks.”
Ryan Kennery, champion for uO2.0 on behalf of the Alumni Association’s board, enjoys giving back to his alma mater.