Career Weekend: Alumni and Students Hit Critical Mass

By Robert Shatz (MIM ’82), Guest Writer

I owe Thunderbird a lot, especially because I obtained a job in Tokyo thanks to the introduction of one of the guest speakers who came to campus to speak. But I watched Thunderbird start to circle down the toilet after some of the trustees jumped ship and started TIAA. I was serving as the Chapter President of the local Tucson Chapter when I saw Thunderbird absorbed by ASU, and the MBA was pulled and a new MGM was recreated out of the old MIM.  When we were visited by members of the admissions team on one of our First Tuesday events, the Tucson Chapter sprung into action.  Our purpose: to come in, roll up our sleeves as alumni, and help turn the school around.

Fast forward 18 months later, I was sitting in an important meeting with Guy Groff, Paetra Yates, and Patrick McDermott.  In nine months of work, we had connected interested students with 300 alumni, but it did not work out well at all.

As a matter of fact, I had just resigned, because both students and Alumni were disappointed with the effort. I proposed that unless ALL STUDENTS joined a mandatory applied class in finding a job before graduation, Thunderbird was going to lose whatever mystique it claimed to have had in a few more semesters.

Guy Groff told me after the meeting, “Let’s put you onto a new project I have hatched – bringing alumni to spend time with students with Mock Interviews and Mock Career Fairs.

I said to Guy, “If we can bring in the student government on this project, then I will commit.”  My target for alumni was 50, and Guy’s target for students was 250 – a ratio of 5 students to 1 alumni.

I started in June, and by event time, Paetra at Engagement, Angelique at Career Management Center, and I had gathered 18 alumni from the Tucson Chapter, and 14 alumni from everywhere else to come to Thunderbird and participate.

Thanks to Thunderbird Student Government, I was allowed to become the Master of Ceremonies for the luncheon. I asked each alumni to answer the question, “What 3 Things Have You Come to Expect out of Yourself?”

I asked the alumni to cooperate and think about it in advance, because I wanted to show the CMC that we could end BEFORE the 2:10pm deadline when people had to clear the space to set up the Mock Career Fair.  (Finishing early… What a concept!)

We included every alumni, including Helen Wu of the CMC, and her profound words (“Eat your carrot cake!).” These introductions became a point of departure for the students to know how to introduce themselves to these alumni, and it ignited Critical Mass, again, in Thunderbird Mystique.

Thunderbird Mystique had been called into question with the transitions happening both on campus and globally. In parallel, when Thunderbird gave up its MBA designation, the school’s brand image was called into question. Based on the premise that students are the well-spring of Thunderbird, then let’s create a brand image around a student-driven unit of the ASU Knowledge Enterprise.

When Dr. Morrison asked me during our conversation at Thunderbird’s 70th Anniversary, “What would a Cohort Driven Unit look like?”  I explained, “What if we allowed the students to co-create their own education with the support of the faculty, administration, alumni, and community? Surely, if students knew that they were going to be a part of the process rather than as cattle to be passively herded here and there, the students could own their Thunderbird.  For example, what if we create a TEMLab with a mixture of cohorts and took the time to make sure, in a Student-Driven Initiative (with backing and support from teachers, alumni, and administration) where the goal was to help each and every one find a job before they graduated…”

Dr. Morrison wanted another example, and I responded, “What if we set up a mechanism to connect students to alumni?” He liked it, and as long as I worked with Guy Groff on it, we had his blessing.

One year, 30 students, 300 alumni later, I fell on my sword—unless there is an applied course where grading is based upon how well you document your interchanges with alumni and create a mechanism for scholarships, internships, consultancy projects, visits to campus, and jobs.  If such an applied, hands-on, student-driven program to learn how to network, how to get a job, and how to find opportunities for students, alumni, and Thunderbird was made mandatory, it would surely co-create the Thunderbird Mystique and brand image at the same time. Career Weekend is the closest thing we have right now, and for the students who showed up, it did that and more. For the alumni, it refreshed our collective soul, and it was triggered by compassion.

Alumni put students under the gun in the Career Fair, and many students wilted.  One alumna told a student to tear up her 30 second speech and include the jewel qualities it took three minutes for the alumni to coax out of the Student.

The mock interviews were even tougher.  Some students walked away in tears, but students felt that even if they were harsh, the alumni were human beings that wanted to see them succeed. The alumni showed the students a harsh but compassionate perspective that drew students and alumni closer in the process.

Paetra was able to set up a meeting with Patrick, and he took about 45 minutes to listen to all of the reactions from the alumni about their interaction with the students.  At the crux of the conversation was the synergy of book learning and networking.

I summed it up to Patrick and Paetra like this: “If you want to book learn, get your MBA at W.P. Carey at ASU or Eller College at the University of Arizona.  If you come to Thunderbird, you come to synergize/optimize networking with class time and homework in applied learning.”

That is the whole idea behind the “Global Grind.”  It is a student-driven initiative to develop a long-term relationship with the Thunderbird Alumni Network for internships, jobs, consultancy gigs, school visits, donations, volunteering, etc.  In the process, we build the Thunderbird Mystique. That is why, philosophically, it should be voluntary, and pragmatically, it should be MANDATORY.  Think about it—think about the overall possibilities, and own it.  This will be of great help.

The Alumni-Student Career Weekend exceeded everyone’s expectations.  The size and energy created a critical mass of energy to the point where the alumni are planning a student trip to southern Arizona on the topic of global trade.  The CMC is already evaluating the idea of doing this with each new cohort thanks to the Career Weekend’s success, and alumni have challenged Thunderbird to make the Global Grind course a mandatory student-driven applied class for the greater good – the students, the alumni, the faculty, the administration, and community.

Now we need the support of the students to agree to such a mandatory Global Grind class for all first semester cohorts and ask the students from second semester onward to serve as advisors and supporters for the effort.  This is how we can resurrect the Thunderbird Mystique on campus.  This is how we can make Thunderbird shine again in the Global Management space.

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