Seventeen eager Tommies traded sunscreen and beach towels for padfolios and business suits as they embarked on a Chicago Career Trek during spring break 2023. The group composed of first-year, sophomore and junior students took the Windy City by storm as they networked, toured skyscrapers and learned firsthand about internships and post-graduation opportunities.
“Our students have diverse interests and we want to expose them to career options beyond the borders of Minnesota,” Career Development Center Director Mark Sorenson-Wagner said. “Treks also show employers the impressiveness of St. Thomas students and their ability to be workforce ready when graduating.”
St. Thomas has hosted Twin Cities-based treks previously and organized a virtual Chicago Career Trek last spring as the COVID-19 pandemic continued to prevent employers from allowing guests to physically visit.
Talking with an employer virtually through a screen is a completely different experience from taking the elevator to the 40th floor of a skyscraper in the middle of downtown Chicago to shake hands with employers, see the workspaces and chat in a window-flanked conference room.
Employer visits for the trek focused on industries associated with business degrees; however, selected students represented most colleges and schools at St. Thomas. More than 60 students submitted applications for the March trek, sharing their goals for attending as well as possible ways this trip might help their career journey.
Sophomore Dimpi Patel, an international business major, recognized the trek as an opportunity to explore different industries and gain insight into potential career paths. Prior to the trek, Patel said, “I hope to make meaningful connections with professionals in the industries that interest me, which can provide valuable guidance and support as I navigate my career journey.”
Throughout the schedule-heavy trek, students gathered knowledge and advice from employees of PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, Equitable Advisors, Slayton Search Partners, State Farm Insurance, Benford Capital Partners, Huron Consulting Group Inc. and RBC Wealth Management.
On the second day of the trek, students filled a conference room at Slayton Search Partners to learn from an alumni panel including Bo Murray ’16 from Slayton, Eric Bielinski ’16 from State Farm Insurance and Jim Lynch ’16 from Benford Capital Partners. Roommates during their days at St. Thomas, the panel has stayed close as they’ve settled in Chicago and moved forward in their careers.
Their diverse experience in the financial world supported their ability to offer valuable advice for students as they begin their career journeys.
“My internship laid the groundwork for everything I’ve learned in business,” Murray said. “What you do in your internship isn’t necessarily what you’ll do for your career – everything is a learning experience.”
Bielinski encouraged students to be humble and have a good attitude. “Don’t think that any task you’re assigned is below you,” he said. “Having a positive, can-do approach to your internship will differentiate you from others. Run your own race and do what you can do. Don’t get caught up in what other people are doing.”
Unanimously, panel members told students to tap into networks. “The St. Thomas network is very intimate and strong. People are always willing to take time to have conversations. They’ve been in your shoes, and they want to help you succeed.”
Trek participants put this advice into action during a St. Thomas reception held at the Metropolitan Club on the 67th floor of Willis Tower. During the event, students had the opportunity to meet St. Thomas President Rob Vischer and talk with more than 50 alumni and friends.
Serving as emcee for the evening, Sorenson-Wagner introduced Board of Trustee member Jim Gearen ’83, who talked about his family’s legacy at St. Thomas. Vischer shared his vision as the 16th president of the university, and sophomore Amari Gamble discussed the value of her experiences on the trek.
Sophomore Claire Nippoldt
I got to meet with the president of St. Thomas, people currently involved in St. Thomas, and alumni, all of whom I likely wouldn’t have met without attending this event.”
“I got to meet with the president of St. Thomas, people currently involved in St. Thomas, and alumni, all of whom I likely wouldn’t have met without attending this event,” Sophomore Claire Nippoldt said of the reception. “By talking with these people, I not only learned more about them and St. Thomas, but also the different options I have after graduating. It allowed me to see how my degree from St. Thomas can translate to so many different career paths.”
With opportunities for learning about industries, networking, connecting with alumni and students showing employers a glimpse of the talent coming from St. Thomas, the Chicago Career Trek fulfilled Sorenson-Wagner’s hopes for the program.
“Any opportunity for students to actively see and experience different cities, jobs, employers or industries helps them figure out what life and their career might look like while they’re still on campus,” he said. “When they can make direct connections between possible destinations and the great things they are learning in the classroom, it reinforces the meaning of their learning and how they can have an impact on the world.”