For University of Massachusetts students developing their own concentrations in the Bachelor’s Degree in Individual Concentration (BDIC) program, many find a number of benefits, including inspiration and solace, in meeting successful BDIC alums.
So this year, members of the BDIC student advisory board planned the program’s first large and formal “BDIC Career Networking Night” – a night which brought together over 70 members of the program and featured drinks, dinner and speeches from BDIC alums about how developing their own college tracks led them to their careers.
Student advisory board member Tara Kelly emceed Tuesday evening’s networking event, and said in her opening remarks that “looking out [into] a room filled with successful BDIC alumni only reinforces that our ability to create unique and individual majors pushes us to succeed even after graduation.”
“A networking night seemed obvious,” she said. “As BDIC students, we are naturally inclined to network. Unlike most students, we must advocate for ourselves and our majors and networking becomes our greatest resource.”
The networking night prioritized inviting BDIC juniors and seniors. The night allowed time for students to socialize and eat amongst themselves. The students then heard from nine different alums of varying ages and careers speak on their experiences before the students moved into roundtable groups to further question their alum(s) of interest.
The featured alumni were Marc Berman, class of 1980 journalism alumnus; Annie Tiberio Cameron, class of 1973 environmental education alumna; Emily French, class of 2009 holistic health and sustainability alumna; Justin Gallant, class of 1993 entrepreneurial studies alumnus; Doug Levinson, class of 1985 molecular biology alumnus; Bruce Ledoux, class of 1991 international advertising alumnus; Cristina Sadler, class of 2008 marketing design and public relations for the green industry alumnus; Tom Sharpe, class of 1975 personnel management alumnus; and Bruce Warila, class of 1988 software design alumnus.
Nearly all of the alumni presenting that night spoke about concepts such as “making your own luck” and “keeping an open mind” that several of the BDIC students said resonated well with their personal beliefs.
Berman, an adjunct professor in the UMass journalism department, president of the WFCR Foundation and founder of the Scott J. Bacherman Fund, talked about how he was one degree of separation away from being a BDIC alum. He told his personal story about his cousin and his decision to pilot a radio station.
Cameron spoke about how her passions, such as teaching and photography, have dictated her career. She worked in education, and ultimately felt compelled to start her own photography business.
Ledoux, another alum whose career choices highlights how passion can catalyze life change, shared a moving story about his determination to raise money for children with illnesses and disabilities through founding Guardian Angel Motorsports, an organization that has raised over $160,000 for children’s causes.
According to BDIC Director Daniel Gordon, also of the UMass history department, the night had a large turnout as BDIC contains nearly 230 students, many of whom are spending the semester studying abroad.
“BDIC students study abroad more often than any other major with the exception of languages, literatures and culture [studies],” said Gordon.
While the college has had several networking events throughout the year, usually inviting between 20-30 students, this event was by far held on a grander scale. It brought together more of the college’s students, whose common desire to direct their own education makes it nearly impossible for all of them to interact in a classroom setting as other majors usually have the ability to do. The entirely student-catered night was held in the Marriott on the 11th floor of the University’s Campus Center.
“I think it’s awesome to have everyone from BDIC in one place and just to get to meet our own peers and see how incredible everyone is,” said senior David McGavern, who is studying how to make computers more user-friendly and will be working at Apple on Mac development upon his graduation. “I love hearing about what makes people passionate.”
After a live jazz-filled cocktail hour, Kelly and Gordon gave their introductions to the night. Gordon emphasized his hope that “BDIC would become a part of [the students’] sense of self,” which several of the alumni guest speakers echoed during their stories.
“I think it’s great to get alumni back so we can see what people who were in BDIC previously are doing now and how their concentrations played into their careers and life plans,” said civic engagement and the politics of representation major and senior Nikki Tishler.
“It’s also great to get BDIC students together,” continued Tishler. “The nice thing about talking to BDIC students is that you’ll have no clue what a person’s concentration will be just meeting them, but you know your mind is going to be blown by it. No matter what they say, it’s going to be amazing.”
Even some of those students who may have been disheartened initially to discover some of the speakers were not working in fields directly related to their prospective work found value in the event.
“I figured I’d be able to talk to somebody who was close to my major,” said Ben Silverman, a junior audio engineering and music production major. “But then I looked at the list of people and nobody seemed to be. Then, I coincidentally started talking to Marc Berman of journalism, and it turns out his son is a member of MGMT the band.”
Silverman said his local band, Kids on a Hill, which is slated to play at the Spring Concert and was the recent winner of UPC’s Battle of the Bands, used to play a cover of MGMT’s song “Electric Feel.”
“This is much more helpful than I ever thought it would be,” said Silverman. “Talking to someone who knows exactly what it’s like to be successful in the field I’m in is great.”
Other than just meeting people in their fields, students also found the atmosphere of the event to be exceptional.
“The food has been amazing. The connections have been easy-to-make, and it’s been very chill,” said Rebekah Blair, a dance education and management fifth-year student, who aspires to open up a dance studio. “I don’t know any other colleges in the country that offer a dance education concentration and business background, so as far as opening my own dance studio I need all those different skills.”
The college plans to hold this event each year in the spring.
“We draw meaning from continuity in our lives,” said Gordon. “And it is impressive that these alumni can tell stories that link their college stories to what they’re doing now. I think that’s an advantage of BDIC.”
Alyssa Creamer can be reached at [email protected]