As Alumni Career Services Director Cheryl Bonner ticks off the myriad reasons alumni approach her and her colleagues for assistance, it’s clear that the ACS team is in the business of helping people change their lives.
“Alums will reach out and say, ‘I hate my job and think I want to change careers. What do I do?’ Or ‘I just graduated and I can’t get a job. What do I do?’ Or ‘I’m neurodiverse. How do I get a job?’ Or ‘I got laid off on Tuesday. What do I do?’” she says. “There’s so much that we do, and so many people we serve.”
Bonner has been helping alumni attain their career goals since 2003, back when Penn State’s Alumni Career Services was one of just five such stand-alone programs in the country and LinkedIn was a fledgling startup nobody had heard of. At the time, networking meant mailing letters of introduction to two alumni with a common professional interest found by poring over records in a filing cabinet.
That filing cabinet was an early version of LionLink, which today is a digital hub of alumni and students who share career advice, experiential learning opportunities, and more, all managed by the four-person ACS team. They also do résumé reviews, mock interviews, and provide skill-building webinars and one-on-one virtual career coaching. Plus, Alumni Association members have free access to an online LinkedIn master class that retails for $100. “We are not a job placement center,” Bonner says. “But we are going to give you the tools that you need to be successful.”
Last year, entrepreneur Ryan Geftman-Gold ’90 Lib was at a crossroads in his career, unsure of where to focus his skills and passions. The one-on-one coaching with Bonner, and subsequent alumni networking, was just what he needed. “It felt like getting reacquainted with my own skills. I felt empowered,” says Geftman-Gold, who is now entrepreneur-in-residence with the Office of Entrepreneurship and Commercialization at Penn State. “It was a combination of informed perspective … and comforting, someone I could be honest with.”