CMU alumni-student connections launch careers

Handshake program is part of a campuswide support network driving student success

By Terri Finch Hamilton

Adapted from Centralight Fall 2020

A careers program that connects CMU alumni with today's students is helping 90% find jobs or enter graduate school within six months of earning their bachelor's degree.

Julia Barlow Sherlock, director of the Career Development Center, pairs alumni with students through the Handshake program.

"The next thing you know, the student gets hired," she said. "We see that time and time again."

“We’re large enough but small enough to make these genuine connections.” — Julia Barlow Sherlock, Career Development Center director

Those connections don't happen only through the Career Development Center.

Julia Barlow Sherlock
"They happen in nooks and crannies all over campus," she said. "We're large enough but small enough to make these genuine connections."

Journalism students make lifelong connections with advisors and mentors who follow them from job to job, she said.

"The College of Music knows their students intimately," she continued. "The College of Science, the College of Business …"

Soon, she's naming everybody.

You might meet CMU alumni who visit campus for a career fair, and a connection turns into a job.

Sherlock also sees students forging heartwarming relationships with CMU staff who encourage and support them.

It's not all about landing a job interview.

"There are so many life skills to be learned," Sherlock said. "Students meet people on campus who give them a pat on the back and say, 'You can do this.' They teach them about resilience, about pride in their work.

"That person might not match your career plan, but they teach you so many valuable skills."

The connections go all the way to the top. CMU President Bob Davies is famous for connecting with students. He has them over for dinner. He sends them handwritten notes.

"What really warms my soul is when alumni come back as successful people, as teachers, in business, in nonprofits, to give back by talking to classes," Sherlock said. "They share how they put their whole CMU experience to work — what they did to get career ready. How they grew through leadership experiences, by joining student organizations, through the volunteer center. How they learned resiliency, how to prioritize."

Sherlock said they're tangible proof of CMU success.

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