UNI alumni advise and inspire

UNI alumni stay connected to the university throughout the year in a variety of ways, but students recently had the opportunity to interact with alumni at the Alumni in Residence events held in April. Alumni from each college returned to the UNI campus to visit classes, speak with students and faculty, and share their experiences with the UNI community.

Alumni in Residence
UNIBusiness students and alumni gather for an Alumni in Residence event.

"I hold many fond memories of classes taken at UNI, the friendships started there and the network of professional contacts that evolved from these experiences," said Jay Colsch, a UNI College of Education alum and special education coordinator for Iowa's Area Education Agency 267. "I just feel a need to give back."

In addition to visiting with classes and faculty, the Alumni in Residence also participated in a panel discussion.

College of Education alumnus Kelly Putnam shared an interesting piece of advice for students at the panel.

"Celebrate the late bloomer," she said. "Not everybody knows, the day they graduate, what the next step is and that's ok. It's ok if you don't have the job waiting for you or even if you're still confused about what you want to do when you graduate."

Putnam has experienced this first-hand. She studied journalism as an undergrad, but later realized that wasn't the field for her.

"The moment they handed me the degree, I knew I didn't want to be a journalist," she said.

Eventually, Putnam decided to pursue a master's degree in health promotion and education at UNI, but she sees the value in her past studies and advises students to do the same.

"I use my skills in communication and writing every day of my life," she said. "Even if you find yourself in a field that isn't quite right, it's all learning and it all helps make you who you are."

Tania Johnson, a graduate of the College of Education and 2013 Iowa Teacher of the Year, also encouraged students to emphasize their unique qualities in the job world.

"When you go into an interview, don't give the answers you think they want to hear, give the answers that you believe," she said. "When I interviewed for Teacher of the Year, I was totally myself and I guess that was the person they wanted."

Alumni in Residence
College of Education students, staff, faculty and alums gathered for a reception as part of their Alumni in Residence event.

These panels came at the perfect time. With many students graduating in May, hearing this sort of advice can be especially valuable for students getting ready to make the transition into the working world.

Senior business administration major Philip Musson, a student in the College of Business Administration who is graduating in May, appreciated the emphasis placed on personal values.

"One of the alumni said that you can't be afraid to carve your own path. Don't let others dictate what your career looks like," he said. "I'll soon start a job at a Fortune 500 company where others may be trying to tell me a lot of what to do and I need to stick to my principles."

While these panels provide an excellent opportunity for current students and alumni to network, it's not the only way alumni stay connected to UNI.

Many alumni remain actively involved with many organizations on campus, including alumni-focused organizations such as CATS (Connecting Alumni to Students) and the UNI Alumni Association. Others help fund scholarships, professorships and fellowships, while some serve on advisory boards for their colleges and departments.

No matter what ways alumni stay involved, having an active and visible community of alumni at UNI has proven to be beneficial for students.

"It's a huge motivator," said Musson. "These people have all been so successful and they all started in the same position that I am now."