Whitman Alumni Network Supercharged Students with Opportunities During Challenging Summer
The year 2020 will long be remembered for unimaginable challenges that came with living through a global pandemic. For students at the Martin J. Whitman School of Management, it will also, no doubt, be remembered as a time where disappointment was unavoidable, classes and meetings happened through a computer screen and long-planned summer internships were canceled with little warning.
However, despite these trying times, there were bright spots, as opportunities that might not have been thought possible in years past emerged through the chaos. Thanks to the commitment and agility of the Whitman Career Services, Alumni Engagement and Corporate Relations teams, as well as a willingness to help from the vast Whitman alumni network, many students were able to secure various types of experiential learning opportunities, including virtual internships and micro-internships, access to alumni through virtual panels and presentations, and even one-on-one networking and encouragement. The efforts were a true testament to the commitment of Whitman alumni, staff and students, who turned adversity into opportunity.
People log on to Rookie Road Inc.’s website to learn the ins-and-outs of sports. But Aastha Badlani ’21 M.S. logged on this summer to learn about business through a virtual internship thanks to the digital content company’s CEO Mike Gursha ’10 (WHIT/NEW).
As a member and former chair of the Young Whitman Advisory Council, Gursha was very aware that many Whitman students were scrambling after so many plans were upended this summer.
This was a totally unprecedented scenario in 2020, and we saw an opportunity to step in and help Whitman students with an experience they might not otherwise have.”
Mike Gursha ’10 (WHIT/NEW)
CEO, Rookie Road
“As the pandemic went on, we were hearing across the board about students losing their internships, job cancellations or companies that were not able to handle remote internships,” he says.
Gursha knew he could help, as his Portland, Oregon-based company was already used to operating remotely with team members across the country. Rookie Road was able to hire 18 interns from the Whitman School.
“This was a totally unprecedented scenario in 2020, and we saw an opportunity to step in and help Whitman students with an experience they might not otherwise have,” he says.
Most of Rookie Road’s interns worked on the content side of the business; however, Gursha hired Badlani, who is studying finance, to work on financial modeling and strategy, an area of the business he was looking to scale.
“I had lost all hope,” says Badlani of her summer prospects in finance and strategy. “Many places I applied said they weren’t able to hire this summer.”
I had lost all hope. Many places I applied said they weren’t able to hire this summer.”
Aastha Badlani ’21 M.S.
“Mike Gursha was very helpful throughout this process. He understood the experience we had in school and how to transfer these skills into an internship,” she says. “He made sure I was getting the most out of the internship and gave me a lot of helpful feedback throughout the process.”
Gursha saw his contribution as a way to give back and find great talent. “A lot of people who helped me in my career were connected to the Whitman School and the University,” he says. “I love Syracuse, and part of that is wanting to provide the same kind of opportunities that were provided to me.”
“Whitman students, like Aastha, are very thoughtful, out-of-the-box thinkers and extremely hard workers,” he adds. “We enjoyed working with her so much that we are having Aastha continue with us this fall. The summer was a huge success, and our company plans to continue hiring many interns from Whitman in the future.”
Why Not Pick a Whitman Intern?
Cheryl Lasse ’90, managing partner at SkillDirector, an online software company that “helps people be great at their job,” was skeptical about taking on an intern, fearing it would require more attention than she had the time to provide. However, Lasse knew she needed help with analytics and search engine optimization, and, during the pandemic, she just couldn’t afford to hire another full-time employee.
“Why would I pick a Duke student when I could get someone from Syracuse?” she asked herself. Not long after, she received an alumni newsletter from Whitman that highlighted the urgent need for internship opportunities — so she decided to take the lead.
Lasse calls her connection with Rui Wang ’21 M.S., a student in the marketing program, “Serendipity.”
Rui was not only a Whitman master’s student, but she already had business experience. Little did I know, she would also be everything I needed her to be.”
Cheryl Lasse ’90
Managing Partner, SkillDirector
“Rui was not only a Whitman master’s student, but she already had business experience,” says Lasse. “Little did I know, she would also be everything I needed her to be.”
Wang was equally excited to join SkillDirector. “It’s not always easy for international students to network and get internships, so the resources at the University become our network,” she says of the help she received when the Whitman Career Center connected her with Lasse.
I am so grateful to have worked with Cheryl…She didn’t treat me like just an intern.”
Rui Wang ’21 M.S.
“I am so grateful to have worked with Cheryl,” Wang says. “She was so very patient with me. She didn’t treat me like just an intern. We talked a lot, and she always explained why a situation happened, while also being willing to apply my recommendations to problems that the company or its customers had.”
Lasse valued Wang for her ability to work independently. “I’d say, ‘Here are things I need done. What do you need from me to get started?’ and she’d run with it. Wang had past professional experience in marketing and knew how to be efficient, respond rapidly and execute tasks. I could not have been luckier to find someone that good,” says Lasse.
“I’m a huge Syracuse promoter,” Lasse adds. “The University gave me a scholarship when I needed it, and I am a pay-it-forward kind of girl. Despite my initial reservations about taking on an intern, I would definitely do it again.”
Making the Most of a “Critical Summer”
Scott Mueller ’21, a finance major with a minor in information management and technology from the School of Information Studies at Syracuse University, admits he was a little late to the game in applying for internships, as he had spent a semester abroad in Madrid. Still, the rising senior knew he couldn’t let the summer of 2020 go to waste.
“My fear was that this was the critical last summer before graduation. What was I going to do?” he says. Mueller thought at the very least he might learn a couple of programming languages, but instead he received the opportunity to do so much more.
My fear was that this was the critical last summer before graduation. What was I going to do?”
Scott Mueller ’21
Alison Kessler, director of alumni engagement, had reached out to the Young Whitman Advisory Council to see if any members could assist in replacing lost internships by offering remote opportunities at their firms. Daniel Folkman ’12, vice president, strategy and chief of staff at goPuff, responded with a willingness to help. Folkman and Mueller were connected, and the opportunity evolved from there.
Once Mueller received the internship, he particularly enjoyed the freedom the virtual experience gave him to see different parts of the business, work with brand partners and brand insight teams, and use his analytics know-how on the database management side. Mueller was also drawn to the workplace culture at goPuff, one that prioritizes collaboration and innovation, especially since he had expected to be working in a more traditional corporate environment.
Folkman was pleased goPuff and the Whitman School could work together to benefit Mueller. “Gaining work experience during my time at Syracuse was incredibly valuable,” he says of his willingness to step forward. “I know that Whitman provides its students with a great foundation to prepare them, so it only made sense to offer an opportunity to a current student looking to work hard and learn in a tech environment."
I know that Whitman provides its students with a great foundation to prepare them, so it only made sense to offer an opportunity to a current student...”
Daniel Folkman ’12
VP, Strategy and Chief of Staff, goPuff
Chris Carona ’85, financial advisor at Morgan Stanley and a Syracuse University Trustee, credits her career start to an internship through the Whitman School and understands the importance of building a solid network, particularly for women entering the business world. She and colleagues felt compelled to offer an opportunity for students to learn from and engage with finance professionals during a time when in-person interaction was halted and internships were at a premium.
“There was so much disappointment this year revolving around things that are hard to understand when you are in your 20s,” says Carona, citing her own 20-something daughters’ experiences, including one who attends Syracuse University. “I wanted to help give some wisdom from adults to let students know that every life or career has ups and downs, chapters or seasons come and go, and you can learn from all of them. It’s going to be OK, and you’ll get to where you need to go.”
I wanted to help give some wisdom from adults to let students know that every life or career has ups and downs, chapters or seasons come and go, and you can learn from all of them. It’s going to be OK.”
Chris Carona ’85
Financial Advisor, Morgan Stanley
One Whitman student looking for direction was Diya Jethi ’22, a finance major with minors in both information technology from the School of Information Studies and psychology from the College of Arts and Sciences. She was frustrated after applying for many internships and hearing nothing back. Living in Dubai, she decided to focus on her own personal and professional development with a food blog and her love of photography, as well as a group initiative to virtually teach presentations skills to underserved populations in her native India.
When Kyle Danzey, assistant director of Whitman’s Career Center, messaged Jethi about a micro-internship opportunity with Carona and Morgan Stanley, the ambitious young Whitman student was delighted.
We immediately bonded. She shared so much about being a woman in such an important position in her company…She was so welcoming and agreed to be my mentor.”
Diya Jethi ’22
“We immediately bonded,” says Jethi of meeting Carona. “She shared so much about being a woman in such an important position in her company and how she had once been told by an older male financial advisor at her firm that, as a woman, she had to work twice as hard. She was so welcoming and agreed to be my mentor. We messaged each other a lot on LinkedIn, and she was always willing to answer my questions.”
In addition to corresponding with Carona, Jethi worked one to two hours a week for Morgan Stanley on an investment stock challenge. “I was told, ‘Here’s a million dollars; create a diverse portfolio,’” she explains.
Jethi walked away from the experience with a greater knowledge of the business and a sense of empowerment, as well as a mentor she knows she can turn to as she continues to make her way into the business world.
Other Ways Alumni Answered the Call
Virtual internships weren’t the only resources made available to Whitman students during summer 2020. While Whitman alumni are always willing to lend a hand, the challenges of 2020 were not lost on them. Alumni stepped up in different ways to help students gain a foothold into a company and explore industries through virtual panels, career conversations and one-on-one mentoring. Following are examples of some of the other virtual interactions Whitman alumni have had with students and their alma mater over the past several months:
Jacob Haworth ’11, head of supply chain at Icelandic Provisions, participated in the Alumni Rush Hour series, one-on-one career exploration and coaching sessions offered virtually to connect students and alumni. “Whitman’s ability to engage with its alumni in unique ways through the pandemic is further proof it has its students’ best interests at heart. Giving back to the students is the least I can do, considering how well Whit-man set me up for success in my career,” he says. “Touching base with accomplished alumni was always one of my highlights at Whitman — and the chance to be on the other side and help guide future Orange business leaders was a privilege.”
Touching base with accomplished alumni was always one of my highlights at Whitman — and the chance to be on the other side and help guide future Orange business leaders was a privilege.”
Jacob Haworth ’11
Head of Supply Chain, Icelandic Provisions
Ian C.A. Thomas ’01, senior manager financial planning and analysis at Turnils North America, was a part of an Accounting Careers Virtual Panel. “Whitman has given me more than I could ever repay,” he says. “Given the challenges of the pandemic and the uncertain state of the economy, I wanted to provide support to students as they try to navigate through these unprecedented times. It is important for me, as an alum, to provide as much of what I’ve gained over the years to the next generation of leaders.”
Given the challenges of the pandemic and the uncertain state of the economy, I wanted to provide support to students as they try to navigate through these unprecedented times.”
Ian C.A. Thomas ’01
Senior Manager Financial Planning and Analysis, Turnils North America
Margo Konugres ’12, senior managing consultant at IBM, facilitated an Alumni Careers Conversations session with her presentation “Navigating Your Career Search and Transferring Your Skills and Interests to the Workplace.” She is a founding member of the Young Whitman Alumni Council and the new chair of the events committee. “I think it was particularly important to give back because everything was so uncertain. It was important to reassure students that just as they were unsure of their futures, so were the companies that were hiring them,” she says. “I thought all the students were very engaged and interested in how they could better themselves between graduation and finding a job. I was even more impressed with those who had jobs but still chose to join the conversation. That said a lot about the caliber of student that Syracuse University, particularly the Whitman School, recruits.”
I think it was particularly important to give back because everything was so uncertain. It was important to reassure students that just as they were unsure of their futures, so were the companies that were hiring them.”
Margo Konugres ’12
Senior Managing Consultant, IBM
Katherine Caminero ’15, marketing strategist for UBS Evidence Lab Innovations, participated in the virtual Whitman Women in Finance panel. “In this new virtual environment, it’s fair to say that many people feel challenged, uncertain and nervous for what’s to come,” says Caminero. “It was important for me to participate on the panel to reassure students that everything will be OK. I really admired how open and honest they were in sharing their own thoughts and experiences. They asked many questions about how to navigate the corporate world in this virtual environment and asked for advice on what they could do to continue to expand their network.”
It was important for me to participate on the panel to reassure students that every-thing will be OK. I really admired how open and honest they were in sharing their own thoughts and experiences...”
Katherine Caminero ’15
Marketing Strategist, UBS Evidence Lab Innovations
Tracy Barash ’89, vice president of marketing for Turner Sports at WarnerMedia, participated virtually as a speaker for the MBA@Syracuse Women in Leadership residency held this summer. A highly committed alumna, she is a member of the Whitman Advisory Council, past president of the Syracuse University Alumni Association Board of Directors and a former member of the Syracuse University Board of Trustees. “During these challenging times, it was even more important to demonstrate to our students that alumni were there to support them,” says Barash. “Our conversations during the residency program revolved around leadership, personal growth and networking — specifically the importance of these topics for career growth and development for women. We explored the significance of networking, both within an organization and externally. I emphasized how networking within my company helped me obtain the role I have now and also stressed how the Syracuse University network has been extremely instrumental to my personal and professional growth.”
During these challenging times, it was even more important to demonstrate to our students that alumni were there to support them...We explored the significance of networking, both within an organization and externally.”
Tracy Barash ’89
VP of marketing, Turner Sports at WarnerMedia