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Exploring Careers in the Big Apple W&L's Office of Career and Professional Development gave students the opportunity to network and explore potential career paths over Washington Break.

SOC030123_023-1140x760 Exploring Careers in the Big AppleCareer and Professional Development trips take students to New York City annually.

“Washington Break career trips offer a high-impact, hands-on experience that enables students to explore career paths and connect directly with alumni and potential employers.”

~ Molly Steele, dean of career and professional development

Washington and Lee students have the option of spending their Washington Break in February preparing for midterms or catching up on sleep, but 56 decided to spend their week networking with alumni in New York City and exploring their career interests on career exploration trips organized by W&L’s Office of Career and Professional Development (CPD).

During these trips, students have the chance to meet with alumni, professionals and recruiters, tour workplaces, and participate in networking events. These experiences can be invaluable for students as they learn more about different career options, make connections and gain insights into the professional world. This year, students participated in trips for finance, healthcare, law (a new offering) and the Exploring Careers in NYC trip, visiting alumni in many organizations including corporations, startups, government agencies and nonprofits. The New York City Alumni Chapter also hosted students for a networking reception with over 100 alumni.

“Washington Break career trips offer a high-impact, hands-on experience that enables students to explore career paths and connect directly with alumni and potential employers,” said Molly Steele, dean of career and professional development. “These impactful trips provide behind-the-scenes insight into the professional world and invaluable networking opportunities that often lead to jobs and internships.”

Students on the Exploring Careers in NYC trip visited companies across many industries, including the NFL and the Museum of Modern Art.  Students on the finance-focused trip were exposed to roles in finance ranging from boutique firms to large international banks. Students on the new law professions trip visited with attorneys in many practice areas including criminal law, business law, legal aid and in-house counsel as well as professional providers of litigation support services. Students interested in careers in the healthcare industry visited with clinical providers, research scientists and alumni working for startups and corporations in the healthcare industry.

Wash-break-1140x719 Exploring Careers in the Big AppleThe Exploring Careers in New York Trip checking out the rooftop view at Amazon.

“This experience was extremely helpful in shaping my plans for my career because it opened my eyes to possibilities I had never even considered,” said Rhonica Connor ’27, who attended the Exploring Careers in NYC trip. “Engaging with the alumni revealed that a journalism degree transcends traditional roles like being a writer or news anchor, and the degree could open doors at places like the NFL, Meta and even financial institutions. Additionally, I gained insight into the importance of experiences, initiative and skills in securing employment. The networking element forged valuable connections, garnering advice, resume support and encouragement from alumni. Overall, this encounter has boosted my confidence in entering the professional realm and reshaped my approach to maximizing my four years at W&L for career success.”

Alumni who have participated in CPD trips during their time at W&L often look back on these excursions as catalysts for their professional trajectory. Ayo Ehindero ’20, an account manager at San Francisco advertising agency Goodby Silverstein & Partners, said she is grateful for the in-person conversations and networking opportunities through the marketing-focused trip she participated in as a student. She still refers to aspects of the trip as she navigates her career in the advertising world.

“I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to learn more about what marketing actually looks like, what the output is in the role and what kind of content I was most interested in working with,” Ehindero said. “I now know that I am interested in project management, and I feel really lucky to have found what I want to do for the rest of my life.”

Kristen Xu ’20 attended the same marketing trip as Ehindero and said her trip experience taught her how to network, a skill she says helped her realize her dream career in the beauty industry.

“Marketing was something I was intrigued by but didn’t really understand,” said Xu, who works in global marketing for the cosmetics brand NARS. “When I went on the career trip, I had the opportunity to tour agencies and listen to the kinds of cross-functional teams that I work with now talk about their specific functions. I realized I liked the idea of being a creative strategist and that it was the direction I wanted to go in.” Xu said her trip experience, combined with working on her resume and cover letter with CPD, helped give her the confidence to reach out to the recruiter who hired her for her first job after graduation.

IMG_7147-WP-576x768 Exploring Careers in the Big AppleThe Finance Trip looking sharp in Bryant Park on the way to their first stop.

Economics major Will Knight ’26 said the finance trip not only clarified his career path but provided him with connections he knows will help his search for an internship experience next summer.

“The biggest highlight of the trip was the alumni reception on Wednesday night,” Knight said. “The room was full of alumni working in New York City, and each person has had an incredibly successful career. What stood out to me was how everyone was familiar with each other despite working in different industries and firms. It was as if I had never left Washington and Lee’s campus because of the warm and friendly culture that was evident in the room.”

Networking is especially critical for first-generation college students to build social capital, access resources and explore career opportunities while expanding professional networks. Jana Hulsey ’25, whose trip exploring careers in law was led by Lorri Olan, senior associate director of CPD, also works closely with Olan as the president of the student organization LIFT (an acronym for the Low-Income, First-Generation Team), and said her trip experience is aligned with the support she has received from Olan and the CPD office.

“Lorri regularly sends me resources to share with LIFT members concerning CPD events, networking opportunities, internships and other resources,” Hulsey said. “I value Lorri because I can tell she genuinely cares about helping students achieve their professional goals. As a first-generation college student, I rely heavily on individuals like Lorri to navigate my academic and professional life.”

Hulsey said the Washington Break experience was impactful for her as she refined her career passion.

“I’ve always envisioned myself attending law school,” said Hulsey, who is majoring in economics with a minor in poverty and human capability studies, “but did not know exactly why I wanted to go or what law school even entailed. Through my internships with the Shepherd Higher Education Consortium on Poverty at the Brunswick Public Defender’s Office and the Brookings Institution, I’ve been able to narrow down my interests. I realized I enjoy the direct client contact and the extent to which I can make a positive impact in individuals’ lives. Thus, I was drawn to go to New York to visit organizations like the Legal Aid Society to see what kind of impact they were making in low-income communities, especially because of my passion for understanding and addressing problems within the carceral system.”

Madeline Simko ’19, vice president of strategic planning at marketing agency dna Communications, enjoyed her working lunch with students on the healthcare-focused trip, during which she and her colleagues gave a presentation on the role and value of marketing in healthcare, as well as the difference between earned and paid media.

“The students were very interested in what my day-to-day role looks like, how my education and my degree in psychology has translated into the workforce and how I approached internship applications,” Simko said. “They were most surprised and interested to know that research is not just limited to academia. My goal for the session was to broaden their perspective on what working in healthcare means.”

As a past participant in one of the career trips, Simko said she was inspired to contribute something back to an experience that helped her land her first internship and job.

“This is a great opportunity to be part of that strong alumni network we all heard about when we were students,” Simko said. “It is rewarding to change students’ perspectives and see them get excited about a potential future job.”