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W&L Students Kick Off Career Exploration with New Program

A new and innovative Career Exploration Trip in October gave 21 Washington and Lee University students a head start on their career paths, with help from alumni in Charlotte, North Carolina.

While it is common practice at colleges and universities to conduct trips for students interested in such fields as finance, advertising and journalism, W&L is among the first to offer students a trip to even more industries so early in their college careers.

Fourteen W&L alumni hosted the mostly first-year students for one hour each at 10 different companies encompassing the arts, banking, government, law, sports marketing, journalism, sustainability and other areas.

“It was a great way for students to see a lot of different career options in a short amount of time,” said Sara Greene, assistant director of career development at W&L. “It made a big difference for students to actually go to a place of business and experience that industry in its space. They met professionals in the field and gained inside knowledge of industries they might not get otherwise.”

During the visits, alumni talked about everything from how they became interested in the industry to their career progression, from how their major relates to their career to tips for students who might be interested in that industry. While some alumni made a formal presentation, others held panels with different professionals from their company, or led a question-and-answer session.

The trip also included a networking event with W&L’s Charlotte Alumni Chapter that included a mix of younger and older alumni.

Sophomore Prakhar Naithani, a native of India from Morrisville, North Carolina, described the trip as “an eye-opening experience.” “Many of the alumni decided to take a different route in life before arriving at their present career,” he noted. “Taking a circuitous route helped them to better understand themselves and gain an appreciation of what it takes to pursue any particular career.”

One example Naithani cited was a district judge who decided to practice law after majoring in English at W&L, backpacking across South America and getting married. “That example was by no means an outlier,” commented Naithani. “It reassured me that I do not have to plan out the rest of my life as a sophomore. The important idea is to follow your interests and plan out a course of action that not only allows you to gain a quality education, but one that speaks to your individual strengths and passions so that no matter what you decide to do in the future, you can have a fulfilling career.”

First-year student Courtney Hauck, from Beaverton, Oregon, was surprised to find that the career fields she knew the least about proved to be the most interesting. “I gained insight into fields such as real estate, investment banking and other career paths that I might not have considered otherwise,” she said. “This trip inspired me to try new activities while I have the opportunity to do so throughout college.”

Both students highly recommend that other students take advantage of future Career Exploration Trips. Parents were also enthusiastic about the trip and gave positive feedback to career development.

The key to the trip’s success, according to Greene, was Washington and Lee’s strong and enthusiastic alumni base. “All the alumni were on board and were very excited about it,” she noted, “so we sincerely could not have done this without them.” In the future, Greene said, Career Development hopes to expand the program to different cities, such as Atlanta and Houston, so students can explore even more careers.