One might think that because of COVID-related lockdowns and a shift to virtual-only engagement, Robinson’s portfolio of Panthers Immersion Programs (PIP) have suffered. But, au contraire! According to Sharry Conroy, associate director of Robinson’s Career Advancement Center, more companies than ever have expressed interest in meeting students via Zoom since the pandemic began. Conroy leveraged the uptick in enthusiasm by asking PIP alumni from across the United States to participate in students’ months-long preparation process. Such widespread involvement underscores the connections Conroy has not only built but also maintained. Those connections include past PIP participants who donate to the programs and volunteer their time as well as generous corporate sponsors like BlackRock, PNC Bank, and Truist.
“The students worked hard for this opportunity, and I could tell the pandemic made them feel uncertain about their future. It was meaningful to see our alumni and students come together as a family,” Conroy said. “The gift of this pandemic is a deeper appreciation for the relationships we have.”
The strength of the PIP network manifested in the most recent Panthers in the District and Panthers on Wall Street excursions to Washington, D.C., and New York City. After 18 months of solely remote programming, the decision was made to move forward in the “next normal” and reinstate actual trips. Because of HR policies combined with host organizations’ mixed comfort levels, Conroy had to get both creative and flexible. Ultimately, she rented a conference room in the destination cities and invited companies to come to the students—either in person or on Zoom. The end result for each trek? Three days packed with guest speakers, video calls, networking meals, and—thanks to PIP alumni—interactions with political figures and excursions to key employers’ offices.
The Panthers in the District cohort traveled to D.C. in November. Sheerica Ware Wilkins (B.B.A. in marketing ’19), deputy scheduler for the Office of U.S. Senator Jon Ossoff, arranged for the students to briefly meet Senator Ossoff and speak with U.S. Senator Raphael Warnock in front of the Capitol Building. An afternoon at the Capitol Hill Club comprised lunch with Brian Jack, former White House political director for President Donald Trump, as well as presentations by Lauren Offenberg, press secretary for U.S. Representative Brian Fitzpatrick; Salvador Ortega, legislative assistant for U.S. Senator John Boozman; Tim Reitz, chief of staff for U.S. Representative Jody Hice; and Mary Christina Riley, legislative director for U.S. Representative Rick Allen. All the presenters are Georgia State alumni who discussed their paths to Congress and current responsibilities.
“It was such a treat to witness how professionals from both parties work together in this politically charged arena. We peeked behind the curtain and saw how extraordinary these people are,” Conroy said. “They made our students feel welcome and important, and candidly discussed their life choices leading to careers in D.C.”
Cohort member Sachin Menon finished his B.B.A. in computer information systems in December. He recently started as a GPS (government and public services) analyst with Deloitte Consulting. A working lunch with other Deloitte consultants helped him feel more comfortable with his transition from an academic to a corporate environment.
A 12-week internship with Accenture Federal Services sparked Menon’s interest in government consulting in the first place. The political sector will be turned on its head over the course of the next decade because of emerging technologies like big data, machine learning, and artificial intelligence. It’s a perfect application of Menon’s IT skills.
“I haven’t traveled much, so going on this trip, gaining a deeper understanding of the government, and meeting high-level officials brought everything into perspective,” Menon said. “I want to work for the government because I want to be part of the future.”
The Panthers on Wall Street trip took place in December. Thanks to Robinson alumni, three in-person visits crystallized at the last minute. Tamara Cockfield (B.B.A. in finance ’19) orchestrated a jaunt to J.P. Morgan, where she works as an analyst; Diego Meneses (B.B.A. in finance ’17) to Nomura, where he is associate of asset-backed finance; and Kash Molwani (B.B.A. in finance ’17) to Blackstone, where he is an investor.
“The speakers took a deep dive into the core competencies professionals need to stand out in New York: serving clients, being a high-performing colleague, and always striving to better yourself,” Conroy said. “From a self-actualization standpoint, the students were encouraged to embrace their purpose and explore what they really want to do in the industry.”
The excursion helped Jael Ortiz solidify her true interest: a career in investment banking. Ortiz, a double finance and economics major, graduates this December. She has a summer internship lined up in New York on Wells Fargo’s financial institutions team.
For Ortiz, the in-person component of the program was critical, as it brought all her preparation to life, especially how to build relationships and present herself. Most of all, Ortiz relished interfacing with Robinson alumni.
“They wanted to provide help and advice, and be there for us. It became more than a business connection. It became a personal connection,” Ortiz said. “That bond is hard to duplicate from a virtual standpoint. That’s where the program’s hybrid model really shone.”
With support from Truist, a new Panthers in Charlotte cohort will launch in spring 2022. Twenty undergraduate and graduate students who are studying computer information systems, cybersecurity, data science, and finance will travel to the Queen City on March 15-17. Participants will engage with representatives from Ally Bank, AvidXchange, RevTech Labs, and Truist, and attend an alumni reception organized by Georgia State’s Alumni Association.
“As we move forward, it’s important to embrace the opportunities that working remotely brought us,” Conroy said. “I had to find the upside very quickly. For me, that’s keeping the alumni close so they can continue to pay it forward for the students.”