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Student View: Five major takeaways from the Seattle Connections Program

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In this Student View column, Leini Miranda ’24 shares what she learned by traveling to Seattle with a group of Oles to explore career paths and connect with alumni as part of St. Olaf College’s Connections Program, a collaboration between the Piper Center for Vocation and Career and the Alumni and Parent Relations Office.

By Leini Miranda ’24

It’s just after 6 a.m., and I’m in the aisle seat of an airplane pondering what brings me and 21 other St. Olaf College students to Seattle on this Sunday morning of our spring break. It’s not necessarily the extra few degrees of warmth in Seattle (although warmer temperatures are always welcome), or even a family visit. What drives all of us on this flight is the eagerness and curiosity to meet new people and resolve some of the various questions we all have about our professional future selves — exciting but also a little scary! A couple of hours go by before we arrive, collect our bags, and leave the airport behind to head to the hotel. The city greets us with towering buildings, a cloudy sky, and a gentle drizzle. Seattle is slowly waking up. However, as our group’s program gets underway, the students’ smiles gradually begin to brighten the landscape.

I found out about the Seattle Connections Program in large part through my work as a peer advisor in the St. Olaf Piper Center for Vocation and Career. This program is designed to give sophomores, juniors, and seniors a better understanding of the career environment they are passionate about by taking students to Seattle to meet with alumni working in various fields. Other Connections Programs take students to other cities around the country. This professional development program was put on hold during the pandemic but returned in style this spring to take students interested in careers in social impact, technology, and research (that’s me!) to Seattle. On this occasion, we explored notable institutions such as the Allen Institute, IPSOS, Cajal Neuroscience, and the chemistry research departments at the University of Washington (get a glimpse of a day on the Seattle Connections Program in this TikTok video I created). Engaging in conversations and reflections with St. Olaf alumni, we learned about their experiences of entering the workforce and propelling their careers.

I was aware of the large St. Olaf alumni network, full of Oles willing and enthusiastic to help current students as much as possible. Yet it was astonishing to be able to see this magic come to life in the different meetings and conversations we had during the trip. Listening to their discussions about the passion they have for their current roles was captivating.Leini Miranda ’24

For me, this trip was not only a window into future career possibilities, but it was also a space for introspection about the long and continuous journey of career exploration — everything I have experienced up to this moment and everything that is yet to come. True to my style, I imprinted these reflections in my always-by-my-side journal, which I’m sharing a glimpse of with you today. Here are my five major takeaways from the Seattle Connections Trip:

  • Your ideas are just ideas until you materialize them. While exploring the Fremont neighborhood on that Sunday afternoon when we first arrived, one of the alumni we met with shared this valuable tip with us. Personally, I strongly agree that dreaming and brainstorming are wonderful because they help us envision different possibilities based on our individual identities and priorities, but this process loses its value if we don’t put our ideas into action. I think there is a lot more learning and certainly a lot more personal growth when we actively pursue our ideas rather than simply contemplating them. The key here is finding a harmonious balance between these two practices. 
  • A work-life balance is attainable by thinking efficiently and creatively. Many individuals often cite lack of time as a reason for not exercising. However, by creatively reevaluating our priorities, we can find opportunities to incorporate physical activity into our daily routines. I think a practical suggestion is to exercise while commuting to work, optimizing time efficiency. Although I acknowledge that everyone’s rhythm and responsibilities differ, it is crucial to assess what we allocate our time to. Embracing these small exercise opportunities (weather permitting, of course!), not only benefits our health but also contributes to a greener planet.
  • Overwhelmed by the myriad of opportunities, deadlines, and requirements? Simply start somewhere. During a conversation I had at the alumni networking event, I got this valuable advice. As a college student, I like to think of myself as a “being in constant motion” — that is, an individual who is constantly busy due to projects, papers, applications, study sessions, meetings, work, etc. In fact, since I started college, to-do lists have been my queen, my king, and all royal offspring, because they never end. This advice was incredibly reassuring because it acknowledges and appreciates the significance of the small steps we take while working toward building our future. You never know who you might end up meeting right after greeting that person in a professional setting. You never know who you might meet in company A who might lead you to company B. You never know how good you are at skill A, B, or C until you have the opportunity to grow in that area. You never know until you try. 
  • Advocate for yourself in the workplace. If I had to pick one of my favorites from this list, this would be it. This came up in a casual conversation about salary negotiations where the alumna we were meeting with said “Please, negotiate your salary — especially if you’re a woman. No one knows your professional and personal value better than yourself. We deserve to be compensated for every system we’ve fought against and every hurdle we’ve overcome.” This resonated a lot with me and especially with my identity as a woman of color.  Many times salary increases are seen by companies as a simple and selfish economic interest of the employee, but it is not so. It is rather an investment by the company in its human capital, which could also improve productivity and profitability since employers will feel seen, heard, and valued. So, wondering how to voice your needs in this or any setting? Do your research and make the request reasonable, build your case and practice delivery, and respectfully stand up for your rights. 
  • Oles can and Oles will. As a peer advisor, I was aware of the large St. Olaf alumni network, full of Oles willing and enthusiastic to help current students as much as possible. Yet it was astonishing to be able to see this magic come to life in the different meetings and conversations we had during the trip. Listening to their discussions about the passion they have for their current roles was captivating. It became evident that life has been a whirlwind of emotions, encounters with different people, and a multitude of experiences for many of them. I cannot express enough gratitude for the insights and wisdom they shared, which have undoubtedly left a profound impact on me.

Special thanks to the Piper Center, Alumni and Parent Relations Office, and donors for making this trip possible; to Piper Center staff members Bryan Shealer and Hector Aguilar and Alumni and Parent Relations staff members Madi Salisbury and Ellen Cattadoris; and to my fellow Seattle Connections travelers. It has been a blast!

See photos from the Seattle Connections Program’s alumni networking event at St. Olaf College’s LinkedIn page.