Backpack to Briefcase event connects students and alumni working in the government and not-for-profit sectors
There aren’t a lot of places where it’s okay to ask someone how much money they make or how they got their job. But for students in the Faculty of Arts & Science, one place that encourages such frank discussions is at a Backpack to Briefcase (b2B) event.
In her opening remarks at a recent b2B networking evening at Hart House, Zita Astravas, press secretary to Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and 2009 University of Toronto graduate, urged more than 100 undergraduates from across Arts & Science to be bold in asking the 54 alumni guests from the government, social justice and not-for-profit sectors their burning questions about choosing a career path.
“Don’t be afraid to ask those tough questions, ones that could reaffirm the career choices you are making or inspire you to go in a new direction,” she said. “And to the alumni here: What do you know now that you wish you’d known when you were a student? That’s what you should be telling these students tonight.”
The b2B program is one way Arts & Science is giving students access to networks where they can not only explore career options but make essential connections that may help launch their careers after graduation.
“Our goal is to help Arts & Science students understand the value of their degree and the potential opportunities that it can open up for them,” said STEP Forward Alumni Relations Liaison Clare Gilderdale, one of the organizers behind programs such as b2B. “Events like this prepare students for the transition from university to professional life by talking to alumni as well as other students who are in the same position as they are.”
While the focus of the Hart House networking event was careers in government, social justice and not-for-profit, a student doesn’t have to be a political science or international relations major to pursue a career in those fields—and that’s one of the most important points that b2B tries to get across to students.
“If an Earth sciences student is interested in a career in policy, for example, their degree doesn’t limit them in any way,” said Gilderdale. “And an event like b2B can help them get there. It can open doors for them, introduce them to a community of professionals who can provide advice and guidance, and perhaps even help them make a mentorship connection.”
Third-year English and political science student Maggie Yuan came to the event seeking advice on how she can use her degree in the future.
“The alumni I spoke with told me to be open to opportunities,” she said. “They assured me I’ll find my path especially because of the skills I’ll take away from U of T. They said to focus on what I want to do, volunteer and get to know people. Plus, I’m taking away more knowledge about career areas I wasn’t aware of, so this event has been helpful.”
Peter Laframboise graduated from U of T with a philosophy degree in 1994. He went on to earn a law degree at the University of British Columbia, where he found himself at a similar event as a student. Now an investigator at the College of Nurses of Ontario, he was inspired to give back to his U of T community.
“I see the value of sharing your experiences about your path and how that can assist others in finding their own way,” Laframboise said. “I’m impressed by the level of engagement and interest of the students I’ve met. They asked good questions about what path I took, if I would do anything differently, my daily activities at work, and any hints or tips on different strategies to break into the market. One thing I’ve emphasized is peer engagement. Foster relationships and realize how important peers are to your career.”
b2B hosts industry nights each fall and spring as well as numerous alumni panel discussions for different Arts & Science programs throughout the year.