In 2011, a School of Communication (SoC) graduate student made a recommendation to a faculty member for an event that would allow her cohort to create connections in Chicago. Eight years later, that annual event is a staple for SoC students and their post-graduate success.
Every year, SoC Director of Field Experiences and Internships Thomas Lamonica coordinates the annual SoC Graduate Student-Alumni Luncheon. Each February, SoC graduate students travel to Chicago to network with SoC alumni, learn about the professional communication environment through a post-luncheon discussion, and begin cementing their post-graduate school plans. For graduate students, it is the perfect opportunity to make strong connections with alumni. For Lamonica, it is his “own little Christmas.”
Lamonica is instrumental in the lives of all SoC students. He uses his professional connections, mostly SoC alumni, to help students lock in internship and job opportunities. Lamonica’s willingness to help students create these connections not only stems from his passion for helping SoC students succeed, but the students’ own drive, determination, and willingness to take advantage of any opportunity that comes their way.
“The work that the school and the students are doing to add value to that degree is great,” Lamonica said. “That has inspired the alumni to give back in whatever way they can.”
The graduate student who presented Lamonica with the idea for the event back in 2011 showed that same drive and determination. They saw an opportunity for SoC graduate student advancement and knew Lamonica was the person for the job.
“During the course of that conversation, I thought, ‘Our graduate students are really good! They do our university and our program proud,’” said Lamonica. “I wanted alumni to know that and be able to connect with them.”
Later that year, Lamonica helped set up a luncheon at the Illinois State University (ISU) office in Downtown Chicago. He reached out to SoC alumni working in Chicago, coordinated a lunch that would be free for the graduate students, and watched the magic happen. “It was quite simple,” said Lamonica. “With the space, we were able to get around 12 students and 12 alumni, put them in a space, and watch them interact. The cool thing is that the alumni get so inspired that they want to help support our graduate students.”
At the top of each spring semester, the list for the annual luncheon fills up within a day. With most graduate students being from states outside of the Midwest, they jump at the opportunity to create connections with Redbirds in Chicago. “I was happy to move here and know that the SoC helps me create connections with people working in Chicago,” said SoC graduate student Kameron Williams. “Each year I have gone, they work really hard to help us out and set us up for a good life after graduation.”
That SoC alumni and graduate student interaction has been maintained for the past eight years. While the event exists primarily to help current SoC graduate students, the alumni benefit as well. Whether it’s a small reunion or an opportunity to create a business connection with another Redbird, alumni walk away from the annual event fulfilled, just as the graduate students do.
Lamonica believes that SoC alumni also benefit from the hard work the SoC graduate students are doing year-round, which should encourage them to take part in the annual luncheon or give back to the SoC students in whatever way they can. “Things like the SMACC Lab and the CIC are adding value to alumni degrees when they weren’t even around when they attended the school,” said Lamonica. “The work that the school and students are doing to add value to that degree is great. That has inspired the alumni to give back in whatever way they can.”
This year, several graduate students have walked away with internship and professional opportunities after meeting SoC alumni at the luncheon. “I made a really good connection for a job opportunity this year. I was really happy I went and happy that I could help Tom coordinate it this year,” said SoC graduate student Kiah Wilson.
Though the space is limited at the ISU office in downtown Chicago, Lamonica hopes to see the connections between SoC graduate students and alumni grow in the future. He hopes that both SoC graduate students and alumni will see more opportunities for advancement and share their ideas with him, just as the graduate student did in 2011. “I want to see this grow, but the ideas must come from the students and the alumni. Whatever they think they need, I will do whatever I can to make it happen,” said Lamonica.
Lamonica encourages all SoC alumni to reach out to get involved with the SoC Graduate Student-Alumni Luncheon or to help coordinate other professional development opportunities for SoC graduate students. SoC graduate students are also encouraged to reach out with any ideas for networking and professional development.
Any story ideas or general feedback? Please contact Pete Smudde.