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Student Affairs alumni panelists encourage graduates to learn, earn, and return

Student leaders and employees at the 2019 Student Affairs' Graduation Celebration.

Student leaders and employees at the 2019 Student Affairs' Graduation Celebration.

The Student Affairs Alumni Network welcomed back four alumni panelists April 25 at the Division of Student Affairs’ annual Graduation Celebration.

Lindsay Vahl ‘06, M.S. ’09; Scott Preston ‘10; Marla Goldberg ‘08; and Abe Lopez-Bowen ‘12 reflected on their final weeks as seniors and what had them nervous yet simultaneously excited for graduation. To the 100 student leaders and employees in attendance, the alumni offered reassuring, humorous, and practical advice about tackling the college to career transition.

Vice President Levester Johnson (far right) with the alumni panelists: Scott Preston, Lindsay Vahl, Abe Lopez-Bowen, and Marla Goldberg

The panelists commentary circled around being purpose-rich and willing to embrace failure. Preston, a Town of Normal council member, shared how his success in politics started with failure.

“Because ISU students make up one-third of the population of Normal, I thought there should be a student representative at City Hall,” Preston said. “When I was 21 and a college junior, I ran for councilman. I lost by 3 percent to a 24-year incumbent, but that was much more of a win than a loss for me.

“The people I got to meet and interact with and what I learned about myself was invaluable. Four years later, I still had that same passion and came back and was fortunate enough to win the council position. I tell you this story as a way of encouraging you to chase what your personal passions are!”

“When I was 21 and a college junior, I ran for councilman. I lost by 3 percent to a 24-year incumbent, but that was much more of a win than a loss for me. The people I got to meet and interact with and what I learned about myself was invaluable.”—Scott Preston

The graduates in attendance were not only able to connect with four esteemed alumni, but also their supervisors and mentors from each of the 13 departments. Kate Piper, M.S. ’12, assistant dean of Student Activities and Involvement, shared how she appreciates interacting with students she has built relationships with over the years.

“It’s fun to celebrate their involvement and accomplishments before they graduate,” Piper said. “Most impactful for me is talking at our dinner table about what Illinois State has given students to succeed. It is also rewarding to hear the young alumni talk about how their experiences through organizations like University Program Board and Alternative Breaks have positively impacted their lives.”

“It’s fun to celebrate their involvement and accomplishments before they graduate. Most impactful for me is talking at our dinner table about what Illinois State has given students to succeed. It is also rewarding to hear the young alumni talk about how their experiences through organizations like University Program Board and Alternative Breaks have positively impacted their lives.”—Kate Piper

Vahl, director in the Office of Alumni Engagement, was most eager to share her thoughts about how returning to campus is the perfect way to engage with your alma mater.

“Now it wasn’t as popular when I was a student, but Homecoming has grown exponentially, and Redbirds really make an effort to make it to campus,” Vahl said. “Although it is a whirlwind of a weekend with little sleep because you don’t want to miss an ounce of fun, kind of like the days of being an undergrad, it is important to reconnect with friends face-to-face. And come for the tailgating if not anything else, because people really do it big! The array of menus are crazy and nothing brings people together like food. And as a little piece of advice, take Monday after Homecoming off so you can recuperate!”

Illinois State’s Continuo Orchestra playing music during dinner

Goldberg spoke of a second tradition she sees as highly necessary for young alumni to remain engaged. “I give every year to the University on giving days. Even if I only give $5, I automatically hear back from Illinois State about the ways in which they’re improving campus life. And you will never be able to give in money what the university has given to you. Keep in touch with the University when you’re earning in your careers.”

Student Affairs Director of Assessment and Engagement Initiatives Erin Thomas’ final question prompted the panelists to share the most significant takeaway from their involvement in the division.

Lopez-Bowen easily identified his takeaway as the relationships. “I’ve changed careers more than three times since graduating, and at my lowest points, what’s stayed consistent is the amazing relationships. People at Illinois have invested in me. I encourage you to have a standard for yourself and the people you surround yourself with. Have a team around you who encourages you to be a dream chaser.”

The Division of Student Affairs welcomes the Class of 2019 into the alumni family, and encourages all alumni to stay connected and tell us your Redbird story!

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