When does Miami’s classic 3:05 cafecito break become an opportunity for a student to sit down and network with an accomplished public relations specialist? During FIU’s annual Panther Alumni Week, a highlight of which was a coffee break where students gained valuable insight from advertising and marketing expert Lily Saviñon ’10, founder of the Miami-based firm LD Creative.
Since 2013, hundreds of alumni have returned to FIU to participate in Panther Alumni Week, an opportunity for students to network with and learn from successful graduates.
“When a student can sit in their classroom and hear directly from a successful alumnus, there is something very special that happens. FIU students are in a position to connect with leaders in their industry and hear from important Panthers in our community,” said Duane Wiles, associate vice president for Alumni Relations & Annual Giving and executive director of the Alumni Association. “In some cases, these connections can even lead to internships and job opportunities for our students.”
And in the three years since its inception, PAW has grown from a handful of events and panels to more than 50 events, spanning every college and school in the university for the first time in 2016 and reaching 4000+ students. More than 370 alumni came back to their alma mater to speak to students this year.
“PAW exists to enhance the respect, trust and impact of FIU locally, nationally and globally,” said Maria Tomaino, associate director for Alumni Career Development, explaining the Alumni Association’s motivation to continually expand the event. “We needed to create opportunities for alumni to get involved. Beyond the classroom, what else can alumni do to impact students?”
This year featured a number of first-time networking events, including the Association’s “Dining with 12 Panthers” career development series; a practice interview program and resume festival at the Biscayne Bay Campus; an art education graduate alumni exhibition; a virtual meet up for connecting with Panthers around the country; a reception for alumni who work for FIU and more.
Another new addition to PAW this year: “open classrooms” to which the entire FIU community was welcome to hear alumni speak. The idea was to give students a chance to hear from alumni in a variety of fields and professions.
“What a great opportunity for an undecided student to see what its about and learn from an industry expert,” commented Tomaino.
During one open classroom, Honors College alumni Norwing Rivas ’13 and Rafael Brazon-Di Fatta ’13 spoke to freshmen about their launching a new business in Miami after graduation.
One obstacle the two faced was overcoming their “baby faces.” Being young sometimes leads clients to assume they’re inexperienced, but Brazon-Di Fatta said the best way to handle this is to assert an air of professionalism.
“Confidence is everything,” added Rivas.
Sebastian Cofino, a junior majoring in information technology who attended several events, including the cafecito break, said learning from successful alumni in many different fields has been invaluable.
“I think this is excellent, because students sometimes take one bad grade for granted and say ‘Oh I’m going to give up.’ But [the alumni] inspire, and they help to motivate different majors,” Cofino said.
Alumnus Dwayne Bryant ’93, a TV personality and international motivational speaker, spoke about his path to success after graduating. For Bryant, PAW is an important opportunity for alumni to give back to FIU by teaching and inspiring students to continue their education and explore their passions in life.
“Sometimes students want to see ‘Is this really the place for me?’ You know, sometimes students have doubts,” Bryant said, “and for me, when they see alumni who are successful, who are doing positive things, it makes them more motivated and encouraged to do better things, as well.”
The most important advice Cofino learned during Panther Alumni Week: “Never stop. Always keep going, because as long as you keep going and you don’t give up, eventually you’re going to get somewhere.”