Alumni show students diverse paths to social impact during Connect

Jeff Rice
March 31, 2021

There are professions that you can be passionate about while making a difference in the world, a panel of Schreyer Scholar alumni told current Penn State students in the honors college on Saturday, March 27 at Connect 2021, and those passions and professions are worth pursuing.

They just shouldn’t expect to necessarily find them right away.

Connect is the Schreyer Honors College’s annual career networking event, sponsored by its Scholar Alumni Society, and this year brought nearly five dozen alumni from all over the country together with more than six dozen students for panel discussions and small-group networking sessions in a virtual format.

The “Careers with a Social Impact” panel session, one of 11 sessions offered to students, included several alumni, such as 2015 graduate Eli Kariv, whose professional lives have taken multiple twists and turns before settling in the social impact space.

“For me, the most informative experiences were trying things that I thought sounded cool but didn’t totally align with what I wanted to do,” said Kariv, who majored in marketing at Penn State and founded The Coding Space, an after-school and summer program that teaches children coding and critical thinking skills, and was a co-founder of The Summer Founders Program.

Kariv, an alumnus of the Presidential Leadership Academy, urged students to make the most of whatever professional experiences they have while continuing to seek those that make them come alive, a sentiment shared by several other panelists.

“If you decide you’re really passionate about a career, even if it is a career change or has nothing to do with your major, there’s a way to get into that field,” he said. “It’s nice if it aligns with previous things you’ve done, but it’s more important that it’s something you get excited about.”

Christine MacAulay, a Scholar alumna who works as a foreign service officer with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), said the service learning courses she took at Penn State were helpful in forming her career path and encouraged students to consider socially responsible endeavors in the public or private sectors.

“It’s a matter of finding out where you think you have the most value added,” said MacAulay, who joined the session remotely from Frankfurt, Germany. “But you don’t have to necessarily choose; there’s a lot of fluidity between sectors.”

The alumni panelists also offered advice. Katie Paolizzi, a senior Scholar majoring in international politics, asked how students could make up for the international experiences they may have missed out on due to the coronavirus pandemic. Joshua Branch, a Scholar alumnus who now works as a policy specialist at the Crime and Justice Institute in Boston, Massachusetts, encouraged students to read up on different cultures in lieu of traveling to other countries, or volunteer at local organizations who serve members of those populations.

Paolizzi, who is looking for opportunities to address food waste, said the most memorable piece of advice she received came from Branch, who told students to “find what outrages you, then find a way to address it sustainably.”

Branch also urged students to read the biographies of people who work in positions students aspire to hold themselves one day. Brady Press, a Scholar alumna and associate director at Changing Our World, which provides consulting for nonprofit organizations on capacity building and fundraising strategies, told students to not be afraid to apply to jobs that have nothing to do with their major.

Other panelists told students that career failures weren’t fatal and, in some cases, led to more fulfilling opportunities. The message resonated with current Scholars.

“This session influenced me to change the way I looked at my personal career path,” said Scholar Emma Cihanowyz, a sophomore majoring in international politics, Spanish, and French and Francophone studies. “Not one panelist had a ‘linear’ career path. They all tried different avenues, learned from what they liked and what they did not, and truly found a career of their own that is constantly evolving. This comforted me that I will still have the ability to explore, make mistakes, and grow through my own career journey.”

About the Schreyer Honors College

The Schreyer Honors College promotes academic excellence with integrity, the building of a global perspective, and creation of opportunities for leadership and civic engagement. Schreyer Honors Scholars total nearly 2,000 students at University Park and 20 Commonwealth Campuses and represent 38 states and 27 countries. More than 15,000 Scholars have graduated with honors from Penn State since 1980.

Last Updated March 31, 2021