By Despina Williams Parker
A panel of Sociology alumni counseled their undergraduate counterparts during a “Life After the Concentration in Human Services” panel held October 3 in Old Main. Human Services concentration faculty Mette Christiansen and Donna Chaffee combined their classes for the nearly three hour event.
The panel included Katie Borek (’11), Jonathan Castro (’10), John Clausson (’03), Sarita Green (’03), Briana Kane (’05), Jessie Moore (’06), Carolyn O’Neal (’07), and Deborah Walnicki (’14). Chanel Ward, the Director of the Scholar’s Mentorship Program at New Paltz, also joined the panel. She earned a Master’s in Professional Studies/Humanistic Multicultural Education in 2010.
The panelists have varied work experiences. They have found employment as Case Manager and Street Outreach Worker at Safe Horizons, Director of Programs at Safe Homes of Orange County, Tutor at Mid-Hudson Migrant Education, Risk Management Specialist at Irwin Siegel Agency, Coordinator of Transition Services at Wildwood Programs, and at Planned Parenthood as Sexuality Education Coordinator. Walnicki, who received a 2014 Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence, is a Fulbright Fellow to Malaysia.
Christiansen has developed the alumni panel over the last 15 years, in hopes of easing students’ fears about life after graduation. “It gives them hope, options, and direction,” she said, noting that career exploration is a “theme that weaves itself in and out of the courses throughout the semester.”
Prior to the panel, Emily Zurner and Ben Sweet from the Career Resource Office taught students how to write cover letters and CVs. Students also brainstormed questions for the panelists in September. In November, students will have the opportunity to meet alumni who have traveled internationally during and after graduation and now use their human services and language skills in their work in local programs for “Unaccompanied Alien Children.”
The Human Services concentration has cohorts of 30 students, and Christiansen and Chaffee have maintained relationships with alumni throughout the years. Local alumni frequently supervise students during the three required internships, and are eager to return to campus to speak to students.
Christiansen said her undergraduate students frequently make their availability for future alumni panels known. “They say to me, ‘When I’m done, I want to be one of those who come back,’” she said.
Christiansen enjoys the chance to interact with former students and share their success stories with the current Human Services cohort. “It’s like being a very proud mom – a professional mom,” she said.