Twenty Northwestern alumni gathered in the Norris Big Ten Room Tuesday to stress the importance of versatility and self-motivation to students at this year's Civically Engaged Alumni Roundtables.
The event, held by the Center for Civic Engagement and sponsored by other on-campus groups, featured alumni working in remarkably different fields with experience ranging from business to media to music to technology. The panelists, it seemed, shared one common quality: none of their work belonged to only one field.
"The theme of this program mirrors a general theme at Northwestern, which is that students' passions and their career plans don't have to live in two seperate worlds," said event organizer Rob Donahue. "It used to be that you'd have your field of study in one place and your extra-curricular volunteer work somewhere else, but more and more universities are realizing that in today's world, careers involve both."
The theme of interdisciplinary involvement was exemplified by each alum's wide and diverse application of their studies to the real world. Among them were a McCormcik graduate who conducts energy research with the U.S. State department, a former sociology major who manages a consulting company specializing in web design and an English major who now oversees a team of writers at a consulting firm.
Bradley Akubuiro, who graduated in 2011, now works both as a strategist at a consulting firm and an adviser to Rev. Jesse Jackson. He reinforced to students that financially rewarding and personally rewarding careers don't have to be mutually exclusive.
"It is possible to balance both worlds if your're doing a job that's really meaningful," Akubuiro said. "Every night I lie awake knowing that what I do is of value to more people than just shareholders."
Another visiting alum, Clark Carruth, also used his own life as an example of walking the line between realizing a passion and making legitimate contributions. Carruth, who graduated from Bienen in 2002 with a master's degree in viola performance, is now part of a chamber music group that visits the Chicago Public Schools to spread awareness of the arts. His group, Fifth House Ensemble, runs an education program that discusses music and social justice with different schools and community centers.
"What we're really doing is showing how music is relatable to any topic, and showing how music can facilitate learning," Carruth said. "And if you can get that message through and show that music is important as an extra-curricular, that's when the checks start coming."
But holding careers that stretch across multiple disciplines, the alumni emphasized, involves holding skillsets in more than one academic department.
Akubuiro, who spent four years as a Medill student although he was always interested business and "knew [he] never wanted to be a journalist," said his own experience showed that skills learned in college had a wide array of application in the business world.
"Medill gives you an incredible skillset, no matter what you do and where you work," he said. "The ability to always ask the right questions and present them in a compelling way was something that's been really valuable to me."
Carruth echoed the importance of versatility, describing that his career as a musician and educator involves skills beyond those taught in Bienen or SESP.
"With an independent group you have to really be able to sell yourself, and that means being a good writer and storyteller," Carruth said to the students around him. "And take a few accounting classes. It'll help."