Like many St. Lawrence University students past and present, Mike Arpey ’85 grew up in a family where there was never any talk of Wall Street or the world of finance at the dinner table. Neither of his parents went to college. But while he was a student at St. Lawrence University, he met John Hannon ’44, a St. Lawrence alumnus and then CEO of Bankers Trust.
It turned out to be a life-changing experience for the man who is now the managing director and head of fund investor relations at The Carlyle Group in Washington, D.C. Without guidance from an experienced professional, Arpey may not have understood what it takes to compete for coveted positions at companies, organizations and government agencies.
“Students who come into college with family members already in high-powered professions know what they should wear, what they should say in interviews and how their résumé should look,” said Arpey, a St. Lawrence trustee. “We want to level the playing field, particularly for liberal arts students and first-generation students, by providing them with an opportunity to learn important skills by watching how investment bankers, lawyers and doctors work.”
This type of thinking helped spawn the first-ever SLU Connect-DC program, which took place from Jan. 6 to 11 and drew 28 St. Lawrence students to the nation’s capital to meet with successful alumni and tour a number of government agencies. There, students learned about a variety of professions during six days of panel discussions, networking events, site visits and alumni-run workshops.
Jennifer Curley Reichert ’90 is the founder, president and CEO of a Washington, D.C.-based public relations firm and was one of the principle architects of the program. She along with Lynn Fox, the spouse of President William L. Fox '75, Kelly Appenzeller '15 who interned for Curely, and members of the SLU Connect steering committee believed that St. Lawrence students needed to be better prepared in order to vie for coveted internship positions, especially in bigger cities that house larger universities.
“Our students have to compete against Georgetown and George Washington students who are already down here,” said Curley, also a St. Lawrence trustee. “So, we formalized a networking event between students and alumni, and that’s how SLU Connect-DC was born. We actually hope this is just the first city and that it expands to other markets where it makes sense.”
Kyle Swartz ’17 was one of the students who attended. A native of Chester, New Jersey, and a St. Lawrence sophomore, he already thought he might like interning at the U.S. Senate. However, after attending SLU Connect, he now wants to spend every moment possible in Washington.
“I used to think that working in D.C. meant only working in government,” he said. “But, now I understand that there are private companies to work for there as well. Now I’m thinking about working in other areas like the Secret Service or maybe a private think tank.”
Kyle, who plans to major in government and Canadian studies, had never attended a networking event, and he was slightly intimidated about meeting so many influential alumni.
“You know these are important people, but they end up treating you like you’re an equal,” he said. “There’s this instant connection to us because they were here and know what it’s like to be in this same position.”
Students went from the State Department, to Capitol Hill, to the World Bank and to the White House, meeting with St. Lawrence alumni who work across Washington, including Congresswoman Katherine Clark '85, who was elected to the House of Representatives in 2013.
“It was an impressive lineup,” Curley said, “and it was so gratifying to see this all come together. I can’t tell you the vibe in the room during networking reception. The alums loved it; they felt really connected to the school, and they enjoyed spending time with the students and sharing with them what they do. And, the students were blown away by it.”
Nearly one-quarter of 2013 graduates found their first job through St. Lawrence alumni, according to a recent Career Services survey. That was a 9 percent jump over the previous year, indicating the importance of student-alumni connections formed early in students’ college careers.
Last year, Arpey helped launch the Laurentians Investing in Networking and Careers, or LINC, a program that he funded in order to help match St. Lawrence students with alumni and parents who serve as a professional mentor. This year, he personally sponsored nine LINC students to attend the SLU Connect-DC program as well as a networking event.
For Curley, SLU Connect is emblematic of the opportunities that St. Lawrence students have in order to compete against students from larger schools located in major metropolitan areas. Because St. Lawrence alumni are willing to help them understand the importance of networking, she believes that these same students will one day turn back to help the University once they’ve established themselves in their own successful careers.
“These are the kinds of things that will set us apart,” she said. “St. Lawrence was willing to do this, and it shows the kind place we are. We’re willing to go the extra mile. This is a differentiator for St. Lawrence.”