NCAS Executive Speaker Series Kicks Off With Distinguished Alumni Panelists

It’s a well-documented fact: While the U.S. economy has remained mired in a near-recession, college graduates have had an especially hard time finding jobs. Thanks to some creative minds at NCAS—and alumni who want to give back—students at Rutgers-Newark are getting some help navigating these choppy seas.

Enter the NCAS Executive Speaker Series, a set of three alumni career panels debuting on campus this fall. The first panel discussion, on careers in healthcare for science majors, took place on Wednesday, October 10 in front of a packed house in Englehardt Hall. Some 60 NCAS students showed up to hear three distinguished alumni share stories, offer valuable perspective and dispense advice on everything from networking to sizing up prospective employees.

“It was interesting to see people who have been in my position and made it through life successfully,” says Angenny Rosario, a freshman from Roselle, N.J., double-majoring in Political Science and English, and minoring in Physics. “Their coming back to campus speaks volumes about them, and how much of an impact they felt Rutgers had on them. I truly appreciate their time. They are an inspiration to the students.”

Charting a Course for Tomorrow's Leaders

The alumni panelists included Colette Andrea (NCAS ’74), Vice President of Client Services at Parexel, a global bio/pharmaceutical research and consulting firm; Steven Gersen (NCAS ’73), a cytogeneticist who is Managing Director at Ameripath Esoteric Institute; and Charles Rizzo (NCAS ’73), a chemist who led a distinguished 30-year career at Schering-Plough Research Institute before becoming a medical writer at Hurly Consulting Associates.

Each spoke for 20 minutes about their career, before opening up the floor for a Q&A.

Andrea, who has a science and medical-technologist background and an MBA, has specialized in marketing and medical communications for much of her career, working on the Viagra account for Pfizer and as director of marketing for Berlex Laboratories (now Bayer Healthcare).

She has moved around extensively in her career and advised students that “whatever you do, keep your network alive. I’ve gotten jobs because of referrals by people I hadn’t worked with in 20 years,” Andrea said. “You never know who will be valuable down the line. So, build and sustain your relationships.”

She also encouraged students to be very focused in interviews.

“In the first 30 seconds, you need to quickly articulate your skills and experience and align them with the employer’s needs,” she said. “It’s at the beginning of interviews where you make your best case, actually.”

Gersen, who has a Ph.D. in genetics from Rutgers-New Brunswick and UMDNJ, stressed the importance of internships and volunteer work, saying they often turn into jobs where none may be apparent at first. He cited his experience volunteering in a lab where he learned clinical and diagnostic disciplines. It led to a full-time job doing human chromosome analysis.

“Don’t look that gift-horse in the mouth,” he said. “First, keep your eyes and ears open and you’ll learn a lot. Second, if they see you’re motivated and are willing to do any kind of work for the benefit of the team, they may very well hire you.”

NCAS Alumni Giving Back

The panel, officially titled “There’s More to Science Than Medical School: Alternative Careers for Science Majors,” lasted nearly two hours. It kicks off the 2012 NCAS Executive Speaker Series, which emerged out of discussions that took place this past spring between the Career Development Center, Honor’s College, and Office of Advancement and External Relations.

The goal: to tap one of the college’s biggest strengths, its alumni, to better serve the needs of NCAS students.

“Career guidance of this kind would be important under any circumstances. With today’s tough economy, it’s even more so,” says Brian Agnew, Assistant Dean of Advancement and External Relations. “Since NCAS has so many successful alumni, it makes sense to  bring them to campus whenever possible to share their expertise and experience with students, and encourage them along their career paths.”

For Andrea, the panel marked her first time back to Rutgers-Newark since graduation. She was amazed at how much the campus has grown in the interim, noting that it has become not only larger but much more sophisticated. She also loved helping out NCAS students.

“I tried to provide life lessons with my experiences that would stand the students well throughout their lives,” says Andrea. “I really enjoyed the interaction with them. It was a little bit like advising my own children, who are 25 and 28.”