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Enhancing Virtual Options to Support Career Development

Despite the uncertainty brought on by this year’s pandemic, the School of Communication’s External Programs, Internships, and Career Services (EPICS) office has stayed true to its mission: to provide career development while bridging the gap between the industry and students.

Serving as the liaison for the MA in Sound Arts and Industries program, EPICS Assistant Director Katherine Lelek works with students to help them reach long-term career goals. “Everyone is on their own trajectory,” she explains. “Part of my role is to create programming that will appeal to them, but I also work with students individually to get them where they want to go.”

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Prior to the shift to remote learning, she had been working on an initiative to build students’ professional networks. To help them tap into the pool of well-known experts that make up the MA in Sound Arts and Industries’ advisory board, she asked members to participate in virtual office hours.

“Even though planning was already underway, this turned out to be a great way for our professional advisory board to interact with students during a time when it might feel hard for them otherwise,” explains Lelek.

To connect with students, board member Ryan Brady, who serves as vice president of marketing for Atlantic Records, joined a virtual group chat: a structured conversation led by Lelek and then passed off to students for an interactive Q&A session.

“After I introduced Ryan, I turned my camera and mic off to let them have more candid conversations,” she says. “They got to ask the questions most important to them in a comfortable environment with no preceding presentations. It was informal, real talk about what’s going on in the industry.”

Johanna Zorn (cofounder of the Third Coast International Audio Festival and long-time radio producer and editor), Adam Sachs (COO at a comedy media company), and Jon Tatooles (cofounder of a specialty electronics manufacturing company) all chose to participate in virtual, one-on-one conversations.

During these sessions, students could ask about anything: from how to network during COVID-19 to requesting an honest résumé review.

“Having a conversation might not always lead to a job right away,” says Lelek, “but they got to plant seeds with advisory board members as they move through the rest of the program and out into the professional world.”

As another layer of career development, MA in Sound Arts and Industries students also have access to virtual EPICS workshops. Some sessions—such as those focused on pitching remote internships or preparing for virtual employment—are open to all School of Communication students. Others—such as sessions focused on remote networking—are exclusively for students in the MA in Sound Arts and Industries program.

This past quarter, Lelek also led a simulated site visit of 2112, a Chicago incubator dedicated to the business of music, film, and creative technology. After an online chat with the incubator’s director, everyone had the chance to virtually walk through the space to learn more about the community.

“Our office is focused on continuing to offer what we promise,” says Lelek. “We added an enhanced level of virtual support we’ve never done before that will help students develop deeper connections. In this environment, we all have to start acting and doing things differently to create opportunities.”