Hundreds of entry-level, middle management and senior executives converge on Susquehanna’s campus — hailing from around the world and across various professions and industries — to serve career and life lessons to their future alumni community. The recipe for Break Through is simple: multiply students’ eagerness to learn by an insanely devoted alumni base.
Now in its 10th year, what is now Break Through didn’t just happen overnight. Its inspiration came from departmental and major-specific career days with little cross-campus collaboration and promotion. This often resulted in high alumni attendance with small numbers of students participating.
“I was a member of the Sigmund Weis School of Business Student Advisory Board when we developed an earlier version of a networking conference for business students,” says Kyle Robertson ’11, a vice president for J.P. Morgan Asset Management Solutions. “Our objective was to provide opportunities for both intentional discussions on topics beyond the classroom and also casual interactions between students and alumni in an environment that was comfortable for students.”
He says they quickly realized it needed to expand. “While this was a great opportunity for the business students who attended,” Robertson adds, “the event had the potential to be much more impactful.”
Alumni participants provided similar feedback, saying they were sometimes disappointed with the turnout. The university heard its student and alumni community and decided to make a change.
In 2011, the Office of Alumni Relations — in partnership with the Career Development Center and Sigmund Weis School of Business — formed a planning committee with students, alumni, faculty and staff. The committee was tasked with developing a campuswide event with relevant and engaging programming that would lead to more student attendees. After meeting several times, the committee’s research identified that better naming and marketing of the event, involving faculty and opening attendance to all majors would be key to increasing participation.
Stephanie Chan ’13, now a vice president for JPMorgan Chase & Co., was a student volunteer on the committee.
“Break Through is not your traditional networking event, nor was it ever intended to be,” she recalls.
“We designed events that were informative, collaborative and beneficial to individuals of diverse backgrounds, fields and philosophies,” Chan says. “We created opportunities to explore various topics, connect with peers and experienced professionals and to grow through shared experiences. Most importantly, we aimed to inspire individuals to be active participants in their futures and to envision their own definitions of success.”
“Once everyone began to collaborate, our original concept really became the exciting event we know today,” Robertson adds. “I believe Break Through has become one of the university’s marquee events, demonstrating the passion that Susquehanna alumni have for supporting current students and the reciprocal commitment students have for self-development and their futures after graduation.” At Break Through 2022, nearly 200 alumni gathered virtually and in person — with approximately 700 students and 40 different panel discussions — during the six-day event.
MAXIMIZING IMPACT AND MAINTAINING SUCCESS
“We’ve found success because we really listen to students and give them the programming they want and need,” says Allie Grill, director of the university’s Career Development Center. “We pay attention to the topics being brought up by students in advising appointments, in classrooms, in meetings, etc., and then we find alumni who can speak to those topics.”
Susan Kreisher, associate director of alumni relations, notes that strong relationships with faculty partners have also contributed to Break Through’s success.
“Our faculty understand the importance of Break Through and the impact it can have on a student’s experience at Susquehanna,” she says. “They are our biggest advocates in encouraging students to attend the on-campus conference. And, they are able to identify qualified panelists —and are willing to serve as moderators in their sessions — ensuring that strong connections are made between alumni and student participants.”
In addition to career-specific panel discussions, alumni panelists also present general sessions on topics like money management and personal branding, and how to pivot when a first plan doesn’t work out. Additional conference programming includes a career expo with regional and national employers, résumé review, mock interviews, affinity group networking, free LinkedIn headshots and more.
CONTINUING TO EVOLVE
As the university prepares for the next decade of Break Through conferences, Michaeline Shuman, assistant provost for post-graduate outcomes and civic engagement, sees evolution as a recipe for continued success.
“Our faculty partners continue to adapt their curriculum to meet the needs of the professional world,” Shuman says. “This is why our students can now study things like arts administration or sustainability management or luxury brand marketing.”
“Likewise, we will continue to evolve and offer Break Through programming that meets the needs of an ever-changing world,” she adds.
Future panel discussions could explore topics like managing mental health in the workplace, maintaining civic engagement throughout one’s lifetime or deciding when to move on from a professional opportunity.
“More and more, graduates are not just looking for a job. They are hoping to answer their calling and to be a part of something that they are passionate about,” Shuman says. “They want to work for employers that are socially conscious, that care about the environment and sustainability, and that are invested in diversity and inclusion.”Return to top