Demystifying Queen’s alumni network

Lots of Queen’s alumni found each other in the workplace

Alumni are here to build connections and talk about careers.

Being a member of the Queen’s community doesn’t end upon graduation. Rather, you’ve entered the next phase of your career as a Queen’s alum.

Established in 1841, Queen’s has had over thousands of students leave Grant Hall with diplomas in hand ready to work in ‘real world’ jobs. However, alumni are not simply a student’s predecessor; they’re a resource with whom students past and present can engage.

In an interview with The Journal, Joel Greaves, Comm ’09, said he graduated during the 2009 recession and luckily found a job the year after leaving university. Starting his 12-year career as a telecom worker at TELUS and Rogers, he decided to quit in 2017 and bought his first startup, Zebrano Executive Concierge, with his partner and wife.

This was a daunting moment for Greaves because it involved a big financial risk, and he called upon his old network of Queen’s friends to help him through the process.

Eighteen years had passed since he’d first stepped foot in Kingston, yet Greaves had remained in contact with the people he’d met at university. Grown up and with careers of their own, their successes inspired him to start his own business.

“I have a deep appreciation for them. When your ‘mentors’ are more your peers, they know what [you’re] trying to accomplish, and understand the stresses and mental challenges that come with it,” Greaves said.

Up until that point in his career, Greaves had only imagined his mentors as people who were older than him. While working at a big company, his mentors were the people one or two levels above him who had worked there longer. It seemed to be natural progression in his career.

It wasn’t until he gained the confidence to purchase his first business that he realized his former peers were people he could learn from, too. They had valuable experience in marketing, accounting, and real estate—all resources he could pull from and lean on.

“And my peers became, in a lot of ways, my mentors during that period. And that was really special because they were one, close friends of mine, and two, we had experiences we could share with each other,” Greaves said.

In his first year at Queen’s, Greaves didn’t know what he wanted to do with his degree and took it as an opportunity to learn and make friends. He found his passion for marketing in his third and fourth years and gained a sense of drive for a career in the field.

Now, Greaves’ newest role is the CEO of a hotel located in the Ottawa Valley an hour North of Kingston. One of his connections from Queen’s sits on the board of this company and he continues to work with his Queen’s community to this day.

Colin McLeod, QUAA board president, ArtSci ’10, explained in an interview with The Journal how Queen’s connections helped get him on his feet to find jobs in Ottawa.

With an undergraduate degree in political science, McLeod knew he wanted to work on Parliament Hill or Public Service Canada. He was daunted at first and found guidance through a Queen’s connection, which helped get him an interview to work for a politician on Parliament Hill.

Alongside these connections, he reached out to managers and directors in the public service sector to learn what other opportunities were being offered at the time.

He said it was important for him to reach out to politics graduates, but these faculty divides mattered less a few years after graduation. McLeod acknowledged that while faculties such as Commerce have more individualized alumni associations, this division is not as noticeable in the professional sphere in general.

“There’s this idea of blending,” McLeod said.

He oversees roughly 150,000 plus Queen’s alum in his work. McLeod emphasized soft skills and how networking and reaching out to people can support students’ success in the workplace.

“You’re not necessarily tied down to whatever you graduated with. I think that’s part of career development and seeing what actually happens in the real world.”

Jeremy Gooden, Sci ’16, said in an interview with The Journal it took his TA tearing his resume to shreds for him to land his first summer job.

During his fourth year of studies, Jeremy met with his TA every week to work on a project involving client design and mentioned his current job search. The TA offered to read over his resume and delved into it to help him stand out to different companies.

When he first entered Queen’s, he was “almost hyper-focused on the academics,” he said. He was going to get his Master’s, then his PhD, and go from there. Eventually, however, as the years passed, he realized from a career in academia wasn’t for him.

Pursuing that summer job and working in project management outside his engineering degree got him to think of the world of business.

Gooden recently made a new career move, now working as a Senior Associate at (Value Creation) Atlas Partners. When looking at potential companies, he tends to see if other Queen’s students work there first. This type of connection allows him to understand the company culture and roles of the job beforehand.

He also encouraged students to reach out to alumni because it’s different for everyone.

“I think at the end of the day, it’s a two-way street. If new grads are looking for help from Queen’s alumni, they will likely receive it. But I think it’s the student’s responsibility to start that.”

He said there are many events for students to network with alumni; they just need to seek out these opportunities. Gooden said it’s up to the younger alumni to go to those events and make those connections.

Ellen Barss, Comm ’20 and CompSci ’21, explained the defined impact Queen’s had on her social interactions with co-workers in the office. She emphasized the importance of gaining not only academic knowledge, but general experience as an independent student.

She referred to the freedoms she had during her time at Queen’s, from being in such a tight knit community. It was important for her to join clubs, go on exchange, and to experience the services Queen’s offered that ultimately helped shape her future.

Her participation in these extracurriculars taught her to break down barriers that would prevent her from interacting with people to chat and advance her career.

“My past background has really taught me a lot about opening up, and changing my mindset to balance many different things in my professional life. I would really attribute that to juggling my student life at Queen’s,” Barss said.

Barss came to Queen’s from Calgary and didn’t know anyone entering classes with her, so she wanted to meet new people and learn at the same time.

She graduated from Queen’s about two years ago and entered the workforce during the peak of COVID-19. Her interest focused on computers and technology, especially looking at how she could apply this to business and consulting.

“I leaned very heavily during that phase on classmates and those starting their careers to ask about their company and what that team is looking for,” she said.

Working with Queen’s alumni helped her understand her skill set and what would be a good fit. It gave her the chance to build connections that helped her find job positions at places that would be a good fit for her.

Barss distinctly remembered working in her third-year internship at a small company in Calgary. Since the company was small, the team was comprised of people much more senior in their careers, and they loved talking to her about her experience with student culture.

On the first day of the job, a couple people sought her out and came to her desk to show her little notebooks or mementos of Queen’s paraphernalia. Throughout the day, people came up to her and mentioned being a Queen’s alum.

“I thought it was the funniest thing and wondered if an email chain went around saying I was hired and I had a Queen’s background. I thought it was just kind of great because they were so excited to just stop in and say hello,” Barss said.

When she talked to another co-worker who received their Master’s at Queen’s, he noticed her phone had a Western sticker on it—which she had because her brother went to Western.

The coworker said, “that won’t do,” and ran back to his office. Once he returned, he gave her a replacement as a joke. Barss said she laughed at this “goofy” interaction; it made her feel comfortable to share common Queen’s jokes to break the ice on her first day.

Samara Lijiam, ArtSci ’23, Queen’s Student Alumni Association (QSAA) president, heard about QSAA in her first year through her friends and has fallen in love with their events ever since. Now as the president of the organization, she’s had time to reflect on the type of community-building she’s developed over the years.

She finds the most emails QSAA gets are from students who have just graduated looking to get involved, but also find support in the transition from student to alum.

“That transition from student to alumni in the first few months can be a bit stressful and, as a graduating student, I can definitely relate to that,” Lijiam said.

Lijam said new graduates are looking to connect and engage in the community while stepping into the new world. They seek information on different hiring opportunities and the things happening around Queen’s alumni to build a social network that she said is harder to find when you’re an adult.

She also mentioned the various subchapters of the Alumni Association, such as the Queer Alumni Chapter and the Black Alumni Chapter. Building these alumni traditions and fostering this sense of diversity is one of her biggest priorities. She said it makes space for people who don’t feel represented by the historic alumni community.

One event QSAA has have coming up are Cam Yung’s presentation on Navigating Healthy Leadership on Jan. 26.

Students can also join the QSAA mentorship program where students get paired with an alum based not on their degree, but more so on their career interests.

Applications are still open and you can reach out to the QSAA or the Office of Advancement if you want to be connected to an alum one-on-one.

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