Last Friday, Schmid College hosted its inaugural Grand Challenges Initiative (GCI) Networking Event, where first-year students in the GCI spent the morning making connections with industry professionals and science professors in an effort to begin building their first professional network and necessary professional skills.

Nearly 80 GCI students, science professors and industry professionals attended Friday’s event, including Grand Challenges Advisors Guy Abramo, President of Consumer Services at Experian, Paul Cook, General Manager of Irvine Ranch Water District, Chapman’s Chief Information Officer Helen Norris and Jeff Winston, former Vice President of Information Services for Allergan, Inc. Chapman’s Vice Provost of Undergraduate Education, Dr. Nina LeNoir and Chapman’s Director of Public Relations, Sheri Ledbetter, also attended and provided professional guidance and new career perspectives to GCI students.

The event opened with name tags, coffee, pastries, and mingling about the dream jobs attendees had written on their name tags. Even though it was early on a Friday morning, the room quickly filled with the happy chatter of folks greeting familiar faces and making new connections.  Then, Prof. Greg Goldsmith, director of the Grand Challenges Initiative, brought the event to order with opening remarks and a few networking pro tips in the form of haiku (of course!):

Be yourself and smile
But brush your teeth beforehand
Poppy seed bagel

Volunteering good
Meet people who can help you
Leave world better place

Professors are cool
True they give you much homework
But also have friends

Cannot go wrong by
Saying please and also thanks
Please use your spell check

High risk high return
But is there really a risk?
Go big or go home

And with that the networking began!

Professors and industry professionals stationed themselves at cocktail tables around the room, while students in small groups rotated to each table. Students were prepared with questions like, what did you think you wanted to be at age 18? What did you study? What do you do now? What were some of the intermediate steps/jobs along your career path?

One goal of Friday’s networking breakfast was to give students practical experience with the mechanics of networking, like moving in a room, asking questions, starting conversations with complete strangers, and making connections. Another goal was for students hear examples of career paths, which are not always as linear as they might expect. Many come with the notion that building a career is like climbing a ladder, but it is more like climbing a mountain. Your path may require you to make a horizontal move before you can reach the next level, or sometimes try a path that may not lead exactly where you had expected.

During the networking rotations, the groups paused to hear a few professionals in the room talk about their journeys. Prof. Elaine Schwartz, Assistant Dean of External Relations for Schmid College and Director of the Chemistry Program, told the gathering about her journey from university to starting up a pharmaceutical company to now heading the Chemistry program at Chapman. Guy Abramo spoke about his path from university to a near-miss in professional baseball to now heading a division at global leader Experian. Paul Cook also addresses the gathering with his journey where his passion to “build stuff” was his guiding stars, leading him through engineering school, working as an engineering and then taking a turn that led him to now manage the Irvine Ranch Water District.

The event concluded a little before 10:00 a.m. and there was a sense that folks were leaving the event with more than they came.

The next GCI Networking Event will be a luncheon on on Friday, October 6, 2017. RSVP here

About the Grand Challenges Initiative (GCI) 

Schmid College’s Grand Challenges Initiative, launched this fall, is a student-driven program that develops students who strive to explore, make connections, seek answers, and solve big problems. Working in small interdisciplinary teams over their first two years in Schmid College, students engage in grand challenges that fascinate them, from realizing unlimited renewable energy to explaining how the brain functions. Throughout the program, students build a sophisticated intellectual foundation for the rest of their academic experience and career.

In its first semester, the program has enrolled 304 students, 103 of whom are in majors outside of Schmid College, representing the program’s cross-disciplinary nature and appeal. In fact, a total of 41 different majors across Chapman are represented in this fall’s cohort of students, and each class section has an average of 12 different majors. Of interest: 33% of GCI students who are not Schmid majors are studying Business Administration.

Learn more at