Harris alumni get it. Learning has become a lifelong endeavor. They, like all professionals, have to keep pace with the accelerating rate of technological, scientific, and cultural change.  

And, thanks to ramped-up efforts to bring advanced learning opportunities to alumni with an emphasis on leadership and communication skills, the phrase “a Harris education” is taking on new, expanded meaning. 

Terri Brady's headshot
Terri Brady

“Our alumni are doing important work in public policy across the public, private and nonprofit sectors,” said Terri Brady, executive director of professional development at Harris, and one of those charged with rethinking and implementing additional Harris alumni programming under Dean Katherine Baicker’s leadership. “We want to support their individual professional ambitions as they grow in their careers, and find ways that they can be more involved in the wider Harris community.”

To that end, Brady has created a series of programming called “Transitions” meant to convene and guide Harris alumni through career changes. “Transitions” launched in November 2019, featuring a series of virtual events and webinars, a format that enables a greater number of alumni to participate and to ask questions directly. 

The program is being considered for expansion due to its initial popularity and the heightened demand for virtual programming during the COVID-19 crisis.  

Dorie Clark's headshot
Dorie Clark

The first Transitions webinar was a conversation with Dorie Clark, a well-known expert on reinvention. She is a marketing strategy consultant, professional speaker, frequent contributor to the Harvard Business Review, and author of three books, including Reinventing You, a copy of which was sent to the first 35 alumni who registered for her session.

One alumna who attended Clark’s talk was Claudine Pauselli, MPP ’04, who now works for the Government Accountability Office, a watchdog agency for Congress, focusing on higher education, workforce protection, and most recently child welfare. Pauselli heard about the webinar through a Harris newsletter.

“This topic was important to me because I’m at a point in my career where I’m taking a long view on how I want to contribute to society,” Pauselli said. “I’m thinking about all the roles I can take on throughout my life to make a difference.”

Pauselli said in addition to the topic of reinvention being relevant to her life, she believes it’s important for her to continue making connections and stay engaged with Harris.

Claudine Pauselli's headshot
Claudine Pauselli, MPP ’04

“It’s an avenue that keeps the school and alumni connected to one another and what’s happening,” she said. “These webinars help us understand what others in our field are experiencing, how they’re facing challenges, and what they’re doing to stay relevant. I think it’s a win-win investment for both the school and alumni.”

Derek Johnson, MPP ’11, also attended the first webinar by Dorie Clark and took a step in his career the very next week.

“At the time, I was looking to transition into more of an executive role,” Johnson said. “Her talk applied to that ambition, so it was interesting to me. The next week, I had an initial conversation with the CEO of a company I was interested in targeting.  Dorie Clark’s perspective was helpful in framing that conversation and provided strategies in terms of pursuing the next step in my career.”

Derek Johnson's headshot
Derek Johnson, MPP’11

The second webinar, in December 2019, was called “Women’s Leadership in the Workplace” and was led by Irina Starikova, a McKinsey partner and one of the authors of the largest comprehensive study of women in corporate America. 

In 2015, McKinsey and LeanIn.Org launched the study “to help companies advance diversity in the workplace.” Since then, almost 600 companies participated and more than a quarter of a million people were surveyed on their work experiences. 

The study showed that while more women have risen to the top levels of companies, women continue to be under-represented at every level.  The authors note that instead of talking about the “glass ceiling,” the focus should be on the bigger obstacle: the “broken rung” of the first step up to manager.

Barbara Barreno-Paschall, MPP ’17, attended the webinar with Starikova because she’s interested in how women of color can best land leadership positions. She is a founder of the Students for Criminal Justice Reform group at Harris and currently works for the State of Illinois Human Rights Commission.

Barbara Barreno-Paschall's headshot
Barbara Barreno-Paschall, MPP ’17

“The webinar was a terrific experience; it enabled me to expand my thinking about my leadership opportunities,” Barreno-Paschall said. “The glass ceiling concept is something I’ve thought about a lot, so I was interested in hearing some of the insights of the report.”

Barreno-Paschall said this webinar and the “Transitions” program overall offer an important opportunity for her to remain connected to Harris, and vice versa.

“Harris is a place where a lot of ideas are generated, and the relationships with people you meet at Harris can last a lifetime,” she said. “I’m very much in favor of these opportunities for alumni because it’s about the lifelong network that’s created by virtue of attending this esteemed university. You never know what connections can be made through these initiatives.”

The third webinar in the series featured Jaymin Patel, a professional speaker, trainer, coach, and author of several books including The MBA Guide to Networking Like a Rockstar.  More webinars on the theme of transitions are being scheduled, including skills-based programming to help alumni with interviewing, relationship building and resume writing, just to name a few.  

The feedback from alumni, Brady noted, has been overwhelmingly positive.  “Whether our Harris alumni are changing jobs or transitioning in their careers, they are seeking to learn new skills and be part of the knowledge flow,” said Brady. “At Harris we want to be a supportive partner for each of our alumni as they embark on this leadership path of lifelong learning.”

Johnson said while a degree from Harris certainly means something, he’s excited to continue learning the skills necessary to cultivate a successful career.

“When we’re students at Harris, we learn all the hard skills we need to be successful at a job, but as you grow in your career, it’s absolutely critical to get additional leadership training and knowledge. I appreciated the opportunity to be able to attend these webinars. I think it’s a great way to do continuous learning as an alumnus.”

Terri welcomes suggestions for future “Transitions” webinar topics or speakers. Contact her at tbrady@uchicago.edu with ideas or questions.