Alumni-Student Engagement Is a Win-Win

Eric Wehler ’15 speaks to students in the Black School of Business.

Eric Wehler ’15 speaks to students in the Black School of Business.

Credit: Penn State Behrend

Across the country and around the world, Black School of Business alumni are putting their Penn State Behrend education to work, enjoying rewarding careers and purposeful lives. Many look back fondly on their time at Behrend and wish they could find a way to help the next generation of business leaders.

Bruce Gray ’80, a senior vice president for Bank of America in New York City, wants alumni to know that they can give back to current students in ways that don’t require airfare or a major time commitment.

“I wish more alumni knew how easily they can stay connected and engaged with current students,” Gray said. “I mentor a group of business students through bi-weekly conference calls in which we examine some facet of the finance industry, work on a case study, or take an in-depth look at a current market trend.” Gray said he’s invigorated and inspired by his interactions with students.

“They force me out of my comfort zone,” he said. “For example, a couple of years ago, my group wanted to examine Facebook from an investment-opportunity standpoint. I’ve never done a stitch of tech lending in my life, so I was definitely out of my area of expertise. But, I dove in and learned a great deal from that whole experience.”

Were it not for his bi-weekly mentorship meetings, Gray said he would likely stick to his specialty. “I’d probably only read real estate finance news. Working with students on a range of topics forces me to take a broader view of the entire finance industry.”

The Black School of Business frequently welcomes alumni guest speakers to share information about their chosen field with current students. Their insights help students make career decisions.

“I remember being an accounting student at Behrend and being uncertain of what my future would look like or which type of accounting I should go into,” said Angela Hudak ’99, who recently returned to the school to talk with students. Hudak is now a partner with Ernst & Young, a multinational public accounting firm. “I didn’t know if I wanted to be a CPA, or what it would be like to work for a Big Four firm. I hope I was able to provide some clarity to the students I met with.”

Alumni also can help students connect the dots between campus and the corporate world.

Gray, who serves on the Black School of Business board of advisers, strives to help students apply the lessons they are learning in class to real-world problems and situations. He is assisted by student captains, typically seniors, who volunteer to facilitate the group in Erie.

“I require them to be prepared to jump in and add to the discussion if there’s a lull,” Gray said. “It’s fun to watch their leadership skills emerge as they gain confidence.”

Confidence is something both Gray and Hudak say is important in the business world, but not always easily gained through coursework.

“With my mentees, I work on teaching them to have confidence in their ability to hold their own in a financial conversation,” Gray said. “They have the knowledge, they just sometimes lack the confidence to use it.”

Hudak says Black School of Business students need not fear; they are well educated and can keep pace with their peers.

“I wish I’d been more confident in the education that I received when I first started out,” Hudak said.

“I was well prepared for the CPA exam and to start my career.”

When students do start their careers, Gray said they’ll continue to benefit from a strong alumni network.

“I think Penn State grads are just as supportive, if not more so, than the Ivy League school alums,” he said. “We really stick together and try to help one another out. While I’m not a member of investment banking or markets teams, I’ve assisted them with their recruiting efforts by bringing some of the Black School students into that mix.”

Hudak, too, says Penn State pride—and especially Penn State Behrend pride—runs deep.

“When people ask where I went to school, I tell them Penn State Behrend,” she said. “I’m proud of Behrend and the education that I received there.”

Would you like to help mentor the next generation of business leaders or share your experiences with students in a guest speaking engagement or other special event? Contact Laurel Brown at [email protected] or 814-898-6686. We’d love to welcome you back “home.” Whether you’ve been gone for a year or decades, we know students can benefit from your insight.