Teamwork & Tenacity in the
Windy City

Highlights of SPEA’s two-day Chicago Career Exploration Trip and SPEA in Chicago reception

Image of meeting in Chicago

W ith a snowstorm in the forecast, SPEA students, faculty, staff, and alumni descend on downtown Chicago for the two-day Chicago Career Exploration Trip and SPEA in Chicago reception that is an annual demonstration of the value of teamwork and this year, in the face of wind-driven snow, the value of tenacity.

Here, minute by minute, is the inside story when the less said about what was going down – or coming down – outside, the better.

Weather report

11:45 a.m. Thursday: “The workforce is changing over. You’ll be able to model a new way,” Andrew Pelloso (MPA/MSES’93) tells 20 SPEA undergraduate and graduate students in a 14th floor conference room at the Holiday Inn Mart Plaza. The hotel is the headquarters for two days of career and internship exploration opportunities that SPEA’s Career Development Office has organized. Pelloso, senior consultant with Geosyntec Consultants, is on a panel of speakers with environmental expertise. In adjoining rooms, panelists with a nonprofit focus and with a policy focus are also offering career advice and a dollop of office common sense. “Treat every email as your resume and, for goodness sake, make sure you check who you are sending it to,” Pelloso reminds the students. Many of the panelists like Pelloso are SPEA alumni, now trying to help pull students into promising careers, students like Anthony Marletta.

12:35 p.m. Thursday: “I have pages of notes already,” says a slightly winded Marletta as he puts down his pen and pad at the conclusion of the panel discussion. Wearing a smart black suit, the student from New York is soaking up advice and snapping up business cards. He graduates from IU this spring with a SPEA minor and has a job lined up. Even with that certainty, he knows he needs to know more. “These are people giving you techniques to advance your career,” he says. “You should always take advantage of the knowledge.” And the ear muffs.

group shot of students

1:43 p.m. Thursday: With Chicago fully living up to its Windy City nickname, 30 students follow Career Development Office director Mark Case across the Chicago River and through a bone-chilling canyon of skyscrapers. The destination is City Hall, which Mark, perhaps optimistically, promises is about three blocks away. Turns out, there’s one thing City Hall has in a blessed abundance and that’s hot air. The thawing group is shepherded to an 11th floor meeting room where four members of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s staff share the secrets of how they survive, prosper, and turn policy into progress in an intensely political environment. “Learn how to network well, do the small things,” advises Kathryn O’Connell, who directs the mayor’s internship and fellowship program. “Just keep your name at the forefront of someone’s mind by sending them a note or calling them at least every other month. Network, network, network.” Marletta, the IU senior, is furiously taking notes again. “The ideas for networking and following up, that’s something I hadn’t heard before,” he says. Marletta then pulls on an overcoat and joins the rest of the group, leaning into the wind, walking back to the hotel to prepare for the next event: networking – SPEA style.

6:05 p.m. Thursday: As the snowstorm edges into western Illinois at sunset, Jenna Civitello (MPA/MSES’10) is calm but worried. She’s at the SPEA welcome table on the second floor of John Barleycorn, a new stylish and large pub in Chicago’s River North neighborhood. Civitello, assistant director of alumni relations and development at SPEA, is hoping the snow threat doesn’t derail the months of planning that have gone into this reception for over a hundred Chicago-area SPEA and IU alumni. Not to worry. Virtually everyone on the RSVP list makes it into the pub for refreshment, reunion, and a reminder. “Think about giving back to a school that has given so much to you,” Jeff Richardson (MPA’81) tells the crowd. “The gift doesn’t have to be large. A few dollars can make such a difference.” Richardson, chair of the Distinguished Alumni Council, points to the MPA program, now ranked second in the nation, and to the new and successful effort to recruit more future freshmen. “SPEA is making progress on so many fronts,” Richardson continues, “and it is rewarding to think of yourself not only as an alumnus but as part of the team that’s making that progress possible.” As Richardson speaks, another member of the SPEA team, Director of Graduate Student Services Jennifer Forney, waits for a special guest. She greets a prospective undergraduate student and her father and tells them about SPEA. The young woman is so impressed by the reception, she sends a thank-you bouquet of flowers to the school the following week.

6:25 p.m. Thursday: True to SPEA’s roots, there’s talk of public policy, even in a pub that boasts 14 beers on tap and 60 big-screen TVs. SPEA Professor Ashlyn Nelson, just named to a list of the nation’s most impactful education academics, and Michael Milkie, IU alum and co-founder of the Noble Street Charter Schools, offer their own takes on the state of education. As they talk about the teamwork required to help children flourish, the room overflowing with faculty, staff, students, and alumni is testimony to why SPEA is flourishing. Of course, there are the 14 taps and Hoosier basketball highlights on the TVs. “This is fun,” Marletta says. The notebook, for now, is tucked away. Outside Barleycorn’s windows, the first flurries swirl in the wind.

Friday weather report

9 a.m. Friday: With the ring of an old-fashioned school teacher’s bell, Mark Case convenes what has become the most popular part of these career exploration trips. At round tables, SPEA alumni and friends of the school hold casual conversations with a handful of students. SPEA’s diversity is on display. The U.S. Postal Service, the U.S. EPA, the American Bar Association, the Chicago Humanities Festival, Nielsen Company, Coyote Logistics, Baxter Healthcare and Alfa Energy are all represented. Alfa Energy is Rebecca Neary’s (MPA’11) company. She’s a consultant to businesses looking to trim their energy expenses. “It’s an awesome company to be part of and it’s a really dynamic industry,” she says. It’s not the industry Marletta wants to join but he’s still taking notes and asking questions: “How did you get involved in this company?” Neary: “I didn’t get a job right after graduation so I moved to Chicago and worked as a bartender. I saw an ad for Alfa and, at the interview, my boss was impressed with my SPEA credentials but also with the bartending. He said it was proof I knew how to talk to people.”

11 a.m. Friday: The bell clangs again. The talk at Table 5 is about fish and other foods. Kassia Perpich (BSPA’05, MPA’06) is chatting about a career path that took her from SPEA to the White House to the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago and now to an organization that works with foundations dedicated to supporting healthy, locally produced foods. Perpich had a SPEA-arranged informational interview with the White House Office of Management and Budget that turned into a job offer. After two years there, she yearned for a return to the Midwest and took a position directing conservation outreach at the Aquarium. That got her thinking about sustainable seafood and her first love. “I’m a foodie,” she says. So she jumped at the chance to work for a funder collaborative called Fresh Taste, which is a group of foundations working together to re-localize Chicago’s food system. Perpich provides expertise to these foundations in how to maximize their philanthropic impact and create lasting change in what Chicagoans eat. And she uses her zig-zagging career path to encourage the students at Table 5: “You should be so proud you’re enrolled at SPEA. Now that I’ve been in the working world for several years, I can tell you how highly regarded SPEA is around the country, and I’m proof of how versatile your degree will be. The skills you’re learning at SPEA can be applied across multiple sectors.”

5 p.m. Friday: After another round of employer site visits, SPEA in Chicago 2013 is officially over. Kassia Perpich and the scores of other alumni who participated will go back to work on Monday. Mark Case and Jenna Civitello will start planning the next event that demonstrates SPEA’s dedication to teamwork. As for Anthony Marletta and his classmates, they will take all those notes and business cards and “network, network, network.” First, though, it’s time to hit the road.

Final weather report