All it took was one simple letter and Joe Bridy was captivated by Berea College. Bridy’s Berea story begins in 2003 when he received a capital campaign letter from the College asking for financial support to establish the William R. Gruver Chair in Leadership Studies, which supports the study of leadership theories and practices in community, nonprofit, and business settings. As a full time graduate student at Cornell’s Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management, Bridy was not in a position to make a significant donation; however, having grown up in the coal fields of Pennsylvania and gone to Bucknell University, a private liberal arts college in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, he felt a connection and was inspired by the Berea story to propose another plan.
Participants in the 2015 Cornell Weekend: Front row, Sierra Stewart, Teresa Lee, Venus Yam, Nasiya Acklen, Mia DeNunzio; Middle row, Esther Livingston, Tristan Luse, Caleb Rhoads, Joe Bridy, Tunde Adeyemo, Laurie Roelofs, James Atkinson; Back row, Lyle Roelofs, David Roy, and Christopher Caudill
“After hearing more about the mission from President Shinn, I realized that though I did not have the donation they needed, I had a great group of friends and colleagues at Cornell with technical knowledge of the job market and very keen resume and interview preparation skills.” Consequently, Bridy brought together the intellectual potential of Berea’s students and the skillset and network of the Johnson School’s students and alumni to create what is called the Cornell Weekend. Berea’s side of the collaboration is carried out by the Career Development Office, which has been part of the Center for Transformative Learning (CTL) since 2011. Each year during the President’s Weekend, the Cornell team comes to Berea and spends the weekend helping Berea students in career related endeavors. It starts with a panel Friday night where students meet the Cornell team and learn about the different career opportunities that are available to them. On Saturday, students have resumes reviewed, participate in mock interviews, and engage in individual conversations with members of the Cornell team about career opportunities.
Anderson Sanchez ’15, a senior German major, participated during all four years of college. “Cornell weekend opened my eyes about all the different career paths there are and that one could pursue no matter what college degree one has,” he says. “One thing I discovered was that, even though I am not a business major, it was easy to relate to the Cornell team when they told their life stories and careers. It gave me a lot of confidence about how to talk about my work experience and how my skills could be applied to different fields.” Sanchez also kept in contact with one of his former mock interviewers, Joe Webb, a Cornell graduate who currently works for Amazon.com. “He still gives me advice on careers and job search, and we keep in touch about our professional lives,” he says. “I found all Cornell team members I have met to be extremely friendly and approachable.”
When the program started, neither Bridy nor Berea had run a program quite like this before. “It was a completely innovative idea,” says Bridy, “but the people that deserve the most credit are the original eight MBA students who believed enough in the story to follow me all the way to Kentucky and funded their own trips from Ithaca, NY, ” a journey of nearly 700 miles. The program has grown both in size and success since those days. Currently, the Cornell team is a mixture of current MBA students and successful alumni of the Johnson Graduate School of Management.
LeAnna Luney, ’16 registers for the Cornell Weekend.
“Students in Berea have a tremendous amount of potential and an unbelievably unique college experience, but they lack the ability to sell that in a resume or an interview,” says Bridy. “So when I put the original Cornell Weekend together in 2004, the purpose was to give the students a better understanding of what opportunities are available and how they can access them.”
James Atkinson, former director of Career Development at the CTL calls the Cornell Weekend a great opportunity for students to form professional networks with individuals beyond Berea. “Through the program, students meet people from different walks of life and different professions. They may find someone who has the same major as them or a different major they are interested in. This way they will be able to see what their career prospects would look like if they continue with their current path or if they begin a new one,” he says.
Atkinson believes the event is beneficial for students of all majors. “Students should network with people in and outside their major,” he says. “One reason might be that these people may have worked at places in which the students want to work or may know others in graduate schools where the students want to study.” Even though most areas covered over the weekend, such as mock interviews and resume reviews, are already provided by the CTL, having a different perspective and set of eyes is beneficial for students. Bridy also notes that having brought seventy to eighty successful Cornell graduates to campus over the years means a whole new world of people have had the opportunity to learn about Berea College and its mission. A result that has gained importance for Bridy’s other role at Berea, serving as a trustee.
Bridy was named a trustee of the College in 2010. Because of his professional background, he sits on the finance committee and on the investment committee, which is charged with protecting and growing the endowment and conducting capital budgeting for the College. “To be able to give to an organization that I love using my day to day skill set, and to be able to marry things that I am passionate about, that is investment and finance, with Berea College, which is close to my heart, is incredibly rewarding,” he says.
Though the Cornell program has been quite successful, Bridy continually looks for ways to better it by evolving the program to meet the needs of students. “The job market has changed a lot since the time of the recession, and we want students to understand which part of the economy and the job market is growing and which is not,” says Bridy. Therefore, he puts greater emphasis on how companies hire and what the work environment looks like. In the future, Bridy plans to include successful Berea alumni into the program. “We have had a few students come back and tell their stories, and would like to do more of that in the future,” says Bridy. After more than ten years, Bridy remains captivated by Berea. “What surprises me the most” says Bridy, “is how in this little corner of Kentucky one can find these extremely talented students and such an excellent faculty . . . and in general what a unique place Berea College is!”
Many Berea students take advantage of the Cornell Weekend to network.