In March of this year, the Barger Leadership Institute (BLI) was beyond thrilled to invite five amazing Institute alumni back to the University and into Weiser Hall once more for our annual Alumni Panel. As the Lead Applied Leadership Fellow, I was trusted with the opportunity to see this event unfold from start to finish. From selecting the panelists to planning the event logistics to moderating the panel, I gained crucial leadership experience by taking on these responsibilities. Although my event was held on a snowy day in March, the air was filled with the warmth of hope and confidence, powered by the connections made around the room.

Through a moderated panel format, alumni Sanjee Choudhuri (‘19), Jessica Kosticak (‘20), Ryan Rich (‘21), Olivia Thompson (‘14), and Raeruth Oleshansky (‘18) gave current students insight into making the most of their time at the University of Michigan and navigating post-grad transitions. They handled the mix of moderated questions and audience inquiries exquisitely, blending their various career paths and lived experiences into a cohesive panel with chemistry off the charts.

Our students were thrilled to connect with and learn from our alumni. They asked generative questions and formed connections with our panelists. Aayana Anand, a current BLI Applied Leadership Fellow, shared that “hearing from alums about their career journeys and the ways that their experiences in the BLI shaped those journeys was invaluable. As a current BLI staff member, attending the panel helped me reflect on my own experiences in the BLI and think about how it could shape my career post-grad. Furthermore, every alum was visibly excited to speak to us, making the overall event that much more comfortable for everyone.”

Our alumni, on the other hand, were just as eager to reconnect with the BLI. Panelist Olivia Thompson reflected on the experience: “The alumni panel allowed me to learn about all the exciting ways the BLI has grown over the 10 years since I was a part of the organization. BLI now has an extensive offering of leadership-focused courses, retreats, and trips abroad. While I wish alumni had an opportunity to engage with BLI's programming, I am inspired to re-ignite my formal leadership training as I transition to my mid-career.” 

Panelist Jess Kosticak reflected upon their experience at the BLI and its impact on her life: “I came into the University very science and research-focused, but teaching the leadership course at the BLI made me realize my true passion as an educator.” Jess now serves as a high school science teacher, a career shift that never would have occurred without the opportunities provided by the BLI. This message resonated with another student attendee, who “learned that you don't have to have your whole life planned out, and it's ok to see where life takes you sometimes.” With the wealth of knowledge shared, we all walked away reflecting on the transitions we have navigated thus far in life, while remembering to embrace the ones that will come next.

I will be forever thankful for the experience the BLI has provided me to connect with its alumni and bring this event to life. That being said, this was only possible with the continued engagement of our alumni with the Institute. The entire BLI staff and I are beyond proud of their accomplishments and immensely grateful for their willingness to reconnect with us! Thank you to Sanjee, Jess, Ryan, Olivia, and Rae for participating in our panel, and forever go blue!

— Drue Daley is a fourth-year student in the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts. She is double majoring in Linguistics and Cognitive Science. Next year, she will be attending graduate school for a Master's degree in Speech-Language Pathology, with a specialty in pediatrics. On campus, she also serves as President of the Pre-Speech and Hearing Club and Co-President of the Global Scholars Program Student Organization. The BLI has been such an inspiring and supportive environment for her growth, and she is eager to nurture that space for the next group of community members.