Kelly (B.S. ’16) is a Georgia native who now lives in Chicago and works as a Health & Benefits Innovation Specialist for Aon.

Whenever a working professional is asked what advice they would give to undergraduate students if they could, their answer is almost always, “Network!” “Network” can be one of the most terrifying and vague words in a young undergraduate’s vocabulary; students hear it and think of stressful career fairs and awkward interviews. However, those who do have ample practice with networking will tell you that it’s easy, and some will even go so far as to tell you that it’s fun. There is often a massive mental block that has to be overcome before a student can 1. Take the initiative to start engaging in “informational interviews” and 2. Finally see those conversations as (mostly) natural and truly essential to any kind of professional success.

I have personally overcome this mental block against networking both during and after my time as an LSA undergraduate student, and I actually very much enjoy it now. I was, somewhat against my will, first forced into the practice as an overzealous freshman pre-med student. While a lot of my friends had relatives or family friends in medicine who would gladly let them shadow in the O.R. for days or weeks at a time, I had zero connections to the medical field in my family’s social circle. To compensate, I spent the summer after my freshman year cold-calling surgeons at the U of M Hospital, timidly asking for shadowing opportunities. I expected to get a response from MAYBE one physician, if I was lucky. But I ended up hearing back from well over half of the doctors whom I had emailed, and they were all excited that a fellow Michigan Wolverine wanted to learn more about the fields that they were so passionate about. That was my first glimpse at the power of the Michigan connection.

Just before my senior year at Michigan, after three years of fervently pursuing medical school, I decided to explore a different path. I headed to LA to work two summer internships in the entertainment industry. Shortly after moving, I fortuitously stumbled upon the book A Curious Mind by Brian Grazer. In this book, the famous film producer recounts the evolution of his “curiosity conversations” (essentially, curiosity-fueled networking) to which he 100% attributes his success. I decided to dedicate my free time that summer to engaging in Brian Grazer-style networking – not with the hopes that a job opportunity might arise from a conversation, but simply because I was intrigued by a specific field or impressed with a certain person.

That summer I became obsessed with learning as much as I could from other people’s professional experiences. I soon learned that Michigan alums were about five times more helpful and excited to speak with me than non-U of M-affiliated people, and about 10 times as willing to even respond to me in the first place. So I kept most of my efforts within the Michigan alumni network. Thanks to my “obsession,” I ultimately had the opportunity to speak with consultants, authors, comedians, and (!!!) an actor on Scandal (I loved that show!!). I even got to assist an MTV producer during an all-day music video shoot and spend the afternoon in the recording studio of one of the composers for Criminal Minds. My response when my friends asked how I landed those conversations or meetings? “I emailed him” or “I messaged her on LinkedIn.”

I started this project because I have personally experienced and gained so much (knowledge, relationships, even mentors) from networking with fellow Michigan Wolverines. I have learned that there is nothing in the world quite as powerful or beneficial as the Michigan connection. My hope is that through this project, in which I will profile various LSA alums with unique careers, I will encourage current students and recent graduates to build their own respective Michigan networks as well. University of Michigan graduates are brilliant, successful, and incredibly interesting…there is so much that you can learn from them! And don’t be intimidated – Michigan grads LOVE helping other Michigan grads.

Go Blue!

Stay tuned for stories featuring alumni who have been interviewed by Kelly in our Alumni Spotlight series!