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BIPOC Alumni Panel Event Reflection

 By: Sehar Mapara and Mia Ferraina 

Cornell Career Services hosted a virtual Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) Alumni Panel on March 6 where four engaged Cornell alumni shared valuable pieces of advice and guidance for BIPOC students navigating the workforce and current employment landscape. Marjorie Mosereiff, a career advisor at Cornell College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, facilitated the discussion with insightful and informative questions. The alumni panel included: 

  • Christopher Morales, CALS ‘20 majored in Communication and now works as a project manager based out of Los Angeles. 

  • Michelle Juma, College of Art, Architecture, Planning (AAP) ‘16, majored in Urban planning and now works as an operation management specialist for a non-profit organization. Juma was previously a public sector consultant. 
  • Neil Sen completed degrees in mechanical engineering: Bachelor of Science ‘13 as well as his Master of Engineering ‘14 and Masters of Business Administration ‘20, all from Cornell. He is now working as a management consultant in New York City. 
  • Rayna Reid, College of Industrial and Labor Relations (ILR) ’09, has had a wide array of experiences from working at The White House to Google.

On the topic of networking, the panelists unanimously agreed that it is valuable during career searches. Reid explained how she received all of her jobs through networking. In fact, she contacted someone from Cornell to make a connection at Google. Juma obtained every one of her positions through a referral – in one instance, she messaged someone on Instagram whom she had a class with to ask if they were hiring interns. Morales offered advice on a different aspect, focusing on making connections with everyone. “Leverage your Cornell email, use it to contact anyone and everyone that you want to,” he told the audience. “Talk to people, make a connection with them.”

A popular question students regularly ask alumni is what they can do on campus to prepare themselves better. Juma expressed how grades are somewhat important, but a lot of companies also prioritize a candidate's experience and enthusiasm. Employers enjoy seeing how you take initiative during college to figure out your passions. It's more important to know what you enjoy and build a career based on that. Clubs and on-campus organizations are great places to figure out how you can translate your classes and studies into applicable industries.

Sen explained how he portrayed his work outside of classrooms as professional experience in many of his cover letters. For example, when he was in business school, he had four leadership positions outside of his off-campus organizations and this equipped him with skills such as communications and project management which he was able to explain in his interviews. 

The panelists were also asked to share their thoughts on DEI practices within companies and industries, and whether that impacted their job search. During Sen’s job search, he reported he was told, “Straight, Asian male is not considered diversity.” He expressed that some companies may believe the Asian minority to be over-represented, but from his experience he doesn’t see enough Asian representation beyond entry-level roles and feels they struggle to make it up to leadership positions. 

Morales found himself targeting the role and company’s name recognition more than their DEI practices. Prior to 2020, DEI wasn’t discussed as much, and in many cases, he said it was “All talk but no action.” For those looking at careers in non-profit, Juma suggested looking at their 990 forms. Form 990 is a U.S. Internal Revenue Service form that a non-profit organization is required to share publicly. By reviewing the tax-exempt finances of the organizations, this form can help you figure out whether DEI practices are a true value of the organizations or are more performative. It was evident that the panelists aimed to share their true and authentic experiences as BIPOC students and employees while navigating their professional lives. Students in attendance expressed appreciation for their honesty and advice. Ultimately, companies that implement credible DEI practices have the best outcome when it comes to their workers embracing their identity. “The work that I was doing I was able to connect with my identity in very small and simple ways,” Morales said. 

Keep an eye out for more panels and events hosted by Cornell Career Services listed on Handshake and Instagram