Parks, Zorn and Pierce-Danders chat at a table in the courtyard of the Pew Grand Rapids Campus

#AnchorUp Alumni: Career Coaching Communities

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Parks studied accounting, finance and economics and works as a financial analyst at General Motors in Detroit. Zorn studied legal studies and criminal justice and was working at the Michigan Court of Appeals.

Despite their different career paths, Parks and Zorn found themselves in a similar position this year: they both felt stuck in their careers. That mutual feeling led them to participate in a new alumni career support program that piloted in January.

#AnchorUp Alumni Career Coaching Communities equipped alumni with career skills that increased their confidence and helped them take the next career step. For six weeks, cohorts met virtually once a week. The program was a collaboration between the Grand Valley's Career Center and Alumni Relations and offered free to alumni as part of the university's Laker for a Lifetime Commitment to its graduates.

Headshot of Cheryl Zorn

Zorn was happy in her role but was ready for a new challenge. “I had been interviewing for a while and was losing confidence in my abilities. I thought this would help,” she said.

Parks, who has worked in finance for more than 14 years, said he was considering a career change. “I was at a low in my professional confidence," he said. "I felt stagnant. I was asking myself, ‘What do I really want to do? What are my passions?’”

More than 20 alumni participated in the initial cohort. Sessions were facilitated by Amy Pierce-Danders, a GVSU alumni career coach with more than 20 years of experience in career coaching.

Pierce-Danders believes the cohort model creates a strong sense of community. “We tend to think we are the only ones who feel this way," she said. "I have heard so many alumni say, ‘I just felt so relieved that I was not the only one experiencing this!’ I see the weight lift off their shoulders.”

Parks said his cohort was a diverse mix of ages and industries, but with a common issue: What is next for my career? 

“In the breakout sessions, we asked each other, ‘With no constraints on your life, where do you want to be?’ After answering that question, you really get to know people. We learned a lot from each other,” he said.

Zorn experienced a safe and encouraging community. “I met very intelligent, warm, engaging people, and the best part was, they were in similar situations," she said. "We were all very supportive of each other. And Amy is phenomenal. She believes in you, which makes it impossible not to believe in yourself.”

Headshot of Brian Parks

The program was designed to help alumni live into their authentic lives. Sessions covered career issues such as calming imposter syndrome, goal setting and integrating personal interests with professional life. Participants also revitalize their professional toolkits, such as resumes, LinkedIn profiles and personal narratives. 

Equipped with new skills, self-awareness and confidence from #AnchorUp, Parks and Zorn have taken the next step in their careers.

Parks is now in a management development program at GM and has started mentoring a current GVSU student. He said #AnchorUp taught him to integrate his passions and interests with his professional life. 

Headshot of Amy Pierce-Danders

“I used to keep those compartmentalized, but people want to see a well-rounded individual. It is so simple, but it was like a lightbulb went on," he said. "Now I structure my resume, LinkedIn profile and how I talk about myself to share my passions. It sets me apart as unique.”

#AnchorUp increased Zorn’s confidence, which helped her secure a new position as a trial division director for the Ottawa County 20th Circuit Court.

“The coaching experience definitely inspired my confidence in myself, and I felt like I had a strong net of support around me,” Zorn said.

This summer, the #AnchorUp Alumni Career Coaching Communities focused on serving first generation and 2SLGBTQIA+ alumni. Learn more about career coaching opportunities.