Foreign language students take part in speed networking with World Affairs Council of St. Louis

by | Apr 29, 2024

Students had the chance to connect one-on-one with representatives from organizations such as Bayer Crop Science, Greater St. Louis, Inc. and Mastercard.
Erica Rivera

Senior Erica Rivera interviews with Henry Stephenson, vice president of security risk management at Mastercard, during a speed networking event in Clark Hall. It was part of her class, Foreign Language Careers for the Global Market. (Photo by Burk Krohe)

Last Tuesday night, Theresa Kallal rehearsed her elevator pitch while pacing her room. She also made sure to polish her resume one last time.

Kallal, a senior at the University of Missouri–St. Louis dual majoring in French and Spanish, was preparing for a speed networking event on campus the next day and wanted to make certain she presented a professional front.

“I guess it was just getting in the mentality of ‘You’re going to be doing something professional, something more than going to class in the afternoon, so be ready now,’” she said.

Kallal was one of eight students in the Department of Language and Cultural Studies who took part in a speed networking event Wednesday afternoon in Clark Hall. The exercise was part of Associate Teaching Professor Amy D’Agrosa’s course, Foreign Language Careers for the Global Market. Students had the chance to connect one-on-one with seven representatives from leading local businesses and institutions such as Bayer Crop Science; Greater St. Louis, Inc.; Mastercard and the World Affairs Council of St. Louis.

“Our goal as a department for this event is to really give our students an opportunity to have a live practice of what it would feel like to have an interview in person with professionals,” D’Agrosa said. “Several years ago, we initiated a partnership with the World Affairs Council of St. Louis, and they have been very gracious in bringing professionals from the St. Louis community in to interview our students and provide some feedback on their resumes, on their cover letters, on their interviewing, on the way they’re dressed.”

Seth George, strategic administrator at the World Affairs Council of St. Louis, was glad to continue strengthening the relationship between the organization and the university.

“I thought it was a great opportunity for us to engage with UMSL since we work with UMSL Global quite frequently,” George said. “Part of our mission is to really engage with youth and retain talent in St. Louis, so it aligned with our values.”

D’Agrosa has led the one-credit hour course for several years, and, recently, it’s become a requirement for foreign language students. The class introduces students to a range of careers in which knowledge of foreign languages and cross-cultural awareness are an asset. Over eight weeks, students explore how to apply their languages skills in fields such as business, government, health care and STEM through interactive workshops, like speed networking, and guest presentations.

During the event, students took part in mini-interview sessions with the professionals, swapping spots every 10 to 15 minutes. Throughout the afternoon, the students were engaged and conversed easily as they shared details about their academic background, skills, work history and career ambitions. At the end of each session, interviewers provided feedback.

Kallal’s preparations for the event seemed to pay off. She had positive interactions with everyone and highlighted her interview with Geoffrey King, vice president, strategy, at Greater St. Louis, Inc., in particular.

“It went very well,” she said. “Mr. King was very easy to talk to. He was very conversational. He offered me his business card within a couple minutes and then a magazine from the company. He really seemed interested in getting to know me on a business level. I thought this was just practice, but it does seem like this is getting us into the job market.”

King emphasized the importance of networking – something Kallal has already had some practice at. Proactive networking helped her secure an internship at Graybar and a part-time job at a golf club in Clayton, Missouri. She expects to graduate in December and is interested in pursuing a position in marketing and communications in the future.

“You never know where a good cup of coffee might take you,” she said, echoing King’s advice.

Dominica Rooks, a senior majoring in psychology with a minor in French, also ensured she was prepared for the event. Rooks reviewed her resume and made sure she could effectively explain her work experience and related skills. Like Kallal, she also had a positive experience.

“The experience was great,” she said. “I talked to four or five different people, and they each had something different to say. One lady specifically mentioned going into law school, and I never really thought about that. I learned a lot.”

Rooks will keep law school in mind, but right now, she intends to graduate with her bachelor’s degree, earn a master’s degree in forensic psychology and then apply to the FBI.

The visitors were impressed across the board with the students’ professional attitudes and preparedness.

“I think they did great,” George said. “Many of the students I spoke to had great questions and great follow-up questions. They were interested in the work I do, which is nice. I think that they did a great job at providing thoughtful answers to my questions.”

UMSL alum Jessica Wagner was on hand to represent Bayer Crop Science, where she serves as a global insights manager. Wagner earned her MBA last year and said it was fulfilling to return to campus as a recent graduate and give back to the UMSL community. She was also impressed with the students and underscored the importance of cultural competency in her role at Bayer.

“On my team, we have a lot of people that have to speak another language just to do analysis,” Wagner said. “Being such a large international company, one thing that we touched on a lot today was that you’re so much better able to break down some of those cultural barriers if you know another language.”

D’Agrosa is confident UMSL’s language education has given her students the tools necessary to succeed in any industry. She noted that they’re able to communicate openly and think globally. Plus, language skills set them apart in an increasingly globalized economy.

“It opens a lot of doors for them,” she said. “We have had students who have worked for international corporations because they’re selected out of large pools of candidates because they speak another language. So speaking another language is a definite asset.”

Burk Krohe

Burk Krohe

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