By Alexandria Alyse Walker
Four years ago, I embarked on a new vocation in special events fundraising to help advocate for the needs and betterment of Chicagoland communities challenged by health and economic hardships. What should have been an intimidating journey for someone with my limited experience in this field (my background is in the performing arts) ended up being one of the most profound and rewarding experiences of my life.
Being a student at DePaul’s Kellstadt Graduate School of Business exposed me to incredible opportunities that allowed me to gain professional hands-on experiences relevant to my career goals. It also gave me a unique opportunity to gain valuable insight from my professors, connect with my peers, grow my leadership skills in student organizations and network with top industry leaders. It is without saying that DePaul has changed my life.
As I look back on my graduate experience, I sit here with tears in my eyes in complete gratitude for all that God has done for me and for all that I have gained academically, professionally and personally as a student at Kellstadt. Below are some gems that I have discovered in my journey that I hope will be beneficial for you:
Don’t be afraid to pivot from your original plan
During my time at Kellstadt, I discovered that my path was not linear. It is not uncommon for students to come into a program, take a class unrelated to their major and discover that they want to pursue a different area of study than the one they had originally intended. It is also not uncommon to pursue an advanced degree in a completely different field than your undergrad degree.
If you find yourself pivoting from your original goal or field of study don’t view it as a setback or failure. Every experience you encounter in life is a stepping stone towards you reaching your purpose, so embrace the journey!
Be open to taking courses outside of your program
Coming into my program I knew that I was called to pursue a career in hospitality and philanthropy, but after exploring different courses I discovered an interest in hospitality and entrepreneurship.
This opened the door for me to connect with faculty at DePaul’s Coleman Entrepreneurship Center, get involved in internship opportunities, gain leadership experience in student organizations like DePaul’s chapter for the Collegiate Entrepreneurs’ Organization (CEO), expand my network and gain skills I needed for a career in hospitality leadership and entrepreneurship.
What I love about DePaul is that it embraces students’ diverse interests and backgrounds and invests in preparing them for a more confident and successful future. And the Kellstadt program gives students the opportunity to explore courses that stimulate new interests within different departments.
You encompass so many incredible talents that will open doors for you to change the world, so do not limit your ability to be effective in other areas.
Take advantage of student events, organizations and networking opportunities
DePaul has so many events for students both on campus and virtually. There are many opportunities to socialize, network and engage with peers, professors and industry professionals, as well as get involved in student organizations. DeHub, Handshake, LinkedIn and other social media channels are great tools you can use to explore career and internship opportunities, and stay connected to upcoming events and school updates.
Participating in student events enhanced how I experienced my DePaul community and made me feel more connected to my professors and peers. It also helped me build my network and get involved in student organizations and committee groups, where I gained hands-on experiences pertinent to my career goals.
Lean on your professors for career support
My professors were great resources for me throughout my time at Kellstadt. They not only provided me industry knowledge, but they matched me with valuable opportunities that aligned with my career interests and goals. Having that support was instrumental in my success and my academic and professional development. Don’t underestimate the opportunities and connections that can come from cultivating relationships with your professors, and even classmates.
Stay proactive in the pursuit of your goals
Coming into my program I was adamant about gaining as much experience as I could since I was new to the field I was pursuing. This motivated me to advocate for opportunities on my own, such as internships with UNICEF Chicago, The Parkinson’s Foundation, The Little Village Chamber of Commerce, and other places that helped me gain skills integral to a career as a fundraising leader for nonprofit events.
Being a DePaul student opened doors for me. I gained insight and experience in philanthropy as a fundraising and volunteer board member with the Young Associates Board with Lurie Childrens, WGIRLS Chicago, Young Leaders Fund with the Chicago Community Trust, and the Chicago Women in Philanthropy organization.
Walk with faith
Finally, there is one word that comes to mind when I reflect on my graduate journey—and that is faith. Having a strong performing arts background, I never believed that I was capable of anything else until God showed me that He had more in store for me. I put God first in my life because He empowers me and directs my steps. Walking in my faith, I was reminded that no goal is out of reach.
Alexandria Alyse Walker is part of the graduating class of 2022 in the Kellstadt Graduate School of Business. She holds a master’s degree in hospitality leadership and operational performance. Graduating with distinction, she is a proud member of the Beta Gamma Sigma honor society and ETA Sigma Delta International Hospitality Management honor society. Alexandria has two sisters, Chaunyce who is a 2022 DePaul MBA graduate and Madisyn who is finishing her freshman year at DePaul University. Alexandria looks forward to working with nonprofit organizations to advocate for social issues through her philanthropy work and furthering her entrepreneurship aspirations in the hospitality industry by opening a coffee house in Chicago.