Students network with a panelist at Taking the Next Step. The event included 14 different panel discussions ranging from “Advertising, Marketing, and Public Relations” to “Health Care.” The panelists included UChicago alumni and faculty members. (Photo courtesy the College/University of Chicago News Office)

From the Core to the mother lode

Alumni at Taking the Next Step gave 900 students hope that career success is possible beyond graduation.

Every year that I’ve been in the College, I have seen my friends pretend to be adults in business-casual attire and head downtown to the College’s annual student-alumni networking event, Taking the Next Step. They always came back excited about contacts they made, and with tips and tricks for postgraduation life. But beyond that, they came home with the glorious “padfolio.” Part legal pad, part folder, part binder, encased in leather and emblazoned with the UChicago emblem, the padfolio has become synonymous across campus with Taking the Next Step.

This year, I finally got my padfolio.

Arriving at the lavish Hilton Chicago, I was presented with the treasure right away and headed into the ballroom for lunch. At the journalism table I got tips from Time Out senior editor Hank Sartin, PhD’98, and former Magazine intern and Northbrook Patch editor Jennifer Fisher, AB’07. Sartin entered the profession as a film critic, but he told us cultural commentary jobs no longer exist—partially because everyone fancies themselves experts on television, film, art, and food.

Then members of the University community addressed the crowd, including the biggest celebrity of the College and resident University historian: Dean of the College John W. Boyer, AM’68, PhD’75.

Boyer’s speech recalled the history of Taking the Next Step: the journey from its small, humble beginnings 15 years ago to today hosting more than 1,000 students and alumni from across the country and some from across the globe. At the end, he encouraged students to stay downtown—part of the University’s constant effort to get students out of Hyde Park. “Consumption is important: buy something with a credit card,” he told students. “And I’m not just saying that because the mayor paid me.”

Then, Myrtle Potter, AB’80, founder and CEO of the health-care consulting firm Myrtle Potter and Company, told her rags-to-riches story: a small-town girl from New Mexico, she blazed her way to running a multibillion-dollar company. It’s always relieving to hear about alumni who were able to take the often nontransferable skills from the Core on to great success. Figuring out how to get there, she said, doesn’t result from one major turning point though; “There are a lot of times where you don’t know how to get from where you are to where you want to be. Don’t let that stop you from taking small steps to get from point A to point B.”

But, she also said she knew she was onto something when, in her fourth year, she went to Chicago Booth looking for help finding a job. As she stepped in, she said it was like “finding the mother lode,” and that, shockingly, the students looked like real adults. It shook her up when she saw that “the girls are developed, and the men are furry.”

So there you go. I do need to take small steps to get my dream career, but I also need to find those mystical creatures that are developed and furry. Maybe I can attract them with my padfolio.