When George Washington University alumna Richa Batra, M.B.A. ’08, thinks back to her own educational experience, she didn’t even know “first-generation” was a term. And even if she did, she thinks she wouldn’t have wanted to identify herself that way—even though she fit the definition.
But after holding leadership positions in the education technology (ed tech) industry, she’s come to realize the strong effect support systems can have. And a decade-and-a-half after graduating from GW, she’s paying it forward in a big way.
Batra, who is now the vice president and general manager of student success at Anthology, Inc., (formerly Blackboard), has served the university in a mentorship role by connecting with current students who might be looking for that one person with a similar backstory to theirs for help, guidance and confidence building.
“If one person had helped me or taken the time to, it probably would have gotten me further faster, and I think that’s the difference—I just didn’t know I could,” said Batra, who frequently has virtual coffee with GW students—many with female students of color and first-generation students who also want to break into the tech industry. “If there's a voice that I can share on my own and it helps someone get a new job, think about a different perspective or have a little bit more confidence, then it is so, so worth it to me.”
Therefore, it was an easy decision for her to join other GW alumni and serve as part of the pilot GW Alumni Career Influencers program.
A joint effort between the Center for Career Services and Office of Alumni Relations to help foster alumni-student mentorship, the Alumni Career Influencers program aims to increase access to GW alumni by featuring them in GW’s Career Connect platform, often described as an “internal LinkedIn” and at Center for Career Services programs, workshops and career fairs. Alumni share their experiences and advice to help students research and explore career options in various fields.
Alumni are also encouraged to connect with one another using the Career Connect platform.
“The community both when I was at GW and when I graduated has been really excellent,” said Joshua Kaye, M.A. ’18, an Alumni Career Influencer who now works at WWC Global, a contracting organization through the State Department. “The alumni network is strong, too, especially in this city. It can be so difficult to get a job right away, but we have a rich network of alumni across industries, government, private sector and really whatever to draw upon.”
Career Services has completed the first three of six workshops featuring these alumni, with the first in-person one on Wednesday, Oct. 18. The sessions have featured topics ranging from networking to resume writing, as GW students have gotten to hear from those who were in their shoes not long ago.
“These alumni can provide power in their stories,” said Career Learning and Experiences Director Katherine Norton.
In addition, Career Services has partnered with Columbian College of Arts and Sciences and the Elliott School to help build informational interviewing and networking curricula into First-Year-Experience (FYE) courses. By utilizing these practices early on, students can learn how to use the Career Connect platform as a resource at all stages of the professional development cycle from career exploration to job search advice.
“Having an internship is a huge part of the GW experience, and I was interested in learning because I know I will want to take advantage of all the opportunities in D.C.,” said first-year international affairs student Zaynad Ahmed. “The internship process can feel very competitive but seeing all of their work and having them as a resource is very nice.”
Ahmed, who is in Norton’s FYE class, encouraged fellow students to attend a session because it provided her with a lot of useful information she wouldn’t get just surfing through websites. Ahmed specifically mentioned the suggestion of utilizing a tracking spreadsheet for internships and jobs either already applied for or as prospective options.
In addition to 15 industry-based communities, GW Career Connect has also introduced affinity-based communities to help students and alumni connect over shared identity experiences, as Batra has done over virtual coffees now many times. Those alumni affinity groups include:
- Asian & Pacific Islander Students and Alumni
- Black Students and Alumni
- First Generation Students and Alumni
- International Students and Alumni
- Latino Students and Alumni
- LGBTQ+ Students and Alumni
- Veteran Students and Alumni
Alumni Career Influencers want to give back because they are eager to help the next generation of students at an institution that was a big part of their own stories. Batra and Kaye both encourage students to reach out, even in a non-professional capacity, and want students to know that people are more than willing to listen if they simply ask for time.
They also want students to know that a career path is far from linear, and, to take it from them, be open-minded as they navigate this time of their lives.
“My guidance to everyone is to be curious and also do what you love and find what you love,” Batra said. “Because then, it truly doesn’t feel like work.”
Alumni who are interested in being a resource for current students and fellow alumni, can join Career Connect at careerconnect.gwu.edu.