Fine dining and career advice


Ellen Hill

Mariah Burnett talks with a boss

Approximately 50 people milled about the Stearns Hall performance space, each clutching a bingo sheet filled with question starters so that the attendants of the Dinner with the Boss event might get to know one another.

Upon arriving at this March 24 event, attendees were given a nametag that identified their major or indicated alumni status. The bingo sheet, which was filled with spaces such as “grew up in Vermont” or “has had Jim Black as a professor,” was an excuse to start up a conversation. The rules laid out on the sheet instructed participants to yell bingo upon completion of a row, but the crowd just ignored that.

At 6 p.m., JSC President Elaine Collins took the stage to welcome guests as they found their seats. The guest list was primarily made up of current JSC students and alumni who graduated any time between 1970 and the last couple of years.

“I think back to my own career path and recognize how critically important it is to know how to make career connections, how to grow networks, how to develop skills, experiences and opportunities needed to meet future career goals, and how to prepare for a job search,” said Collins. “Dinner with the Boss ensures that future Johnson alumni are well prepared in these areas and more.”

The tables were arranged so that each one received two alums and four other guests, for a total of six table members.

Following President Collins’ speech were the introduction of the alums and their advice for the students attending the event. Most of the advice given by the alums — such as Greg Stefanski, the executive director of Laraway Youth and Family Services, or Rebecca McGregor, the full time dance instructor at Lyndon Institute — followed in the vein of “not settling down too soon — to try different things and really experience a lot in life before sticking to just one career,” said JSC senior Chris Austin.

One voice dissented against trying multiple lines of work to see what fits, and that was JSC alum Kenneth Kopsco, who advocated for finding a particular line of work and sticking with it in order to climb the corporate ladder.

When it came time for dinner to be served at 6:30, Elaine Harvey (Assistant Athletics Director, External and Internal Communications, Athletics, SHAPE & Recreation) stood up and gave an energetic lecture on how to properly eat in a business setting. This lecture contained the dos and don’ts of proper dining, which fork to use first, and the various sins that one shouldn’t commit while having dinner with a prospective employer.

As she was speaking, the staff of Sodexo quietly and efficiently laid out the first course, which was a spinach salad with cranberry vinaigrette, toasted almonds, dried cranberries, and slices of pears laid overtop.

After Harvey’s speech, each table was left to converse amongst themselves, to interact with the alums in casual conversation.

When attendees registered online, they were given a choice between a meat option and a vegetarian option. Tom Fondakowski, the Sodexo manager, came over to each table to re-explain the dining options. The meat option was a pork loin so tender it practically melted, served in a red wine garlic sauce and accompanied by asparagus and mashed cauliflower.

Vegetarians were served a Portobello mushroom stuffed with orzo and chevre cheese, with a side of asparagus.

Beth Walsh, the career development coordinator for JSC and one of the driving forces behind this event, took the stage at 7:15 to talk about how to “Dress For Success.”

“Always dress professionally,” she said. “You want it to be clear to them how much you want this job. You want to do your best to look professional.”

While Walsh was talking, dessert, in the form of chocolate lava cake, was served, with strawberry sauce and whipped cream gracefully adorning the plate.

To conclude the meal, and the event, Internship Program Coordinator Ellen Hill stood up to give the closing remarks.

In addition to providing a nice meal and some sage advice from graduates, this dinner was an opportunity for students to learn from those who came before them. “I’d say it’s important for people to go because it provides really good insider knowledge on tips to make in in the job field,” said Anna Hughes, a junior at JSC.

For those who are soon to graduate, like Austin, this dinner provided an opportunity to learn how to comport themselves in a business setting.

“What I got out of the event was a better understanding of dinner etiquette, especially if I ever have to dine with the boss, how to present myself in the best way possible, and a business card from one of the alumni,” said Austin.

While student attendance for this event was mostly limited to upper-class students, there were some exceptions, like freshman Cambrie Earle. Unlike the upperclassmen, who have already decided their majors and who came to this event to talk to alums in their prospective field, Earle viewed this as an opportunity to help narrow down her focus at JSC.

“Well, I’m only a freshman, so I’ve got all four years to prepare,” said Earle. “But yes, it helped with deciding whether business is the way to go or not. I think [Dinner with the Boss is] very important . . . for those who are pursuing a job in business, and to get ready for those job interviews for the real world.”

One of the most common pieces of advice given by the alums was about saving money for the future. “Start planning and saving for your retirement now,” said Earle. “There is nothing better than knowing you will have a better retirement.”