Mike O'Connor poses for a photo in the doorway to the Center for Career, Life and Community Engagement.
Mike O’Connor began May 1 as the new Riaz Waraich Dean of Lawrence University’s Center for Career, Life and Community Engagement. The endowed deanship is part of new initiatives to bolster career advising and community, employer and alumni connections.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Connect. Connecting. Connectivity. Interconnected.

Spend 10 minutes with Mike O’Connor, Lawrence University’s new Riaz Waraich Dean of the Center for Career, Life, and Community Engagement (CLC), and he’ll drop a variation of connected into the conversation a couple dozen times.

He may even throw in team sport, collaboration and networking.

That’s not by accident.

O’Connor’s hiring to fill the newly endowed deanship is all about ramping up connections with departments across campus, with alumni and with potential employers to help students better prepare for life after Lawrence.

Being connected to the CLC and its resources, be it through internships and fellowships or employment contacts and alumni resources, is something that will be part of every student’s journey from the moment they arrive as freshmen during Welcome Week. It won’t be something to be put off until senior year.

“To me, the messaging for first-year students would be, the Center for Career, Life, and Community Engagement is just part of what you do as a Lawrentian,” O’Connor said. “It’s not a stand-alone entity. It’s interconnected, it’s part of the tapestry of Lawrence.”

That initiative, including the endowed deanship, is supported by a $2.5 million gift from J. Thomas Hurvis ’60 that was announced last November at the public launch of Lawrence’s $220 million Be the Light! Campaign.

O’Connor, who had been the director of the Career Exploration program at Williams College for the past five and a half years, sees opportunities for enhanced connections at Lawrence in every direction he looks. Many of those efforts were already under way before he got here, spurred by a Life After Lawrence Task Force that pushed for greater emphasis on preparing students for career and life opportunities after they graduate. Now, with more resources available and a renewed focus, those efforts are being supercharged.

“Life After Lawrence has a lot of moving parts,” O’Connor said. “There’s a big employer initiative and we’re building more pipelines for recruitment. More than that, though, is the potential for better integration with curricular goals and actualizing our alumni base at scale. We’ve got this amazing group of thousands and thousands of Lawrentians who want to help other Lawrentians. We’re working on tapping that power.”

For starters, career advising is being weaved into the Freshman Studies program in new ways. The Career Communities initiative has been launched and will continue to be fine-tuned and rolled out to students across all areas of study. And an interactive student-alumni mentor network is being developed.

“That will give us the ability to connect with alumni based on a certain major or career interest or geographic area, and be able to reach out to them in real time,” O’Connor said. “A student will be able to say, ‘Hey, I see you are working at Google in this data analytics role. I’ve been thinking about that as a career, can I hop on a call with you for 10 or 15 minutes to find out more about it?’ Or maybe I have this interview coming up and I need advice.

“This is something we onboarded at Williams and it was just a complete game-changer. It actualized our alums’ talents in real time in a useful way.”

The alumni relations work that’s already been done by the Alumni and Constituency Engagement Team puts Lawrence in a great position to roll out this enhanced recruiting network, O’Connor said. The recently launched Career Communities is a big step in that direction.

Read more about Career Communities here.

For alumni interested in helping Lawrentians in their career pursuits: Make yourself a Career Contact on AlumniQ”. 

Introducing an alumni affinity network to students will start during Welcome Week, although developing it and integrating it will be a work in progress.

“We’re trying to move on a lot of this very quickly,” O’Connor said.

There’s been encouraging cooperation from departments across campus as these initiatives have been explored, developed and tested.

“We’re lucky that we have a highly collaborative community with a lot of opportunities,” O’Connor said. “Not just our office but partnering with others across campus. The work of the CLC is really a team sport.

“We’re interfacing with Development and all across areas of Student Life, and we’re being increasingly intentional about how we’re working with broader alumni divisions, working with faculty and doing it in a more skilled way. If we’re all leaning into it, and I think we are, we stand a better chance to help a lot more students.”

On the personal side

O’Connor began his new duties on May 1.

He and his family — his wife, Kerrin Sendrowitz O’Connor, two daughters, Fiona Jayne, 3, and Isla Kelly, 7 months, two dogs and a cat — have embraced the move from the East Coast to Appleton, even if their move here from upstate New York in late April included a flat tire and a freak snowstorm.

“After logging over 100,000 commuter miles over the course of my Williams tenure, I can’t tell you what a pleasure it is to bike to work,” O’Connor said.

Now it’s time to explore their new home.

“The family and I like to consider ourselves outdoorsy,” O’Connor said. “We’ve been to 14 or 15 national parks, and love hiking, biking, and camping. … Given the age of our children, we love the park system in Appleton.”

Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Email: ed.c.berthiaume@lawrence.edu