Career exploration is an essential part of defining a student’s path forward after graduation, and Northwestern alumni are uniquely positioned to provide insight and guidance. That is why alumnus Austin J. Waldron ’78 partnered with the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences to create and endow the Austin J. Waldron Student-Alumni Connections Program, which connects undergraduates with alumni in various fields and across different stages of their careers.
The Waldron Connections Program helps students explore career possibilities, hone their networking abilities and learn how to communicate the value of their arts and sciences degrees. Moreover, the opportunity to engage with already-established alumni helps students envision their own professional futures, alleviating concerns about life after graduation.
“So many students get wrapped up in choosing a major, laying out a life plan and thinking it can’t change,” Waldron says. “My journey, and that of many other alumni, is proof that pivoting to a new path can lead to much more satisfaction.”
A lifelong Chicagoan, Waldron is a veteran health care operations executive who spent his 37-year career at Health Care Service Corp., an independent licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association. Prior to retiring in 2016, he oversaw claims and account service for 15 million members as senior vice president and chief customer service officer. Waldron earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Northwestern and is a member of the Weinberg College Board of Visitors.
“Particularly now, organizations are looking for individuals with balanced backgrounds and the ability to adapt — and that’s what the arts and sciences curriculum provides,” he says.
The Waldron Connections Program typically offers a variety of opportunities each quarter, including panel discussions and industry-specific conversations, professional skill–development workshops and on-site career treks to Chicago and Evanston businesses.
In September more than 200 students heard from 45 alumni in diverse industries and roles at the program’s annual Weinberg College Career Summit, which went virtual in 2020. Students attended panels on subjects ranging from big data and entrepreneurship to media and health care, and connected with alumni in small-group breakouts.
“What’s really great about the Waldron Connections Program is that it has different programming for wherever you are on your career journey,” says Madelyn Moy ’22, a Weinberg College junior majoring in biology, anthropology and integrated science. “Whether you’re still deciding on a major or know what industry you want to work in but not exactly what job, there is something for everyone.”
Since the program got its start as a pilot, it has experienced tremendous growth — from 87 student participants during the 2013–14 academic year to 708 student participants in 2019–20.