Coming Back to Move Students Forward

June 21, 2021

The expanded remote environment opened the door for UM-Dearborn’s leaders and best around the world — who work for companies like Disney, Facebook, John Deere and more — to speak with students, share their career journey and give life lessons learned. Hea

 Graphic showing how alumni connect with campus from around the world
Graphic showing how alumni connect with campus from around the world

UM-Dearborn students are learning career lessons from executives at The Walt Disney Company, Deere & Company, Facebook and more.

The best part? Today’s Wolverines can relate with the high-level professionals — students and mentors are connected through their UM-Dearborn college experience.

Judy Toland, '01 M.B.A.

“It seemed like just yesterday that I was at UM-Dearborn and studying and wondering where my career would go. And here we are — it happens in the blink of an eye,” said College of Business (COB) graduate Judith Toland, ‘01 M.B.A., Facebook Vice President, Head of Scaled Solutions, Global Business Marketing, Chicago office. Toland’s presentation was moderated by Marketing Professor Crystal Scott and attended by COB students who had the opportunity to ask questions.

Through the Alumni Engagement Speaker Series — a monthly virtual series with UM-Dearborn thought leaders — Toland and others shared their career journeys, lessons learned and the importance of opportunity-seeking at every stage of your learning experience.

Office of Alumni Engagement Director Cristina Frendo said the series was originally created to celebrate Homecoming 2020, but continued when campus leaders realized alumni around the globe were interested in virtually interacting with campus. The expanded remote environment opened the door for successful alumni to speak in classrooms and to community members no matter their location. 

Frendo said an alumni engagement portal recently was developed to showcase campus volunteer opportunities for alumni. 

“Our alumni engagement has been through the roof with these new virtual opportunities. It’s really been the silver lining of the pandemic,” she said. 

Frendo said graduates shared personal experiences as a way to give advice to current students — from career-climbing advice to how they handled difficult situations like being marginalized by racism, gender bias and other social injustices.

Marc Howze
Photo of Marc Howze, '86

Through a special edition in the series, Deere & Company executive Marc Howze,’86 B.A., spoke with UM-Dearborn students, faculty and staff about diversity, equity and inclusion in action and wanted to remind students, particularly students of color and first-generation students, that they belong in college and belong in whatever field they choose. The CASL political science major, who later earned his MBA from the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University and Juris Doctor from U-M Law School, is a 20-year employee of Deere & Company and serves as the Group President, Lifecycle Solutions and Chief Administrative Officer.

Howze, a first-generation student himself, said there were professors on campus, like History Professor Emeritus Elaine Clark, who valued his contributions and complimented his intellect. But he recalled how others made comments that made him uncomfortable — like a fellow student telling him “you aren't like other Black people,” or people singling him out to represent the views of the Black community in discussions. 

He said some of it was well meaning, but it wore on him as a new student and made him question his place on campus — until a woman at his Eastside Detroit church helped him push through. The woman, who was approximately his grandfather’s age, congratulated Howze on attending college, told him she wished she could have gone to school, and gave him $5 from her coin purse to help with costs.

“That $5 changed my life. It couldn’t really do anything for me financially. solidified the dreams of generations of people. I embodied that dream,” he said, recalling her gift. “I’m about to get a world-class education and I’m thinking about whether or not I belong because people make me feel uncomfortable...I want people to know that you belong. If you are here, you are not here by mistake. Remember that any room you are in, that’s your room. The space that you occupy is your space. You belong.”

Frendo said the powerful series offers a variety of perspectives from prominent alumni around the world. “UM-Dearborn has a strong community of alums who really want to help Dearborn students succeed. Now that they have opportunities to ‘come to campus’ from anywhere, top Wolverines from locations like New York, L.A., Germany, the U.K. and others are looking at ways to connect with campus and our students.”

Photo of Laura Abele, '94

College of Arts, Sciences, & Letters graduate Laura (Obersteadt) Abele, ‘94 B.A., presented from her L.A. home and gave career highlights that included a visit to George Lucas’ Skywalker Ranch, an office with the view of the Hollywood sign, and the opportunity to promote The Lord of the Rings trilogy through home video products, press events, fan-interactive Comic-Con displays, and more. 

Because one does not simply walk into Mordor, Abele — The Walt Disney Company’s International events & trade marketing director — gave advice from her career journey during her talk, From Dearborn to Hollywood: Ten Truths I Learned While Navigating the Ever-Changing Entertainment Biz. In addition to the career highs, she also gave tips on managing the lows like recessions, layoffs and mergers. “Overwhelming change and uncertainty are stressful — no kidding, right? But look beyond it for the opportunity. It could be the best thing that happens to you.”

Abele said opportunities are everywhere. One she took while at UM-Dearborn? Applying to WUMD College Radio. “A friend wanted me to apply with her as a DJ...this DJ slot turned into music and program director positions at the station. I would talk to record label promotions people and thought, ‘I want to be one of them.’ I was also taking sociology classes and realized that I liked studying the behaviors of people, especially when it related to marketing products.” Abele said those early experiences helped her gain the tools needed for a career she loves, and she hopes the presentation provides perspective for students and recent graduates as they start their careers.

Frendo said the Alumni Engagement Speaker Series — along with other alumni engagement opportunities — will continue in a virtual or hybrid format even as the campus transitions back to a more robust fall on-campus presence. With the boost in participation, she said it’s clear that both alumni and students are benefiting from the variety in format, topics and shared experiences.

Alums are an essential part of our story — yesterday, today, always. They are essential to our student success because they were once in the classroom, relate well to our students, and can share what students need to know to thrive,” Frendo said. “The series combines their mentorship while celebrating the phenomenal work they’ve done since leaving campus. We’re honored to be a part of that story.”

Article by Sarah Tuxbury. If you’d like to learn more about how you can engage with UM-Dearborn students or are a faculty member with a speaking engagement opportunity, please contact the Office of Alumni Engagement.