March 2014, a group of NAU honors students were able to attend the Arizona Higher Education Sustainability Conference.  Alana Weber, an NAU environmental sciences major about to start her third year, describes it as:

“…a conference that hopefully will go on every year [hosted at] different universities in Arizona. This conference is all about looking at sustainability efforts on university campuses as well as businesses here in AZ. There are networking events and presentations that go on about how universities have incorporated sustainability through teaching styles, clubs, and student involvement.”

Cassandra fifth from the right, Alana fourth from the right
Cassandra fifth from the right, Alana fourth from the right

What surprised these students at this conference? How beneficial networking is. Alana noted the most important take away she took from the conference:

“NETWORK! I had never networked before and I was a bit nervous to go up and talk to adults who had jobs in the ‘real world’. However, everyone was so nice and wanted to talk. I met some people that I never thought I would talk to until I was on the business side of things.”

Cassandra Leone, an environmental studies major about to start her second year, also reflected:

“The networking available at the conference …will be crucial to my future in both friendships and work relationships. I cannot imagine going into an event like this taciturn! In any job it is important to make connections early, but especially in quickly evolving fields, as you never know what business will need you next.”

Networking can be a daunting task. Many of us are uncertain when we have to go up to people we don’t know and start a conversation. However, once you get past the introduction and handshake, it’s completely worth it to have a meaningful conversation and connect with an experienced professional. We asked Cassandra if she made any networking connections at the conference and she said:

“I certainly made connections at the conference! LinkedIn was heavily emphasized throughout the days, as was Twitter. People were making digital and face-to-face connections left and right. In fact, I just started my internship with Green Living Magazine, an opportunity I would have missed out on had I not started talking to the publisher, Dorie Morales, at the event. Most of us managed to talk with or connect with higher up individuals that directly related to future careers or interests. “

Bravely speaking with strangers- or networking- led to Cassandra landing an internship in a career field that interests and excites her! Not only can networking help you learn about a job or internship opportunity, Alana further described how it can benefit students:

“I now know not to be afraid and get out and talk to the people that are a part of something that I have a passion for. This networking experience has definitely made me more courageous and excited for the future.”

Still a little nervous about networking? Cassandra offers some advice to those new to the networking game:

“…simply be polite. The past few years of my life I have learned to never be angry or annoyed in public – the person who has spilled their iced tea on the floor may turn into your next employer, and regardless, you should help clean it up… Smile at everyone you see, especially when you’re among a sea of employers. Also, carry a bag with you – you never know what sort of swag will be given away!”

Cassandra showing the power NAU students have to directly participate in sustainability
Cassandra showing off her poster at the AZ Higher Education Sustainability Conference

Once you network and make these meaningful career connections, don’t forget to grab a business card or jot down your new connection’s first and last name. Connect with them on LinkedIn after the event when you’re able to loosen your tie or take off the painful heels.

One final thought: although this group of students attended the conference to learn about sustainability, one major take-away was  how beneficial and simple networking is. Whether at a sustainability conference, a career fair, or any other type of event relating to your career path, networking is a valuable skill.

“Don’t be shy. Get out of your comfort zone and talk to the people who interest you.” –Alana

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