Jeff Knauss ’07 (above left) was a brand new father and the sole breadwinner for his family when he was offered a promotion to vice president of a broadcasting company in Syracuse, N.Y., in 2014. But instead of accepting the position, he gave his notice and left behind a steady salary with health insurance and other benefits to launch his own company.
Why? “Because of Jake,” Knauss said.
Knauss said he had struck up a friendship with Jake Tanner ’12 (above right) after the latter had presented on digital marketing at the Tech Garden in Syracuse a few years before. The pair quickly noticed how their skills complemented each other: Tanner had the technical skills to understand search engine optimization and the role technology plays in marketing—the “backend stuff,” and Knauss had the interpersonal skills and marketing sales experience to be the “front-end guy.”
“The fact that we both attended SUNY Oswego definitely helped us bond over our experiences from college,” Knauss said. “It helped us create a friendship, which evolved into a great business partnership.”
Less than three years later, the duo has developed the Digital Hyve into one of the fastest-growing private companies in America. Named the CenterState CEO’s 2017 Business of the Year and earning the U.S. Small Business Administration’s 2017 Excellence in Small Business Award, the company expects to bring in $5.5 million in revenue this year and just moved into a 7,500-square foot space overlooking Clinton Square in Syracuse, to accommodate its 23 full-time employees. Of those employees, six—or one-quarter—attended SUNY Oswego.
“I’ve found that people who went to SUNY Oswego tend to be hard workers, and it is incredibly rewarding to see the talent coming from my alma mater,” said Knauss, who has hired Oswego alumni to fill diverse roles within his company, including in human resources, web development, graphic design and account management.
“The SUNY Oswego alumni network is very strong in Upstate New York,” he said. “The network is also far-reaching, as I have made many friends through the alumni network who live all over the country. I think people are really surprised how many doors can be opened with a degree from SUNY Oswego.”
Knauss has returned to campus often to speak with students and share his experience. Most recently, he delivered the keynote address for the inaugural Launch It! competition, during which student entrepreneurs pitched their business ideas to a panel of judges. (See Story)
He also connects frequently with Career Services to make them aware of career and internship opportunities available at his company. He makes time to mentor and advise students, such as Will Walsh ’21, who visited Knauss at the Digital Hyve on a Friday afternoon in October to seek guidance on his own business venture.
Knauss and so many other alumni leverage their SUNY Oswego connections to strengthen their professional networks and create career opportunities for themselves and others. Sometimes these connections happen organically, as it did for Knauss and Tanner. Many times, these relationships begin at events or through programs sponsored by the Oswego Alumni Association (OAA), with support from The Fund for Oswego, that deliberately bring together Oswego students and alumni for networking.
ASK-ing Alumni for Help
For example, Andy Miller ’92 volunteered to mentor SUNY Oswego students through the Alumni Sharing Knowledge (ASK) program and was paired with then business administration student Kayla Doan ’11. That connection led to Miller hiring Doan to work with him at Constant Contact in Boston. Doan then began to mentor business administration and public relations double major Sarah Miller ’15 (no relation to Andy) who they brought on as an intern at the company.
Two years later, Andy Miller hired Sarah Miller to work for him at AARP, where he currently is senior vice president of innovation and product development and she is an innovation associate. Both remain in regular communication with Doan, who is now innovation program manager at Constant Contact.
“Both Kayla and Andy have been paramount in my career journey,” Sarah Miller said. “I can always turn to Kayla when I have questions about my career, finances or just life in general. She’s taught me so much about how to be successful and go after what I want … The whole trajectory of my life changed just from one simple email from Kayla. You never know who you are going to meet and how they will impact your life.”
The two women have a made a point of returning to campus whenever they can through the Alumni-In-Residence (AIR) program to meet with current students, share advice and be a first link in the students’ professional network.
“Our story is a unique representation of how to create a string of alum all working together harnessing the power of the Oswego network,” Andy Miller said. “My network of Oswego friends is the strongest part of my overall professional network. I remain good friends with a large group of people from Oswego who are now all over the country in many different industries.”
Volunteering through the ASK program, Jeff Storch ’05 M’06, a senior tax manager with Deloitte Tax LLP in San Diego, said he can maintain his connections to Oswego. He said he will always feel grateful for the professional assistance he received from Steve Doran ’82, a member of the Oswego College Foundation Board of Directors and a managing director at Fidelity Information Services, who helped him land his first accounting internship in New York City. They met during the OAA’s annual New York City Career Connections student networking event.
Storch returned the favor by assisting Emily Kelly ’14 M’15 through the ASK program, which gave her an edge as she applied for jobs. He checks in with her periodically to congratulate her on career successes, such as a recent promotion to senior audit associate at her employer, Fust Charles Chambers LLP in Baldwinsville, N.Y.
“I have helped many accounting students make connections, review resumes and
prepare for interviews and other related activities,” Storch said. “I’m happy to see that ASK and other alumni programs that existed when I was at Oswego still exist today, and I look forward to seeing these program last for decades to come.”
Knowing your Network
Paul Brennan ’93, senior vice president of ad sales at Sony Pictures Television in New York City, estimates that he has mentored or assisted more than 50 Oswego alumni whom he met through the ASK program and through the New York City Career Connections event, held in January every year.
“During my 22 years in the advertising industry, I have been very proud to open doors for many fellow Oswego alumni,” said Brennan, who also serves on the Oswego Alumni Association Board of Directors. “I have worked to place people at different media companies and also hired Oswego alumni here at Sony and in previous places of employment.
“SUNY Oswego produces a certain type of person,” he said. “I can see it in their eyes and hear it in their voices. They are hungrier than most, and it gives me great pleasure to help anyone from SUNY Oswego because I know that they will not let us down. They will work harder, push farther and have zero sense of entitlement.”
Tim Barnhart ’02 said his employer, Northwestern Mutual Life, has had similar success with SUNY Oswego alumni.
“The company knows what they’re going to get with an Oswego alum,” said Barnhart, managing director of Northwestern Mutual’s Syracuse office. “A career with us allows people to build whatever future they want, so there’s unlimited income potential, unlimited flexibility. You can have as much impact as you want to create. Oswego students seem to gravitate more toward those kinds of opportunities.”
Barnhart also said the college has been a great partner in promoting internship opportunities to students, coordinating on-campus interviews with the company, inviting the company to attend career fairs and assisting the company in other on-campus activities.
“We have had an incredibly strong internship program with Oswego,” said Barnhart, who is the national chair for The Fund for Oswego and also serves as a member at-large on the OAA Board of Directors. For example, Barnhart said he and the two other students who interned with Northwestern as Oswego students are still with the company—Cody Dolly ’04, who is a managing director in Westchester, N.Y., and Steve Abbass ’03, who became the company’s youngest managing partner in 2014.
And the hiring of Oswego interns continues, Barnhart said. Former intern Justin Doty ’17 is joining the company full-time after graduating in December, and he was recruited by the company’s college unit director Jonah Coburn ’10 who, in turn, was recruited by Barnhart, who was mentored by Bob Brutsch ’71.
“Our success with the internship program has always driven great candidates to us on the full-time side,” Barnhart said. “Northwestern has had such a great relationship with Oswego, and that makes such a big difference.”
Tapping into Talent
Once the Oswego lines have been established, the talent can flood into a company.
Joan Reinhardt Cear ’80, senior vice president at Kellen, a full service public relations, public affairs and digital agency headquartered in New York City, has opened opportunities for Oswego students and alumni for more than a decade at Kellen.
“I have nurtured a network that I think has helped several graduates start or map their careers—some of whom we’ve hired, and others with whom I met, offered a little advice or maybe helped them make a connection,” said Cear, who has been active as an AIR visitor and a keynote speaker and attendee at New York City Career Connections.
Cear said the Oswego network—particularly her peers who serve with her on the School of Communication, Media and the Arts Advisory Board—continues to help her own career.
“Recently, when I had a client interested in making a documentary, Barry Gliner ’84, who heads post production at Discovery Communications, met with me to explain how documentaries make their way to television,” Cear said. “Another alumnus, Kevin Kennison ’82, prepared a proposal for one of my clients to use costumed actors in New York City subways to promote e-book reading. These resources would not have been available to me unless I had become active in the alumni network.”
Maurice “Mo” Lepine ’84 M’89 said he considers the Oswego network to be among the most influential reasons for his success as a teacher.
From initially being recruited to attend SUNY Oswego by his sister, Denise Lepine Krohn ’83, and his high school industrial arts teacher, Donald Cliffe ’59, to landing his first teaching position in the Baldwinsville (N.Y.) Central School District, to taking on leadership roles within state teaching associations, Lepine said Oswego alumni have been instrumental to his career.
Likewise, Lepine has hosted more than 30 student-teachers in his technology education classroom at D.S. Ray Middle School in Baldwinsville.
“I am proud to say that many of my former student teachers are active, productive and accomplished educators,” he said. “I have many teaching aids designed and created by my student teachers that I use with my students.”
He keeps his professional network strong and skills up-to-date by attending the Technology Conference hosted annually by SUNY Oswego. He shares the advice he received from his Oswego alumni mentors with his student-teachers and new teachers.
“Join the local and state level associations, as you cannot survive by yourself and you need to network with other teachers across the state,” he said. “They also encouraged me to take leadership roles within the organization and to attend conferences. That advice really did provide me with the strong network that has helped my teaching tremendously.”
Providing Professional Perspective
Gary Morris ’88, director of SUNY Oswego’s Career Services, also considers alumni one of the most important resources available to students as they develop their careers.
Alumni speakers often give students a firsthand look at life in a given industry or position, which can help students identify or refine their career plans.
Working in conjunction with the alumni office, Career Services invites alumni back to conduct mock interviews, review student resumes or participate in such activities as “speed networking,” etiquette dinners, and networking/wine-tasting events.
“These events just wouldn’t have the same impact without our alumni providing the real-world perspective,” Morris said.
Wei Wang M’15 said a presentation by AIR visitor Lori Newman Cohen ’79 in a software design class changed the course of her life. Wang, who came to Oswego from her home in China, was so interested in Cohen’s discussion of data warehousing at New York Life Insurance Company that she emailed Cohen to keep the conversation going.
When a position opened, Cohen reached out to Wang and ended up hiring her. Today, Wang is a data analyst at New York Life, and although Cohen no longer works there, the pair have stayed in contact.
“I am grateful for the good job opportunity, but more important than that, I feel lucky to have met someone like Lori, who not only gave me the opportunity but also encouraged me to grow stronger,” said Wang, who graduated with a master’s in human computer interaction. “She is one of my most important sources of inspiration. She said that she sees herself in me when she was early in her career, and she said she wants me to help more young students, as she has helped me. I definitely will!”
Like Wang, biology major Bianca Fernandez ’19 sought out assistance from her alumni network before graduating. Fernandez connected with Betsy Oberst, associate vice president of alumni relations and stewardship, during a summer “send-off” event in New York City for incoming freshmen and their families in August. Oberst linked Fernandez, who wanted to pursue optemetry, with Dr. David Troilo ’80, who is the current vice president and dean for academic affairs at SUNY State College of Optometry.
Troilo met with Fernandez in New York City and gave her a tour of the school, talked with her about the program and introduced her to other faculty members.
“This networking opportunity gave me more insight about the career path that I am leaning towards and connected me with several members working at that institution,” said Fernandez, who is currently vice president of SUNY Oswego’s Pre-Optometry Club. “I am extremely grateful.”
Lifelong Career Services Access
In addition to a loyal and dedicated alumni network to assist with professional development and opportunities, all SUNY Oswego students and alumni have access to an award-winning Career Services office. See Related Story
“Everything we do, we do for alumni, for free, for life,” Morris said. “We bring a lot of very high-quality online resources and tools to bear for our students and alums that they can access from anywhere in the world. Our alumni are welcome to attend any event or program we run—on either side of the table.
“We love to have our alumni show up at a healthcare conference or career fair and talk to our students,” Morris said. “But if that alum is experiencing some kind of career transition, she can come spend some time on the other side of the table and interact with the 85 to 90 organizations in the Marano Campus Center during the Career Fair in October or March, and see what the possibilities are for the future.”
While Career Services staff members’ first priority is supporting the 8,000 undergraduate and graduate students, the staff will accommodate one-on-one meetings with alumni, as their time allows.
And Diamond Walters ’15 said she couldn’t be more thankful for that.
As a student, Walters met with Career Services staff member Jackie Campbell Wallace ’02 M’04 who encouraged Walters to attend the Fall Career Fair during her junior year. She did and met a representative from the Peace Corps.
After graduating in 2015 with her degree in human development, Walters went to Ghana, West Africa, where she is now a health educator. As she finishes up her Peace Corps assignment, she began to think about her next steps and decided to reconnect with Career Services.
She traveled an hour to the closest city with an Internet connection so she could email Wallace. They set up a time to Skype and talk through Walters’ plans to apply to graduate school.
“I was juggling educating junior high school students on HIV/AIDS and malaria prevention, working on a community household latrine project and applying to graduate schools in the U.S. with limited access to Internet,” Walters said. “Jackie worked with me every step of the way. I really appreciate and am grateful to her for all of her help.”
Thanks to the assistance she received from her alma mater, Walters said she expects to pursue an advanced degree in international political economy and development at Fordham University in fall 2018.
“Without my Oswego degree, I could not have joined the Peace Corps, and without my Peace Corps service, I would not have gained all the amazing experiences and opportunities that I have now,” Walters said. “This experience makes me truly value the work I am doing in Ghana. My service is a very personal and rewarding journey for me.”
And at the end of the day, that is the goal, Morris said.
“Ultimately, we want the same thing for all of our students and alumni—that we help them discover the life they are meant to live and that we prepare them to compete for the amazing life that they’ve identified,” Morris said. “Our default is not to think about what students can do with a certain major. Our default is to help them explore what they want to do with their lives. Ideally, you can’t go wrong with that approach because you’re always focused on the life goal instead of today’s goal.”
And that’s a message that also resonates with Knauss and his team at the Digital Hyve.
The company is cultivating a workplace that assists others in achieving their commercial and marketing goals while also supporting all facets of its own employees’ lives.
From the lactation and family playroom to the staff kitchen and dining area to flexible work hours and strong benefits package, the 2017 Business Journal News Network’s Central New York Best Places to Work award-winner strives to uphold the company motto, which is painted on the wall, thanks to the talents of BFA alumnus and graphic designer Connor DeHaan ’16:
“Better every day,” it reads.
Paul Brennan ’93
Communication Studies/Public Relations, Psychology Minor
Senior Vice President of Ad Sales,
Sony Pictures Television
New York City
Best career advice: “‘Plan your work, and work your plan.’ I keep a ‘to do’ list on my desk at all times (and one at home) and anything that needs to get done hits that list. I love nothing more than crossing tasks off of that list and moving through my day.”
If only I had known: “What a huge game changer the digital world would be in the areas of entertainment and media.”
Diamond Walters ’15
Ghana, West Africa
Best career advice: “‘If you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.’-Marc Anthony. I apply this quote in my daily life.”
If only I had known: “I could accomplish anything if I put my mind, heart and soul into it.”
Katrina VanIngen Vant ’00
Teacher and Department Coordinator, Central Square Central School District
Central Square, N.Y.
Best career advice: “Always put twice the amount of effort into a lesson than you expect to get out of your students during it. Students see that you care about the material and tend to care back.”
If only I had known: “Every career has a learning curve; you are not meant to be perfect at first. The first few years are supposed to be hard and exhausting, but it gets better over time.”
Emily Kelly ’14 M’15
Accounting, Economics Minor, MBA
Senior Audit Associate, Fust Charles Chambers
Best career advice: “Never stop asking questions. The only way you can truly grow in your career is to ask questions and, in turn, never stop learning.”
If only I had known: “The importance of taking the time to network in college and grow your connections.”
Tim Barnhart ’02
Northwestern Mutual Life
Best career advice: “Have the opportunity to decline the opportunity. If you’re not prepared for an opportunity and an opportunity arises, then it’s too late. Said differently, always be in the position to succeed, and be able to say, ‘Thanks, but no thanks.’”
If only I had known: “Know what you want your life to look like and then make decisions in alignment with that vision. And don’t give up until you get it.”
Sheneya Wilson ’15 M’16
Assurance Associate, PriceWaterhouseCoopers
New York City
Best career advice: “Always do more than your current position.”
If only I had known: “How important it is choose a career that is going to lead you into being able to do what you love for the rest of your life.”
Andy Miller ’92
Senior Vice President of Innovation and Product Development, AARP
Best career advice: “Never stop challenging the status quo … always be curious.”
If only I had known: “Every ‘no’ you hear means you are that much closer to ‘yes.’
Wei Wang M’15
Human Computer Interaction
Data Analyst, New York Life
Union City, N.J.
Best career advice: “‘Be both resilient and flexible at work.’ –Lori Newman Cohen ’79 Things don’t always go in the direction you wish. One has to be flexible enough to adapt to changes. It’s important to have your own vision and be resilient when facing challenges.”
If only I had known: “It is very important to go out and meet people who you can relate to. There are many people out there willing to help you. But opportunities will not come until you open yourself to others. Don’t be shy!”
Jason Guild ’03 M’08
Secondary Education Earth Science, Master’s in Education
Science Teacher, Oswego High School
Best career advice: “Work hard and try to impress when you student teach. That eventually helped me land my current job.”
If only I had known: “Having a relationship with the students was often more important than the lesson itself. If you show students respect, they generally give you more respect in return and that leads to a better classroom environment.”
Cydni Williams ’13
Art, Graphic Design Concentration; Marketing
Channel Marketing Manager, Facebook
Best career advice: “‘Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard’ is a quote by Tim Notke that motivates me. It is a great reminder that working hard and constantly learning can level the playing field so success should be attainable through hard work and grit.”
If only I had known: “I wish I’d more solidly identified ‘what I do well’ earlier so I could have strengthened it.”
Jacob Tanner ’12
Co-Founder, Digital Hyve
Best career advice: “I would say that many times I was told to go with my gut instinct, and, so far, that has rarely failed me.”
If only I had known: “I wish I had known more about being a better leader … I learned about great leaders and noticed I was hindering the growth of the company by not empowering and challenging others more.”
Amy Hueber ’77
Scientist, Environmental Hazard Assessment, SRC Inc.
Best career advice: “If you see something that needs to be done, then do it. The unspoken advice we got was to aspire to be a person who makes a difference.”
If only I had known: “I probably should have taken more organic chemistry as an undergraduate.”
Joan Cear ’80
Communication, Broadcasting Concentration
Senior Vice President, Kellen Communications
New York City
Best career advice: “Trust your gut.”
If only I had known: “I wish that I knew about professional networking. I didn’t understand what it meant or how to do it … it’s important for students and professionals to understand that networking is not about what the other individual can do for you – it’s about connecting and finding ways to help each other.”
Jeff Knauss ’07
Public Relations, Marketing Concentration
Co-Founder of Digital Hyve
Best career advice: “There is no shortcut around hard work if your goal is to be a success. Work smarter and harder than everyone else, and you’ll win.”
If only I had known: “I don’t think of many things in hindsight because I don’t think it’s very productive. I have made plenty of mistakes and had bumps along the road in my career, but every mistake is a lesson, so I’m glad for all the bumps.”
Maurice “Mo” Lepine ’84 M’89
Industrial Arts, Coaching Minor, Master’s in Technology Education
Technology Education Teacher, D.S. Ray Middle School, Baldwinsville Central School
Best career advice: “Join the local and state level associations (CNYTEEA, NYSTEEA), as you cannot survive by yourself and you need to network with other teachers across the state. And take leadership roles within the organization and attend conferences. That advice really did provide me with the strong network that has helped my teaching tremendously.”
If only I had known: “I wish I took the electricity/electronics courses that were offered at Oswego.”
Sarah Miller ’15 (no relation to Andy)
Business Administration/Public Relations
Innovation Associate, AARP
Best career advice: “Figure it out. This lesson would set me apart from many of my peers. It taught me the importance of being a resourceful problem solver. Managers want people they can trust to solve problems. In my opinion, this is a skill set that is non-negotiable when entering the workforce.”
Gary Morris ’88
Director of Career Services, SUNY Oswego
Best career advice: “Finding the best career is like going through a buffet line. Try a little bit of everything first; you’ll recognize a delicious dish when you taste it.”
If only I had known: “how much fun it would be to have a career helping young people make their dreams come true. I would have jumped into Career Services years earlier.”
Jeff Storch ’05 M’06
Accounting, Economics Minor, MBA
Senior Tax Manager, Deloitte Tax LLP
San Diego, Calif.
Best career advice: “Career Services said that you will get a bunch of ‘no’s when you make the cold calls, but just keep trying because you just need one ‘yes.’”
If only I had known: “I had a lot of great coaching while going through Oswego and into the recruiting season. I would say to just remember to take recruiting slowly because it will go by so fast.”
Top five interviewing tips:
- Dress for success.
- Prepare ahead of time; do homework on industry, organization and position.
- Write a thank-you note—and market yourself again.
- Practice interviewing.
- (You talk during an interview, not think. That would be like practicing tennis by imagining it on the couch.)
- Be prepared for phone, group and dining interviews.
Top five career planning tips:
- Complete some self-assessment inventories to get a better sense of your interests, strengths, values, etc.
- Get experience in those areas that most interest you; volunteering counts!
- Join related professional associations, network with alumni and ask lots of questions.
- Conduct informational interviews to get a sense of a variety of career paths.
- Research careers through a variety of online resources.
Top five resume tips:
- Connect your past and present to the future skills and experiences required.
- Say what you need to say, and stop writing. It is not an essay.
- Don’t list what you did. List what you achieved.
- Use the vocabulary of the industry you want to enter on your resume.
- Be honest.
Read the Full “Career Services’ Industry-Centric Model Earns High Praise” story
LinkedIn Tips from Career Services:
Make a stellar LinkedIn profile:
- Make it multimedia; photos and videos tell a more vivid story of your experience.
- Add details that don’t fit on a resume.
- Write a tantalizing summary; make it personal and impactful.
- Be brave; connect with others!
- Join groups and network.
- Ask for recommendations and keep them updated.
Read the full “Boniface Career Planning Fund” Story!
Importance of Strong Career Services:
Graduates who rated their Career Services office as very helpful are:
- 6 times more likely to believe college is passionate about student success
- 5.8 times more likely to say the college prepared them for life outside of college
- 3.4 times more likely to recommend their school to peers
- 3 times more likely to say their education was worth the cost
- 2.6 times more likely to donate to their alma mater
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Career Services’ Industry- Centric Model Earns High Praise
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