More than 100 alumni returned to Colgate last weekend to network with the Class of 2015 and offer career advice during the university’s first SophoMORE Connections program.
The event brought an early end to winter break for nearly 350 undergraduates. It featured panel presentations, networking receptions, and a keynote address from Backflip Studios founder Julian Farrior ’93.
Farrior’s speech quickly traced his career from Colgate to Yahoo, then focused on his move to entrepreneurialism. In 2008, after venturing into the mobile app market while developing specialized mapping software, Farrior realized that there were few options — and a growing market — for exciting mobile games. “My parents were talking about games,” he said. “That was absurd to me.”
Backflip Studios was born in this moment of disruption, and has quickly grown from three employees to a team of 100, generating more than $150 million in revenue.
“Here’s the takeaway,” Farrior told sophomores. “Opportunity is not linear. In periods of stagnation and decline throughout your career, you always have to be attuned to and looking for those opportunities that will catapult you to the next level.”
Before and after Farrior’s address, alumni met with students at industry-specific breakout sessions. Conversations were intended to help attendees clarify their academic and professional vision — the first step toward becoming ideal candidates for employers and graduate school admission officers.
Speaking to undergraduates interested in media careers, Paul Toscano ’07 pointed out that he began college as a pre-med major. Then, he spent a summer making a feature-length movie with his friends, and the experience turned him on to Colgate’s film and media studies courses. “They weren’t classes to me,” he said. “That’s how I knew it was what I wanted to do.”
Today, Toscano is a producer at CNBC — a storyteller without a beat. He has covered topics ranging from real estate markets to counterfeit pharmaceuticals.
Undergraduates also had the chance to speak with alumni working in government, technology, the arts, business, education, environmental affairs, finance, healthcare, law, nonprofit, and research. Alumni and university staff partnered for presentations on résumé writing, creating a digital identity, and more. Dean of the Faculty Douglas Hicks and Associate Dean of the Faculty Nancy Pruitt also discussed the process of selecting a major and seeking out research opportunities.
“The strength of the alumni network is something that I’ve been told about since before I even came to Colgate, but I don’t think that I truly understood it until this event,” said Jessica Li ’15. “It was clear that, whether returning alumni had graduated in 2012 or 1950, they wanted to connect with us.”
Half of all alumni invitees came from the classes of 2000–2012. By combining their contacts, patience, persistence, and strong liberal arts education, they earned titles like founder, director, project manager, and senior adviser. Alumni who graduated more than 13 years ago brought their experiences as CEOs, chief marketing officers, vice presidents, and presidents.
“There’s an indebtedness that many alumni have to the school,” said Tom Dempsey ’72, retired president of Utz Quality Foods. “One way we can pay that back is to help make these current students as prepared as possible to be successful; they were hungry for information.”
SophoMORE Connections sprang from Colgate’s original Real World event, designed for seniors entering their final semester at the university. With the 2012–2013 academic year, Real World was transformed into a full-year series focused on networking and the post-Colgate transition. This shift allowed career services to create SophoMORE Connections and further expand the impact of alumni engagement.
“The weekend exceeded our expectations,” said Michael Sciola, associate vice president for advancement and director of career services. “Connecting sophomores with alumni around topics of career direction and success — it was perfect timing.”