Syracuse University Magazine


Robert Geils '86 (standing above) enjoys collaborating with other alumnni to help MBHS students learn skills so they can succeed in business. Photo courtesy of the Whitman School.

WhitmanNYC Alumni Club

Bringing Business Lessons to High School Students

Naima J. Cook ’03 graduated from Syracuse University with a degree in finance and economics. Though her career began with positions in buying and retail planning, today she is a principal at Murry Bergtraum High School for Business Careers (MBHS) in New York City. “The experiences I had at Whitman gave me the confidence to eventually navigate a new career path, and the skills and knowledge I gained there translate to every aspect of my job as a principal,” Cook says.

MBHS is one of the most challenging schools in New York City. Prior to Cook’s arrival, the school struggled with low graduation rates, fights, and persistent dangers. But Cook saw promise beyond the obstacles. Through conversations with Cindie Adams, Whitman’s executive director of alumni and corporate relations, the two envisioned a partnership involving Whitman and other SU alumni working with MBHS students to inspire them to succeed.

Last fall, their collaborative vision took root, when the “Build Your Personal Brand” workshop series was launched with 18 students in the inaugural group. Adams, Cook, and a committee of WhitmanNYC club members—including Joe Bednar ’97, G’00, Dan Montaigne ’95, Robert Geils ’86, and Nicole Bovell G’06, L’06—had spent months developing program content, coordinating logistics, and identifying presenters.

Once a month for eight consecutive months, the students stayed after school to learn new skills and hear from accomplished professionals about what it takes to be successful in business. Presenters included Syracuse alumni Tara Favors ’95, senior human resources business partner at Morgan Stanley, and Colby Liemer ’15, marketing associate for the New York Mets, as well as other professionals who gave of their time to lead a session. In addition, volunteer alumni mentors Anne Driscoll ’06, Rachel Marcoccia ’98, and Laurie Lauterbach ’85 joined committee members to help guide the students through workshop exercises that covered such topics as managing social media, resume writing, interview skills, and networking.

The program’s success was due in large part to the sharing of time and perspective by presenters and volunteers. “I felt strongly that our alumni had something to offer these students,” Adams says. “It has been so rewarding to bring together members of the SU community from diverse professions to offer advice and encourage the students to set and stay on a course to success.”

The MBHS students relished the 90-minute sessions. Naya Garay appreciated the time and attention of the volunteers. “I enjoyed interacting with others who want us to succeed and learning what I need to know for my future,” Garay says. “I’m trying to educate my friends on what I learned.”

The series piqued Kamari Henry’s interest in Whitman and SU. “I was able to create a proper resume that I am confident to send out when I apply for summer jobs,” Henry says. “The alumni taught me about being professional and talked to me about Syracuse University. I would really like to go to college there.”

Benefits of the program were reaped not only by the students. “Working alongside other SU alums while making what I hope will be a lasting, positive impression on these students was especially gratifying,” says Geils, vice president associate broker at The Corcoran Group.

Plans are in the works to continue the program, and Cook welcomes the opportunity. “I have always been a proud Syracuse and Whitman alumna, but never more so than when I see fellow alumni taking time to positively influence my students,” she says. “They are truly making a difference—not only by being models of success, but also by showing them that others care and believe in their future.”     —Alison Kessler