Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
September 18, 2021

Life Design Lab hosts first virtual career fair

By MICHELLE LIMPE | October 4, 2020



The career fair in fall 2018 featured over 115 employers.

The Life Design Lab held Future Festival, a virtual career and networking fair, for students from Sept. 24 to Sept. 25 and Sept. 28 to Oct. 1. The week-long event, which attempted to emulate a music festival, showcased networking opportunities, professional development workshops and speakers from different professional backgrounds. The event utilized Zoom for seminars and networking events and Brazen, an event management software, for career fair booths. 

The first two days of the festival, called “Soundchecks,” were dedicated to help students become familiar with using and navigating the Brazen software. The Life Design Lab offered various workshops during this time, including resume building and networking, to prepare students to meet with prospective employers.

The last four days were divided into different stages: a keynote speaker and performers, networking events, trade show floors and puzzle competitions. 

The employers present at the trade show career fairs included Bloomberg, National Institutes of Health, Accenture, Tuscany Strategy Consulting, Goldman Sachs, Teach for America, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and others.

Although sophomore Alyssa Lee described the festival as a great opportunity to seek out new opportunities, she noted that the online format presented some difficulties in communicating with employers. 

“A lot of the employers didn’t know how to use the video chat feature, so we had to talk to them through the chat boxes, which was awkward,” she said. “Since they only gave you 10 minutes, the time to type a message caused a big lag in the conversation.”

Matthew Golden, executive director of the Life Design Lab (LDL) at Homewood Campus, explained that the LDL’s leadership team came up with the idea for FutureFest over the summer in response to COVID-19. He and Farouk Dey, vice provost for integrative learning and life design, had an idea to expand the career fair over the course of three years to cater more to the students’ personalized interests. However, when the pandemic moved the entire fall semester online, they decided to repurpose the plan for the present.

“Our goal with FutureFest was to go beyond providing just a virtual replacement for career fair but to use this moment as an opportunity to support our students in more meaningful ways,” Golden said. “We had the idea that something similar to a music festival would allow us to leverage virtual tools at our fingertips to create multiple stages for our students.”

He stated that The Life Design Lab viewed the event as a success, with over 1,600 students participated in the three dozen activities offered.

The kickoff event of Future Fest, called “The Future Ways of Being,” featured keynote speakers from Baltimore. They discussed the future of work, healthcare and wellness, as well as how to design one’s future amid the devastation of the pandemic. 

Dr. Leana Wen, a Washington Post contributing columnist and former Baltimore Health Commissioner and president of Planned Parenthood, has handled many roles and identities throughout her career, including emergency health physician, educator and cancer survivor. She stressed the importance of finding one’s voice in professional settings.

“It’s taken me time to find the voice I am most comfortable with. You need to decide for yourself as to what aspect of your identity you want to bring to the table. It depends on the role you have at the time and how comfortable you feel with different aspects of your identity,” Wen said. “It’s okay to take time to find that voice and figure out which aspect of yourself you want to share.”

She also detailed her path on coming to work in health care. Even though she knew she wanted to be a doctor, she did not have any experience with health policy. She entered her PhD program focused on research but soon left because she realized that it was not her calling. 

Wen used her career story as an example of why students should be open to all possible positions.

“I don’t think I could have imagined any aspect of my life right now when I was an undergraduate. It took many twists and turns,“ she said. “Some of the most important opportunities I have had were with things I never thought would be my dream job. So don’t say no to anything because you will contribute something along the way.”

She emphasized that when she interviews prospective students or employees, the main criterion she looks for is experience.

“Just reading from textbooks and studying is not enough. Volunteer for local nonprofits and ask for what you can do. When you show that you can do exceptional work, that’s when you will be given additional opportunities,” she said.

In an interview with The News-Letter, sophomore Melody Lee shared that she was excited for the fair and grateful that the University is offering these kinds of events. However, as a Computer Science major, she did not find many employers in the specific industry she was interested in.

“Most of the companies were biomedical companies, so it was not that helpful for me. I was looking for opportunities in software engineering, but there weren’t a lot of options,” Lee said.

Senior Abby Weyer also attended the trade floor event to network with potential employers. 

“You can kind of discern what a company does based on its name. For instance, I think of Bloomberg as a finance company, but they were only offering engineering roles. So it was kind of confusing,” Weyer said.

Golden noted that a lot of technology companies opted not to participate in career fairs for the fall but rather created their own events for students. Nevertheless, the virtual format did allow for more alumni to join the event and meet students.

Moving forward, Golden plans to expand FutureFest by increasing the number of engagement opportunities for students. The Life Design Lab is also currently working on the second Hopkins Hiring Week for seniors for the spring semester.

“We know that given a year to plan, we can build a week or two weeks worth of affinity-based professional interest networking events,” Golden said. “We have the know-how to make sure students are connected with those employers and alumni in small, meaningful spaces so they’re better prepared to explore opportunities and expand their Hopkins network.”

Corrections: The original version of this article incorrectly attributed the idea of FutureFest, as well as the idea from a year ago to expand the career fair. 

The News-Letter regrets these errors. 

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