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Good Talk with the Pros

Thurman Center program links students to experts

Peter Stringer, Director of Interactive Media, Boston Celtics

Peter Stringer (COM’98), Boston Celtics director of interactive media, volunteered to speak with students for the Howard Thurman Center’s Good Talk program.

Raul Fernandez regularly has good talks with students, but one last year stuck in his mind. A senior told the assistant director of the Howard Thurman Center, BU’s meeting grounds for students from diverse social networks, that she would love to meet Geoffrey Canada, president and chief executive officer of the Harlem Children’s Zone, an innovative nonprofit dedicated to combating childhood poverty. He suggested she shoot Canada an email, just for kicks. She never did.

That got Fernandez thinking: what if he could persuade experts in a variety of fields to chat one-on-one with an undergraduate? The idea became the catalyst for Good Talk, a new Howard Thurman Center program in which professionals from around the world volunteer to spend an hour of their time talking with a student.

“Some folks will say that’s a lot of work to put in for one student,” says Fernandez (COM’00). “I like the kind of university that’s going to put in that work.”

Good Talk officially launched on August 8, when Fernandez announced the initiative on Twitter. Applications have since rolled in from students interested in speaking with one of the 11 professionals who’ve already signed on, with more to come. Experts include people like Boston Globe politics reporter Tracy Jan, human rights activist and author John Prendergast, and Georgia Arnold, the senior vice president of social responsibility for MTV International and executive director of the MTV Staying Alive Foundation. Most experts are Boston-based; others are in London, Washington D.C., or Los Angeles—all cities where BU students now study.

Fernandez emailed people he thought students might be interested in talking to. He kept the requirements simple: experts had to offer only one hour of their time, students would come to them, and no preparation was necessary on the volunteers’ part.

“Nothing else is required other than a conversation,” Fernandez says. “Everybody that we’ve asked to participate has said yes.”

Boston University Good Talk discussion series

Professionals who have committed to participating in the Good Talk program include (clockwise from top left) TV host and actress Susie Castillo, human rights activist and author John Prendergast, Georgia Arnold of MTV International and Staying Alive Foundation, and Boston Globe politics reporter Tracy Jan.

Here’s how the Good Talk program works: interested undergraduates pick an expert from the list on the center’s website and fill out an online application (the first round is due this Friday, September 30). A student committee then selects the best applicants and schedules interviews with each before making a final decision.

The interviews with student committee members are key, Fernandez says, because it’s important for the students chosen to be able to hold a good conversation and be not “just interested, but also interesting themselves.”

Counselors from the Center for Career Development will meet with the students who are selected before their visit with the volunteer to offer guidance on how to prepare for the meeting, like showing up early, having questions ready, and making sure they dress appropriately.

After their Good Talk, students must write a short summary of their experience, to be posted on the center’s website.

Peter Stringer (COM’98), the Boston Celtics director of interactive media, readily agreed to participate in a Good Talk. “I’m not in a position to make crazy donations of money or build a new College of Communication,” he says. “If I can help some of the kids looking to get in the business by giving an hour of my time, it’s easy for me to do.”

Stringer recalls as an undergraduate cold-calling Boston Globe sportswriters Bob Ryan and Dan Shaughnessy, who both spoke to him about what’s it’s like to work in the sports world.

“Everyone says they want to work in sports,” Stringer says. “There are a lot of things that come with that. It’s not all glamour. It’s a lot of work. It’s frankly not for everyone.”

Among students who have already applied to Good Talk, some say they have reached out to professionals through LinkedIn or called their companies directly for an internship (and earned one). Others say they are afraid a random call might result in a hostile conversation with a short-tempered executive.

Maurice Rahmey (COM’13), who has applied to speak with Josh McCall, chairman and CEO of global brand experience agency Jack Morton Worldwide, says he often contacts people in advertising and marketing. Good Talk, he says, is a way to “open up the idea to students that professionals aren’t as intimidating as they seem.”

That is a lesson Fernandez hopes more students will learn. As for that senior he spoke with last year about approaching Geoffrey Canada, he says, “something tells me that she could have written him and he would’ve said yeah.”

Visit the Howard Thurman Center website to apply for Good Talk; the first round of applications is due Friday, September 30. Email Raul Fernandez to participate in Good Talk’s student selection committee.

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Leslie Friday, BU Today, Boston University
Leslie Friday

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