’Canes Connect to advance personal and professional growth

Throughout March, the nationwide ’Cane network went into high gear as alumni gathered to connect, engage, and discover opportunities for mentorship and professional development.
’Canes Connect to advance personal and professional growth

Nearly 500 guests attended ’Canes Connect events hosted by 15 ’Canes Communities across the country. The events spanned the spectrum from panel discussions to more informal networking gatherings at local restaurants and, in the case of the Miami ’Canes, an upscale miniature golf experience.

’Canes Connect kicked off on March 5—fittingly, 305 Day—with a virtual program hosted by Rebecca Hoffman, B.A. ’92, M.S.Ed. ’94, president of the Chicago ’Canes Community. Erin Kobetz, Ph.D., M.P.H., the John K. and Judy H. Schulte Endowed Chair in Cancer Research and inaugural chief health equity officer in the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, moderated a conversation with Rushil Desai, B.S. ’12, CEO of Aetna Better Health of Illinois.

The conversation’s theme was, as both Desai and Kobetz put it, the importance of getting comfortable with the uncomfortable. “When we are in those spaces, we have the greatest potential to grow,” Kobetz noted.

Desai reflected on his undergraduate experience studying neuroscience and psychobiology at the U, and how it influenced his later career trajectory. “Somebody once told me it’s not about the number of degrees you get, it’s about the perspective that degree provides,” he said. “As I think about my experience at the University of Miami, each class provided a unique perspective on problem-solving.”

He stressed the importance of curiosity coupled with a growth mindset, of being willing to embrace new professional challenges that may be uncomfortable at first. “Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone, and pivot if you need to,” he said as he related his own journey from aspiring physician to health care executive.

Desai also encouraged students and new graduates to seek mentors that offer a diversity of perspectives on their chosen field of study or profession. “The biggest thing I’ve been grateful for in my life has been having very strong mentors,” he declared. “Even if an organization doesn’t have a formal mentoring program, you’d be surprised at how many VPs, SVPs, and directors have that interest and want to be out there [as mentors].”

Elsewhere, the New York ’Canes Community welcomed LaFontaine Oliver, B.B.A. ’99, CEO of New York Public Radio and a passionate advocate for community-based storytelling. Oliver shared insights from his distinguished career in public radio, the ongoing challenges of a constantly shifting media landscape, and his own good fortune in, as he once said, “waking up every day and doing something I love.”

Rose Petrillo, B.B.A. ’10, president of the New York ’Canes Community, noted that ’Canes Connect has become a pivotal annual event for alumni. “It is great to see so many ’Canes come together, network, and listen to inspiring alumni talk about their careers and experiences,” she declared. 

The Orlando ’Canes welcomed David Mullings, B.S. ’00, M.B.A. ’03, CEO of Blue Mahoe Capital, who related how the University’s Launch Pad help propel his first start-up.

“The U changed the trajectory of my life and my brother’s, so I am forever indebted to the university that has played such a major role in who I have become as a person,” Mullings remarked. “We have ’Canes investors, team members, and consultants. It’s truly great to be a Miami Hurricane and I will keep sharing my lessons so that the future of other people will be ever brighter.”

The Boca Raton Innovation Campus was the setting for the Palm Beach County ’Canes Connect, with a panel discussion that focused on the ways business and entrepreneurship have evolved in recent years.

“From its role in the invention of the personal computer, Boca Raton has been a centerpiece for innovation.  It was only fitting that the original IBM facility—now the Boca Raton Innovation campus—was the location for our ’Canes Connect event focused on entrepreneurship, innovation, and venture capital” said M David Paolini, B.S.E.E. ’90, secretary of the Palm Beach County ’Canes. “Not only did we relive the history of the PC, but we shared in the success of the University’s Launch Pad, where students launch their own businesses while on campus.” 

Down the road, the Broward ’Canes Community hosted a panel discussion where alumni in different professions shared their perspectives on the importance of community engagement, self-branding, and expanding one’s personal and professional networks.

Panelists in Broward noted the value of ’Canes Connect events for alumni looking to strengthen their networks. “The diversity of experiences shared by the panelists served as inspiration to pursue opportunities, and provided the confidence that our passion will lead us to exactly where we need to be in service to others,” said event moderator Milana Kuznetsova, J.D. ’11.

For panelist Robert Castro, B.B.A. ’04, M.B.A. ’08, the event was a full-circle moment. “I remember just graduating and attending my first alumni events and being inspired by their stories,” he said. “I was humbled to share the panel with such incredible ’Canes and talk about our passion points.”

Whatever the event format or topic, the ’Canes Connect events were linked by common threads: never stop learning, and never stop networking. As Rushil Desai declared: “I want to learn something new every day.”