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Building Your Network 

By Margaux Lestage ’23

Photo Editor/ Staff Writer

The Professional Development Retreat is in full swing. Covid halted the retreat because of safety reasons but it has been able to be back a whole year now.

Every semester the O’Brien center of career and development here at Merrimack offers a Professional Development Retreat also known as the PDR. The PDR is a retreat where students have the opportunity to learn how to network and prepare for their futures.

It is a two day retreat that selective students are chosen to attend to pursue their professional growth and in the hope to make connections for years to come. It is usually held somewhere in Boston but this year it was held in the newly renovated Collegiate Church of Christ the Teacher last week from November 8th and 9th.

Assistant Vice President & Director of the O’Brien Center Samantha Medina and Director of Career Connections for O’Brien Center Shannon Zelek are two people that make the PDR happen. Both Medina and Zelek have been part of the planning of the PDR for a while now.

The first PDR happened in the spring of 2016, it was created because, “the College wanted to offer a way for students to build professional skills while connecting with partners of the College who could provide immediate feedback and create a long term network. We have offered eleven total PDRs since 2016, ” Medina and Zelek said.

The PDR is for all students looking to prepare for the future after college. It is never too early to prepare for what’s to come after college.

The PDR is helping with “career development initiative for students that assists in cultivating professional growth and making connections with members of Merrimack’s Board of Trustees, the College’s Boards of Advisors, alumni, and corporate partners,” Medina and Zelek said.

The PDR retreat seems short with it only being two days and one of the days being only a few hours but they throw in a lot of information. Even though it is a lot, it is very informative. The PDR is a great opportunity to test the waters on how to network.

The main goal of the PDR is “At the most basic level, we want to develop students’ professional skills that will support their career goals. The opportunities offered by the PDR provide students access to alumni and employers to put new skills into practice in a supportive environment. The curriculum is ever evolving to ensure we are staying on track with the changes in the market and how students are looking to further develop skills,” Medina and Zelek said.

Everyone’s experiences might be different depending on how well you put yourself out there. Practicing networking skills and using them daily can help in the long run.

Emilee Aswad, a senior here at Merrimack attended the PDR last week. Talked about her experience attending the PDR.

“My experience was very informational and also challenging. For me, I always thought it was natural for me to start conversations. When it came down to speaking to people about myself, that’s when the hard part came in. I had to learn how to get out of my comfort zone during PDR and it really challenged me for the better, ” Aswad said.

Topics they bring up throughout the retreat but are not limited to are learning how to utilize your strengths, effective collaboration, and communication styles for interviews. A big thing is

networking but not only in workshop sessions but giving the opportunity to network with alumni, friends, and industry partners.

The speakers they had were Kim Bilawchuk an alignment coach, ImprovBoston, Kelly MacFarland who is an actress and comedian, Amma Marfo, and alumni Jarrod Pelletier. They also have a skill fair to practice what you learn before the networking event at night.

“My favorite part of PDR was the people that came and spoke. Their knowledge and words really inspired me and I will never forget what they shared,” Aswad said.

The PDR has a lot of amazing opportunities to help grow your self brand of who you are as a person. The PDR is a unique opportunity that Merrimack College offers.

“PDR is very helpful and I really enjoyed everything I learned as it will help me a lot in the future. I definitely would recommend PDR to someone. I feel as though it should be something everyone does before graduation”, Aswad said.

Keep an eye out for any information in the spring for the next PDR.

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