More than 50 alumni and nearly 1,100 cadets gathered in Memorial Hall and Cocke Hall Saturday, Sept. 30, for the Cadet–Alumni Career Networking Forum, an annual event designed to help cadets take advantage of one of VMI’s top resources: The alumni network.
Ongoing now for more than 15 years, the forum offers cadets the chance to mix and mingle, either in small groups or one-on-one, with alumni representing a wide range of fields. This year, career fields represented included health and healthcare, information technology and cybersecurity, law enforcement, banking and finance, government, National Guard/reserve, and more.
New this year was an event specially designed for members of the Rat Mass of 2024+3. They gathered in Memorial Hall to hear from two alumni—retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen. J.D. Johnson ’77 and Bill Miller III ’89—about how to start the process of preparing for life after VMI.
Miller, the father of both an alumnus and a current cadet, urged his listeners to focus on the end goal of employment from the beginning of their cadetships. “Every college student needs to get multiple full-time job offers,” he said. To that end, it’s important to focus on internship season, which begins in the summer after a cadet’s 3rd Class year, and make sure to reach out to alumni working for companies offering internships.
“Older VMI people help younger VMI people,” said Miller, a founding partner of the boutique investment firm 1839 Capital. “That’s what makes VMI people unique and different.”
Johnson, who was attending the event for the first time because he’d been overseas in years past, echoed Miller’s statement about the importance of not putting off career preparation. “This is important to start as early as possible, helping the cadets to think about what’s next, whether it’s a military career or a career in business, and how to go about doing that,” he stated. “It’s spooky, sometimes intimidating to people to get started, so to have an opportunity to speak to people who’ve been through that and have managed to make it out alive is an opportunity that cadets need to have.”
Johnson noted that he graduated in the era of mandatory commissioning—but now, with a multitude of opportunities available to them, cadets need guidance in navigating those options. “Especially nowadays, it’s a competitive world,” he said. “I think VMI sets the cadets up to compete in ways with all kinds of advantages. But they need to understand how to take advantage of that, and they have to be willing to step forward.”
In Cocke Hall, upperclass cadets had the chance to speak directly with alumni and sit down one-on-one with select alumni for resume reviews.
Whitney Matthews ’07, a professional chef who’d attended the forum in the past, said she makes the event a priority on her calendar. “For me, it’s important that the female cadets see female alums,” she stated. “That’s what I hope to accomplish. In addition to talking to all the cadets, I try to show the female cadets that we are here … that there’s [an] alumnae base that wants to support them.”
Also attending the forum was Chuck Story ’91, who works in sales for Wesco Distribution, a global wholesale distributor of electronic equipment. “I’m finding that most cadets don’t really understand what the alumni network is,” he commented.
Story’s message to cadets was simple—make those connections and attend local chapter events back home and, for those commissioning, attend officer calls when they have the chance, as connections made now can be of enormous benefit down the road. “I know handfuls of brother rats [who] were in the service [who] can say, ‘Hey, I served with Major General Wins [’85] when we were in the Army,’” he said.
Cadets attending the networking forum said the event was well worth attending. “I’m going into the Army, but it’s great to hear about career paths after the Army because I don’t plan on staying in that long,” said Cadet Rachel Roberson ’25, a psychology major who was attending the forum for the first time this year. Roberson is still weighing her options in terms of post-Army careers with thoughts toward either law or nursing and was very appreciative of the chance to meet with so many alumni.
“There’s not a lot of schools that have [events like these],” she commented. “We’re really lucky at VMI—they care where we go after [graduation] and want us to succeed.”
Cadet Nathan Vanness ’25, a physics major, also noted his appreciation for the “spectacular” opportunity the networking forum provided. “This is an opportunity that a lot of people don’t realize is useful until they come down here and see it,” he said. Vanness added that one of his roommates, who is interested in law, took some coaxing to come to the networking forum but was fully engrossed in the event from the moment he arrived.
After VMI, Vanness plans to commission into the Air Force—and while his initial career path is set, he was very glad to have help with soft skills like networking. “I’ve been able to look at making a resume and connecting and doing networking with the rest of the alumni network, which I’m sure is like 100% a useful skill that I’m going to need to know,” he stated. “VMI is a place that provides opportunities that are unexpected.”
Mary Price Development Writer/Communications Specialist
The development writer plays a key role in producing advancement communications. This role imagines, creates, and produces a variety of written communication to inspire donors to make gifts benefiting VMI. Utilizing journalistic features and storytelling, the development writer will produce content for areas such as Annual Giving, stewardship, and gift planning.