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First Aspire Conference reveals magic behind career success

By The Aspire Center

September 30, 2019

At the inaugural Aspire Conference, successful Carthage alumni pulled back the curtain to reveal some of the secrets to professional and personal growth.  

Along with faculty and staff members, the visiting graduates shared professional and life lessons with students during the two-day conference Sept. 26 and 27. Topics centered on career development, entrepreneurship, leadership, and creativity — the four components in The Aspire Program™ launching this fall at Carthage.

Professional illusionist Bill Blagg ’02 gave the keynote presentation for the first Aspire Conf...Professional illusionist Bill Blagg ’02 gave the keynote presentation for the first Aspire Conference on Sept. 26, 2019.Nationally touring illusionist Bill Blagg ’02 gave the opening night keynote presentation. Weaving together a little sleight of hand, some apparent mind-reading, and reflections on his own experience at the College, Mr. Blagg delivered a timely message: Aspire to live the life of your dreams.

Although his fascination with magic blossomed in childhood, it took much more than the wave of a wand for success to appear. Mr. Blagg recounted an ill-fated decision he made as a Carthage sophomore to get an early start on his road show.

Taking out a $25,000 loan, he booked venues in Indiana and Michigan. And his tricks did wow the audience — that is, the smattering of people his shows managed to attract.

“I came back to Carthage a beaten man,” said Mr. Blagg, and vowed to abandon his longtime dream.

His faculty advisor wouldn’t have it, instead urging the aspiring showman to learn all he could about the business side of a performance career. A class schedule that Mr. Blagg had assumed would skew heavily toward theatre and communication now stretched into accounting and marketing.

Ten years after the initial debacle, he returned to the site of that first debacle in Elkhart, Indiana — this time to a packed house, with his former advisor among the crowd.

“Sometimes it’s just gonna feel like another class, but I can promise you that it’s not,” Mr. Blagg assured Carthage students. “Eventually they will all add up, and they will make sense together.”

Speaking from experience

Developed exclusively for Carthage students, The Aspire Program empowers them to shape multifaceted career plans beginning from the first days on campus. It’s supported heavily by a $15 million donation from longtime benefactor Jan Tarble.

Dominique Pritchett ’07 led a breakout session titled “7 Epic Steps to Building Mental Wealth...Dominique Pritchett ’07 led a breakout session titled “7 Epic Steps to Building Mental Wealth for Success” on Sept. 27, 2019, during the inaugural Aspire Conference.The Aspire Conference was the first major event in the initiative. Day two featured small group “fireside chats,” 11 activity hubs where students could drop in to learn about available programs and technology, and dozens of breakout sessions.

Matt Thome ’17 told attendees that discovering their “why” — in other words, what drives them — is the hidden key to job satisfaction. As a membership services account manager for the Sacramento Kings NBA franchise, he’s grown into a leader in nontraditional revenue streams.

Sketching out her career arc, Christina Laur-Nuernberger ’09 sees a squiggly arrow rather than a straight, Point-A-to-Point-B one. While maintaining some clients from her formerly full-time speech pathology practice, she recently got hired as a consultant to the CEO of Level Agency marketing firm in Pittsburgh.

“Whatever you think you love now,” she said, “10 years from now you’ll unlock another door.”

Tessa Rundle ’16, a spacesuit engineer at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, joined five other visiting alumni in a lunchtime panel discussion moderated by Carthage’s campus pastor, the Rev. Kara Baylor. Panelists shared some formative lessons from their college years.

At the registration table for the Aspire Conference, participants could select from a variety of ...At the registration table for the Aspire Conference, participants could select from a variety of badges.“Having a diverse background is actually a good thing in life,” said Ms. Rundle, who transferred to Carthage as part of an academic shift from music to physics.

Fellow panelist Dominique Pritchett ’07, a licensed psychotherapist, reminded students to look beyond themselves and ask “Who’s watching?” as they make decisions.

“We don’t just live this mission for us,” she said. “We’re living for the next generation.”

Lisa Hinkley, associate vice president and executive director for career and professional development, closed the conference with a simple assignment to sustain the momentum. She asked participants to pledge at least one concrete step they would take toward their goals, with the option for a staff member from The Aspire Center to check in at the specified time.

See photos from the inaugural Aspire Conference on our Flickr! 

The Aspire Program