Career Connections brings together Harper College students and alumni

Ushna Zamir’s life changed at Harper College.

She enrolled in the fall of 2017, unsure of her desired career path, but with an idea to pursue chemistry. During her first semester, she discovered that she wasn’t connecting with her science courses, but had quickly become passionate about her role on Harper’s Speech and Debate Team — which Ushna had joined quickly after becoming a Harper student. She wasn’t the only one who noticed this.

“My professors said, ‘You have a talent and interest in communications. There’s a lot you can do with that,’” Ushna recalled.

Speech and Debate Team Adviser Jeff Przybylo, also a Harper professor, “was the one who genuinely allowed me to go down that path. He said, ‘I 100% believe in you and your ability.’ No one had ever said that to me before.”

Ushna used that support as motivation to seek a career in human resources, which combined her interest in data analysis and communications talents. She graduated from Harper in 2019, then earned her bachelor’s degree in communications and master’s degree in human resources and industrial relations from the University of Illinois and Urbana-Champaign. Following an internship with Collins Aerospace, she was hired a year ago to participate in parent company RTX’s HR Leadership Development Program.

Six-and-a-half years after Ushna began her career journey as an uncertain Harper freshman, she will be returning to campus as a confident HR professional and featured panelist during the college’s Career Connections event. The two-day program includes an afternoon of panel discussions with Harper alumni leaders on March 6, at the college, 1200 W. Algonquin Road, Palatine. The Leadership Dinner — during which Harper students can network with alumni — follows on March 7 at Schaumburg’s Chicago Prime Italian, a restaurant owned by alumnus Andy-John Kalkounos.

This is the second time Harper is hosting Career Connections. Both students and alumni spoke glowingly about last year’s edition, during which Shannon Hynes, director of alumni and affinity groups, invited a group of Harper alumni with a range of experiences and professions to interact with current students. One of those students was Sonia Ajakaiye, a 20-year-old Hoffman Estates resident enrolled in Harper’s Nursing program.

“Harper might not be considered an elite school, but in meeting all of those alumni and speaking with them, you realize that you can do anything when you go to Harper,” she said, before singling out her interactions with one of last year’s panelists, Genevieve Frey-Moylan, who is the associate vice president of Heart Center Transformation at Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago.

“She talked about how Harper prepares you for the workforce,” Sonia said. “She took the time to give me advice and told me that if I ever had questions to email her. It made me feel good.”

The feeling was mutual. Genevieve, who earned her associate degree in nursing at Harper in 2003, before completing her bachelor’s in nursing and master’s in nursing administration at DePaul University, was impressed to see the engagement from students during and after her panel discussion. She appreciated the thoughtful questions from students, including one who asked about being a female leader in an area that can be dominated by men.

“Nobody gets where they’re going without help,” she said. “I feel like giving back is very important. This, for me, is giving back to a place that got me started on the path that has led to my professional and personal fulfillment. You can see someone who was in your shoes. It’s rewarding.”

Dexter Gardener, a Harper alumnus who participated in last year’s Leadership Dinner, felt a similar responsibility in joining the Career Connections event. A 1999 Harper grad who was president of the college’s Black Student Union during his time as a student, Dexter is now the pastor of Second Baptist Church in Palatine.

“I want to stay connected to the community I grew up in,” he said. “There’s a lot I did not know going to school. You can go to class and get the grades, but the networking piece — that’s big. These relationships can be so important.”

Like last year, students applied for the opportunity to attend the free, three-course dinner. The evening will begin with lessons in professional etiquette before students are seated with Harper alumni to share a meal and discuss their experiences. Sonia talked about feeling intimidated at the outset, but how she was quickly put at ease.

“All the alums were incredibly nice and warm and welcoming,” she remembered. “They were so happy to learn about us, just as we were learning from them.”

As an alumna who is part of this year’s edition, Ushna is excited to meet students and share her relatively recent experience transitioning from education to career.

“I’m looking forward to seeing the passion of these students and answering the questions they might have, especially early career questions,” she said. “Harper is an amazing institution. It’s done so much for me, my development and my success. I want to be a resource for these students.”

Students interested in attending the panel sessions can sign up and learn more at Alumni interested in participating in future events can contact Harper College Alumni Relations at

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