Alumni Spotlight

Bringing It All Back Home: PAW 2024 Fosters Reconnection, Growth and Pride

FIU student at Career Fair during PAW 2024
FIU student at Career Fair during PAW 2024

Pop quiz! (And don’t look up the answer. Hey! We saw that peeking!) 

What anniversary of Panther Alumni Week just took place? 

*Patiently waits for answer* 

If you guessed 11, you’re right! 

From February 5th to February 12th, Panthers came back to FIU for more than 20 engaging events that connected almost 6,000 alumni and students. The week featured more than 150+ class speakers, insightful panels, and workshops that boosted attendees’ networking skills.  

To truly appreciate how far PAW has come, however, it’s important to take a quick look back at how it started.

Inviting Alumni to Reconnect 

More than a decade ago, PAW’s story began with Gerald C. Grant Jr. ’78, MBA ’89, former president of the Alumni Association, former member of the FIU Board of Trustees, and the first recipient of the Alumnus of the Year at the 2014 Torch Awards. Grant had a simple idea for what would become PAW: reconnect alumni with FIU.  

Because of FIU’s constant evolution, Grant envisioned an added benefit, too. As he commented in an interview during PAW’s sixth anniversary, the week would afford alumni “an opportunity to see what FIU looks like today and come back to share their story about how FIU prepared them for the future. 

“They can talk about the success they’ve had because of the skills they gained here, and how those skills translate to the real world.”   

It’s safe to say that there’d be no PAW – and certainly no eleventh iteration – without the inspiration and work of Grant. 

Standout Events

PAW 2024 kicked off when architect Malcolm Jones ’18 hosted a panel discussion with former professor Glen Santayana ’08, for the College of Communication, Architecture + the Arts. During the panel, Jones and Santayana shared their journeys from being student and teacher, to peers.  

Malik Wilkes '08 speaks at the Financial Wellness Workshop
FIU Alumni Board member Malik Wilkes ’08 speaks at the Financial Wellness Workshop.

As their discussion progressed, Jones noticed the same reactions in the students that he once had. 

“The session turned out to be more than just an exchange of questions and answers; seeing the students’ eyes light up with every story and piece of advice shared was a stark reminder of my own aspirations and dreams when I was in their shoes,” he said. “It was a reminder that, no matter where we are in our professional journey, our experiences and knowledge have immense value to those following in our footsteps.” 

Reflecting on his experience during PAW 2024, Jones said “as an alum who graduated in 2018, stepping into those familiar rooms again was a surreal experience. It wasn’t just about revisiting where my foundation was laid but also about sharing the essence of what I’ve learned and absorbed in the real world with eager minds.”  

On the same day, Malik Wilkes ’08, an Alumni Board of Directors member, led the inaugural “Financial Wellness Workshop.” During the workshop, experts in mortgage banking, credit, and investing met with alumni and students to answer questions and give advice on financial management.  

For those unable to attend the workshop in-person, they still could participate virtually. Wilkes engaged his social media followers throughout the day by asking them to share their questions regarding home ownership and financial wellness on Instagram. 

FIU students and alumni at “The Power to Connect” workshop.

Later in the week, Alberto Padron ’98, MBA ’09, CEO of Stinghouse Creative, facilitated “The Power to Connect: A Comprehensive Networking Workshop” to help bolster the networking skills of students and young alumni. Padron shared his networking insight and expertise, while detailing tips and tricks to master the networking process. Participants could then apply what they learned that evening at the PAWs N’ Connect Networking Reception, hosted by Young Alumni. 

Other notable events throughout the week included the “Washington, D.C. Kickoff Networking Event,” which brought together students and alumni in the DMV area; “Double Panther Appreciation,” which honored Double Panthers, alumni who are employed by the university, for their remarkable dedication and passion for FIU; and the “Kovens Cultural Arts Series Celebrating our FIU Alumni Artists and Emerging FIU Panthers,” which showcased the work of alumni artists. For anyone who missed the opportunity to attend the exhibition, it will be open through March 8th 

Mentorship Matters 

If you couldn’t participate in PAW 2024, there’s no need to wait a full year for PAW 2025. Be on the lookout for new programming that will launch soon. 

“Programs such as Panther Alumni Week and our upcoming mentorship program foster meaningful relationships between FIU alumni and current undergraduate and graduate students,” said Sara DuCuennois, Chief Alumni Officer of FIU Alumni. “The connections made in these programs help prepare our students for a successful future and leave a lasting impact on our campus and alumni community.”  

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