Three esteemed alumni from Eastern Connecticut State University were inducted into the Eastern Fellows Program on Sept. 21. The program recognizes distinguished alumni while engaging them in the life of the university. This year’s fellows — Tracey Boyden ’89, Cynthia Konney ’77 and Andrew Zlotnick ’85 — visited classes in the morning and led a panel discussion with students in the afternoon.
Boyden, a biology major, is a principal scientist at Pfizer who holds several patents. Over the course of 25 years with the pharmaceutical giant, she has contributed to the development of numerous drug therapies that treat a variety of diseases from cancer to neurological disorders.
Konney, an environmental earth science major, is a nationally recognized gemologist who runs a gemological company with four offices in three states. She’s an expert at identifying, evaluating and appraising gems and jewelry, and holds several professional certifications in the field.
Zlotnick, also an environmental earth science major, is a senior vice president at Fuss & O’Neill, a civil and environmental engineering consulting firm with seven offices across the country. He leads a team of environmental professionals who focus on hydrology, site assessment, remedial planning and design.
During the panel, the three alumni gave career advice and reflected on their days as Eastern students. Boyden opened the discussion by emphasizing being “change agile.” “Chances are you won’t be in the same position throughout your career,” she said. “Science and technology change all the time; Pfizer has changed immensely over the years.” She credits the well-rounded education she got at Eastern with enabling her to “stick with the changes.”
Speaking to a well-rounded education, Zlotnick said, “At a liberal arts school you’re exposed to a lot more than specialized schools, which allows you to communicate with a variety of people.”
All the fellows agreed on the importance of being able to communicate and having good people skills, especially when interviewing. Boyden has interviewed hundreds of people during her career: “I’m looking for someone I can work with,” she said. “I can teach someone how to use the lab equipment; I’m more interested in who they are as a person.”
Zlotnick emphasized the ability to write — another principle skill taught on Eastern’s liberal arts campus. Job interviewees at Fuss & O’Neill have to take a 20-minute writing test. “It’s very telling,” he said, “…the people who can put their thoughts down quickly and coherently.” No matter what your major or profession, Zlotnick maintains that writing is invaluable, and that “the more tools on your tool belt, the more indispensable you are.”
One upperclassman asked the panel how employers view an applicant who went to a state school. “We all went to state schools and we made it,” said Boyden with a smile. “My colleagues who went to expensive private schools graduated with more debt, not more experience.”
Zlotnick added, “It’s not where you went to school, it’s what you did and how you present yourself.”
Speaking of self-presentation, Boyden offered advice for when the students land their first jobs: “Be humble. Admit to not knowing things. I’m happy when I see younger employees asking questions.”
The discussion concluded with final thoughts. “I wish I took one business course,” admitted Zlotnick. Boyden told the students to have fun and to be open minded to the activity around them. “Get your nose out of your book every once in a while.”
The Eastern Fellows Program was established in the 2008-09 academic year. The program enriches the educational experience of current Eastern students by exposing them to alumni who are able to share their work experience in realistic terms. Since its inception, 26 alumni have been inducted.