Table Talk

Hoya Gateway's new Power Lunches program brings students together with alumni to explore potential careers

By Jeffrey Donahoe

Oppenheimer Funds
John Saunders (EMBA'17), far left, hosted a Power Lunches for a mix of graduate and undergraduate students, including Kate Hyun (C'19), second from right. Saunders is a senior vice president at Oppenheimer Funds, a global asset management firm.

Entering her junior year last fall, Kate Hyun (C'19) began looking ahead to life after graduation. A double major in economics and math, she hoped to find a job that would make the best use of her quantitative skills.

While plenty of job recruiters visit campus each year, Hyun wanted a wider scope—to find out how companies actually work.

In January, Hyun had the opportunity to do just that. She joined four fellow students for a Power Lunch in Georgetown, hosted by John Saunders (EMBA'17).

Students in the first Power Lunches were hosted by alumni working in well-known companies, including, from top, Citi, IBM, Match Group, and Pinterest. In all, 32 alumni in 11 cities offered a total of 270 lunch spots for students.

An Engaged Community

Offered for the first time this year, the Power Lunches program is part of Hoya Gateway, Georgetown's online networking platform launched in 2013, which helps students explore career interests with the help of alumni. The alumni commitment to being responsive and engaged sets Hoya Gateway apart from other networking options.

"When I was 21 or 22, it would have been awesome to have had more experience and knowledge of different industries," says Saunders, senior vice president and divisional sales manager at Oppenheimer Funds, a global asset management firm. "The lunch was great," he says. "The students asked very honest questions."

Saunders brought fellow executive EMBA 2017 grad Lala Balaoghlanova with him to the lunch Hyun attended. Balaoghlanova works at the multinational financial services firm HSBC and hosted her own Power Lunch the following day.

For Hyun, the lunch gave her the chance "to see how alumni turned out, the career paths that they have taken, and how they got where they are in their careers," she says.

'Try It On for Size'

In the January pilot, 32 alumni in 11 cities offered a total of 270 spots for students, helping them to learn more about companies and job functions in such industries as technology, finance, higher education, and entertainment and media.

"The Power Lunch gave students a chance to come onsite to an industry and 'try it on for size,'" says Emily Holland Hull (SCS'13), who works in talent development for the digital design group at Capital One bank outside of D.C.

"These are students who are truly determined and focused," Hull says. "They get the importance of forging relationships."

Kiera McCrane (B'20) was one of 11 Hoyas who braved a snowstorm for their Power Lunch that Hull hosted at Capital One. "I thought I didn't want to go into banking, but I am interested in the digital side, especially the design and technology aspects supporting mobile and online banking," McCrane says. The chance to get a glimpse at a digital group convinced her to sign up for the lunch.

"I would definitely have registered for a Power Lunch as a student," says Reilly Davis (B'11), chief technology officer at PeopleGrove in San Francisco, which develops online professional networks. PeopleGrove provides the software, analytics, and support that helps Alumni Career Services power the Hoya Gateway program.

Davis, who hosted a Power Lunch himself, says that students were looking to learn how industries work. "When I was a student, there weren't a lot of opportunities like this," he shares. "The student interactions with alumni were mostly about recruiting, not learning what's out there."

'Still Part of Georgetown'

Associate Director of Alumni Career Services responsible for Hoya Gateway Matt Kelly (C'08, MBA '17), say that alumni volunteering for the program this year were impressed with the quality of students and their preparation. They also reported enjoying meeting and helping students—an opportunity that is normally difficult for alumni living outside of the D.C. region.

"The feedback from the initial program in January was that alumni are excited about giving back to students in a way that didn't exist when they were on campus," Kelly says.

In Dallas, Indrajt Ponnambalam (B'98), SVP for Finance at Match Group—owner of the powerhouse social sites, Tinder, and Okay Cupid, among others—hosted two graduate students for a Power Lunch "because I wanted to share my experience," he says.

"I interview prospective students as a volunteer and I attend my reunion," he says. "But I don't have the chance to meet current students."

"It was nice to feel that I'm still part of Georgetown."

Asked whether he has any advice for current students, Saunders responded: "Go on the Hoya Gateway site and poke around in there. There are a lot of people willing to help."

You can learn more about Hoya Gateway and sign up as a volunteer at