Want to see Chicago? Call an alum
By Tim Cigelske, Comm ’09
It was not a pretty day when Kara Carmichael visited Marquette. “It was raining, there was a lot of construction all around Raynor Library and it was just an ugly, ugly day,” she remembers of her tour as a prospective student. But there was a bright silver lining. Three times, students stopped to ask Carmichael and her parents if they needed help, directions or wanted to see inside a residence hall. “I walked away from that visit saying, ‘I’m going to go here,’” says Carmichael, Comm ’07. “Marquette is like a big hug.”
That personal touch isn’t reserved for visitors. Carmichael says it was part of her four years as a student. Later, as an advanced student and member of Marquette’s Orientation staff, she made sure new freshmen had a similar experience.
“On O-staff, there’s just that constant need to welcome and make people feel comfortable,” she says. “I translate that into what I do for my job.”
Carmichael is manager of international public relations for Choose Chicago, the official sales and marketing agency for the city of Chicago. She often meets with other alumni who work in the Windy City’s travel and tourism industry. To hazard a metaphor, they are Chicago’s O-staff minus the square dance.
Alumni are behind the scenes working at or promoting such Chicago destinations as the Shedd Aquarium, the Museum of Science and Industry, Navy Pier, Gibson’s restaurants and Hyatt Hotels. In many ways, Marquette alumni roll out Chicago’s red carpet.
Why do they gravitate toward this niche? A dozen alumni gathered over lunch at Quartino’s, a Chicago restaurant co-managed by (who else?) a Marquette alum, to tell Marquette Magazine.
For many, Marquette and Milwaukee provided the perfect incubator for later working in Chicago.
“I did not want to be in a cornfield,” says Monika (Babik) Anger, Comm ’90, national sales manager for Choose Chicago. “That urban environment was a huge part of Marquette’s feel. It lends itself to opportunities that you may not have had on a traditional campus or in a small town.”
Those opportunities aren’t limited to campus, discovered Jordan Engerman, Arts ’87.
Shortly after arriving at Marquette, he landed a job bartending for banquets at the Pfister Hotel in downtown Milwaukee and got well-acquainted with the hospitality industry. Today, he is Choose Chicago’s director of partnerships and responsible for promoting Chicago’s hospitality industry.
“That got into my blood,” Engerman says.
Carmichael also found her footing in the tourism industry while a student when working for Milwaukee Downtown, the city’s business improvement district.
“Once I worked there, I felt like I was ready,” she says. “It was the perfect way to launch into my life in Chicago. I really saw Milwaukee as a comforting launching pad. I grew up in the suburbs, and I was not ready for a full-on Chicago city experience. Milwaukee was the perfect place to have an urban experience and job opportunities.”
The broadening perspectives experienced while studying abroad played a central role for Kathleen O’Shaughnessy, Bus Ad ’08, who now works for Hyatt Gold Passport Marketing and Brand Strategy.
“I am a travel junkie,” she says. “I solely credit studying abroad through the business program for instilling that in me.”
After growing up in a small Ohio town, O’Shaughnessy says studying in Galway, Ireland, “completely changed the path” of her life.
“It’s still the single best experience of my life,” she says, “and the reason I’m in the travel industry today.”
You have to be people persons to thrive in this industry. Matt Graham, Bus Ad ’97, learned a critical skill at Marquette that isn’t reflected on his transcripts. The general manager of Quartino’s restaurant says his job is to “throw parties every night.”
“One thing you can’t ignore about Marquette is it has an active social scene, and that was a big determining factor for why I went there,” he says. “That was a very important part of my college experience, and it certainly helped shape my career.”
The most obvious connection between Marquette alumni in Chicago is the physical distance between the school and the city. Each year, new graduates migrate from Milwaukee to the nation’s third-largest city seeking jobs and experience. After graduation, Shannon O’Neill, Comm ’99, a Texas native, moved to Chicago with friends. The theatre major started a performance company with other alumni. The company handled everything from directing to marketing, which was a natural fit with O’Neill’s experience putting on student productions at Marquette.
“It was amazing that we had learned all those skills right out of college,” she says. “It’s how I got into marketing.”
This led to marketing jobs at Second City Comedy Club and Steppenwolf Theatre Co., where, not surprisingly, she crossed paths with more Marquette alumni. There were times she promoted shows at Second City Training Center that featured Danny Pudi, Comm ’02.
Then, O’Neill found the perfect job as tourism marketing manager at the Museum of Science and Industry.
These alumni say Chicagoans and Marquetters have something key in common.
“If a visitor in Chicago is on a street corner and just not sure which place to go,” says Meghan Risch, Comm ’93, vice president of communications at Choose Chicago, “a true Chicagoan will stop and ask if they need help.”
Just like a true Marquette alum.
A Chicago storyteller
Sheena Quinn, Comm ’04, was exposed to multiple cultures on campus while serving on Marquette’s Diversity Task Force, and around the city when volunteering at Nativity Jesuit Middle School on Milwaukee’s southside. It was good preparation for her work welcoming visitors to Chicago.
“What stood out to me was going into neighborhoods for service learning and having long conversations with residents,” says the senior account supervisor with Public Communications Inc., which represents the Shedd Aquarium. Those experiences, Quinn says, helped her become a storyteller for travelers.
Bridging cultural divides
Kevin Hinton, Bus Ad ’93, executive vice president of Associated Luxury Hotels International, which markets iconic Chicago hotels to the global meetings and conferences market, finds ways to apply the Jesuit value of service at his job.
“It’s something that’s woven through the experience, and certainly one of the values I learned at a Jesuit high school, then at Marquette,” Hinton says. “In the meetings and travel industry, it’s about food and drink — but really it’s about how people feel. That’s what we’re trying to do as we bridge cultural divides.”