When Chris Roan '04 left Carleton, he never looked back. Now he's giving back.
Chris Roan '04 freely admits that he wasn't an amazing student at Carleton. Nor was he especially interested in staying connected to the college after graduation.
“I left Northfield and never looked back,” Roan says.
But when Career Center staffer Jessica Mueller reached out to him last fall about an unusual volunteer opportunity, Roan got curious. Then he got excited.
“Jessica was organizing a trip to New York for students interested in media and publishing,” explains Roan. “I'd previously worked at The Onion, so I got her email. And I perked up, because nothing remotely like this existed while I was at Carleton. I would have really benefited from such a program.”
Due to schedule conflicts, Roan wasn't able to participate in the taste-of-industry tour Mueller was planning (the Scholars trip described here). But the more he learned about the Career Center's new programs, the more passionate he became about getting involved.
“Schools like Carleton are under pressure in this climate to speak to the trade and industry applications of their education—at the expense of the liberal arts,” Roan says. “But I think it's important to go back and talk about how important that education is.”
And talk he did, nearly non-stop, in an action-packed three-day visit to campus this spring. With help from the Career Center and the English department, Roan put together an agenda designed to make the most of his talents and experience:
- He spent a full day meeting individually with students with an interest in the advertising industry.
- He conducted an Advertising 101 workshop, bringing to life the many and diverse careers available in his industry—not just the commonly-known roles of ad exec, graphic designer, and copywriter.
- He did a talk for English majors, enumerating the ways his Carleton education has served him in his career.
- He visited an English 220 class, Arts of Oral Presentation, sharing with the students the value of those skills in their life after Carleton.
So what kind of marks did his audiences give Roan, who describes himself as a mediocre Carleton student? A+.
“It was brilliant,” says Timothy Raylor, the English professor who taught the oral presentation course. “He showed my students the ways in which they will find their major tremendously valuable after Carleton, even if they are not working in a directly related field. It's fantastic to have someone like Chris come back to share his experiences and clearly make a case for the value of a Carleton education.”
“Chris was amazing,” agrees Zoe Cohen '14, a CAMS major who signed up for a one-on-one session with Roan as well as attending his advertising workshop. “I was about to interview for two summer internships in the fashion industry, and Chris was so great. He helped talk me through all the points I needed to make in my interviews. And he really convinced me to stop downplaying my accomplishments.
“He said, 'Own what you do. Be proud of your achievements.' He helped me become confident that what I'd done and learned was valuable.”
That advice is sorely needed at Carleton, Roan believes. He argues that students are selling short the skills and creative ability they are developing here.
“I talked with students worried that they didn't have enough concrete skills to carry into the world and the job market,” he says. “A few were really freaking out. 'I don't know anything!' But one of them had produced her own website selling her original jewelry. Another had created a social networking site connecting healthcare seekers and providers. A third was producing a book of photography. It's staggering.
“These kids know how to make things—good things. Polished, professional output. They are so far ahead of where I was when I was 22.”
His advice to fellow alumni is to come back and give back.
“It made me realize that I have a use to these students,” he says. “There's a lot I can say to them about how my education informed and assisted in my career since Carleton. The deep analysis, the critical thinking—the basic tenets of the education—I use those things every single day.
“We didn't go to a trade school. We got something way more powerful than that.”
Another benefit of his visit? Roan's own renewed ties to Carleton.
“The experience recentered me on what I'd really taken away from this place,” he says. “I realized that I'd reconnected with an old friend: the institution.”
Chris Roan graduated from Carleton College in 2004 with a BA in English Literature. He has since worked in the publishing, media, and advertising industry—most recently taking on the Director of Development role at global creative agency Mother New York. His previous employers include The Onion, Vice magazine, Time Out, and Ogilvy and Mather. He has worked with a long list of musicians, actors, and other A-list talent, as his work tends to focus on cultural investigation, non-traditional marketing, and entertainment content. He has made a career out of effective; straightforward communication, and not overthinking the basics. He has a deep appreciation for Prince, rap music, radio broadcasting, and all manner of cheese.