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Sunday, December 15th, 2019

How to bridge the gap from the classroom to the boardroom

by November 18, 2016 General

Why do some university students land dream jobs after graduation, and others struggle to find their footing when they leave campus? There are a range of factors that can influence how well a student is able to bridge the gap between classroom studies and professional careers.

Concordia University graduate Jesse Carmichael attributes her professional success to the university’s distinctive “real world” learning opportunities. Soon after completing her undergraduate degree at Concordia’s John Molson School of Business, she started work with the Boston Consulting Group (BCG). She was selected to join the elite global management company after a demanding application process during her final year of studies.

“You are working with amazing people, and learning very quickly,” Carmichael said of her experiences at BCG’s Montreal office. “I have received training in Toronto and Chicago, and am doing very interesting work, with a multinational company as a client.”

Carmichael chose to enrol at John Molson after attending CEGEP at College Jean-de-Brébeuf. Friends who had attended the business school stressed it was an environment where you could practice what you will be doing in the corporate world.

While she gives the professors high marks, Carmichael’s greatest learning wasn’t necessarily in the classroom. In the first year of her studies, she discovered John Molson’s Case Competition Program. Teams of students from top business schools gather to analyze real-life problems facing companies, and find solutions.

It proved to be a turning point. Carmichael took part in more than 20 competitions in places such as Spain and Singapore. The coaching she had access to through the program helped her evolve as a leader.

“Who I am today is in large part because four years ago, I decided to go to the John Molson School of Business,” Carmichael said. “That sounds sort of cheesy, but it is 100 per cent true. I believe it is a one-of-a-kind school where you get out of it what you put in.”

Another recent Concordia University graduate, Jason Azzoparde, has secured a coveted position in management consulting. The 23-year-old has moved to New York City to work with McKinsey & Company. His office includes students recruited from Harvard, Yale and Stanford.

Jason Azzoparde (right) with André Bourbonnais, president and CEO of PSP Investments.

Jason Azzoparde (right) with André Bourbonnais, president and CEO of PSP Investments. Supplied

“I have been travelling quite a bit,” Azzoparde said from Chicago, where he was attending a professional training session. He hit the ground running, doing a lot of work with U.S. health care systems, and will soon be flying back to Arizona, for more meetings with senior executives. “There is a lot of responsibility, but it is very exciting. You are working side-by-side with some of the brightest people in the world.”

Azzoparde finished his studies at Concordia University last May with a Bachelor’s degree in Actuarial Mathematics/Finance. His university experience included a number of practical internships organized through Concordia’s Institute for Co-operative Education. They opened new doors, providing valuable skills and experience.

“I was 19 years old, in a corporate environment, and didn’t know necessarily how to dress,” he recalled. “How do you interact with more senior folks? I think being in a co-op helps you think ahead of your age. Once I graduated with five internships, I felt I was ready to tackle anything.”

The young McKinsey consultant also took part in Concordia’s student exchange program, and studied in both California and Singapore. Sharing ideas with entrepreneurial students from around the world helped Azzoparde gain confidence in himself, and believe he could compete with the very best.

Both Carmichael and Azzoparde credit Concordia University’s experiential learning initiatives with providing key skills and networking opportunities. A highlight of their time at Concordia was being selected as finalists in Odgers Berndtson’s CEO for a Day program. It pairs 20 university undergrads from across Canada with some of the country’s most prominent business leaders. Carmichael shadowed Via Rail Canada CEO Yves Desjardins-Siciliano, sitting in on high-level meetings. Azzoparde spent a day at the office with André Bourbonnais, CEO of PSP Investments. He had an inside look at trading operations and multi-million dollar investment pitches.

The new graduates say they are not yet quite “done” with school. Carmichael has set her sights on an MBA from Harvard sometime in the future, as has Azzoparde, who has already realized his goal of working in New York City.

Concordia and Maclean’s are hosting a town hall on The Future of Education, The Future of Work, on Nov. 24 at 6:30 p.m.

Join the discussion between industry leaders and alumni including Nick Farkas, founder of the Osheaga Festival, and Michael Kronish, executive vice-president, TV & digital production, Vice Media Canada. Reserve your spot online at


This story was created by Content Works, Postmedia’s commercial content division, on behalf of Concordia University.

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