Networking Her Way Home

Wednesday, October 20, 2021


El McLaughlin ’24

El McLaughlin '24

Networking: it’s one of the most fundamental skills you learn in early business classes. Although my high school business teacher told us repeatedly just how beneficial it was, I never truly appreciated the impact of strong networking skills until I came to the University of New Hampshire.

When I started at UNH last fall, my freshman year began with information overload about staying safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to physical distancing rules and limited in-person student events, I found it difficult to make friends and build relationships. Still, I kept my eyes open for any opportunities that might come my way.

Fortunately, amidst this uniquely challenging introduction to life at UNH, I was enrolled in the First-year Innovation Research Experience (F.I.R.E). This is a team-based mentorship program for all first-year students at Paul College. Although the program was rearranged to help suit the COVID-19 distancing guidelines, the program was still successful in its peer-to-peer orientation. With the guidance of our trusty peer advisors, we talked about what we wanted out of the class and how to set ourselves up for success at UNH. One piece of advice that immediately resonated with me was about the importance of building strong interpersonal relationships with our professors and advisors. I realized that this was the best way for me to make the most of my freshman year and get to know the people who would help shape my future.

In no time, I developed a strong bond with my F.I.R.E peer advisor. Although the peer advisor’s job is to assist us through the confusion of being a first-year student, my advisor and I also connected outside the classroom. She became not only a mentor to me but a friend as well. She was quick to express how she felt I had high amounts of potential and gave me ideas to capitalize on it. When I wrote an essay for the program about my leadership experience, I was awarded the position of “igniter,” a captain-type role on my F.I.R.E team. I started to represent my team at a biweekly meeting of igniters, where we talked through how the program was going. This meeting was run and delegated by two Paul College advisors, Sean Stewart and Andrea Labonte, neither of whom I’d met before. Considering their signatures were at the bottom of most of my Paul College emails, however, I figured I needed to introduce myself.

Nonetheless, after meeting with them both on numerous occasions to ask for advice outside of our regular meetings, I was successful in building a relationship with them. This led to me assisting them on other tasks within the first-year business student community. Soon enough my efforts paid off, and I was nominated to do a student take-over for Paul College’s Instagram. This granted me the utmost opportunity to get my name out to other students, faculty, and even alumni. Essentially, I struck gold in the world of networking.

Despite these strong relationships and newfound success at UNH, I still had doubts about my college experience. However, shortly after my Paul College takeover was posted, I received a message on my personal Instagram account from the university’s main account. Then, UNH’s social media marketing group offered me an internship, and I said yes! At that time, I realized that UNH would keep giving me opportunities to grow into my potential through internships like this – and help me build community through programs like F.I.R.E. I knew I wouldn’t be able to find that combination of community and opportunity anywhere else.

Now a month into my sophomore year, I am spending my days attending student events and recapping them as an intern for UNH’s communications and public affairs department. I not only get the opportunity to experience events that I wasn’t able to last year, but I’m also learning about marketing in the most hands-on way. Although I am by far the youngest and most inexperienced member of our team, I am learning and absorbing every tip and tactic my mentors have to offer. With the remaining time I have at UNH, I hope to have more of these growth opportunities, and continue to practice my networking skills – I have now seen just how important they are.