By Courtney Rae Kasper, staff writer
She’s bubbly. She’s bright. Her smile is infectious and her outlook always sunny, even during winter in Syracuse. She’s Kim Brown, our cover girl, and she’s quickly becoming the most friendly face on campus. But this picture of positivity didn’t come without a price. At just 27, she braved through a major career change. Now, alumni and students seek her help to find a profession with meaning — and she’s using social media to change the way they connect.
It’s 10:30 a.m. and Kim Brown stands comfortably at the helm of a room full of sleepy-eyed college students hunched over their laptops. With one simple question, the class falls silent and all eyes fix on her: “Who thinks they have a Facebook page that’s entirely private?” A few eager students raise their hands. She picks a volunteer. Pulls up their profile, and to the class’ shock, can access all of the student’s personal information and pictures without “friending” them. This is exactly what a prospective employer might see when researching information about you before making the hire or not, she informs the class.
For the next hour, she walks them through the ins and outs of maintaining a responsible virtual presence, garnering a giggle here and there with her cute antics, but by the end of the class she has gained their full trust and a line forms with students seeking to know more. This is just another day at work for the Alumni Programs Coordinator who’s teaching career-minded Syracuse University students how to find job leads and effectively network with alumni through social media outlets, like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.
“In college we had big Nokia cell phones and didn’t have to worry about employers Googling our names. Students these days have a ton of pressures,” said Brown. She’s working to alleviate some of these job-search pressures by bringing her Alma Mater to the forefront of alumni relations, and her methods have been so successful that other universities are modeling their programs after SU’s. When not advising students in groups or meeting with them individually in her Schine Student Center office, she oversees ‘CuseConnect (a LinkedIn group she started where alumni volunteer to be mentors), travels to SUccess in the City networking events, hosts alumni speaker series and most recently launched a YouTube Channel for the Career Services office that posts content about campus events and features mini profiles of alumni telling their career stories. Brown is also pursuing a certificate of advanced study in social media through SU’s iSchool, is an ARISE board member and serves as the marketing and communications cabinet member for United Way of Central New York. And one thing is certain about the fresh-faced, blue-eyed girl from Westchester County — she practices the methods that she preaches. Brown actively blogs and tweets about anything and everything Orange or CNY related, and she has columns on her TweetDeck that follow all mentions of SU, from prospective students to alumni and employers, so she’s always finding new people to interact with and bring to campus.
“My colleagues joke that I’m addicted to my phone, but it’s such a huge part of who I am,” said Brown, trying her best not to look each time her iPhone buzzed. “I love Twitter. I use it so much to connect with students, and students know me through my Twitter handle, @ kimincuse. A lot of times we’ll interact this way first before meeting in person.”
So it’s no surprise that when the social-media maven learned that she won our December cover-girl contest, she immediately tweeted: “So many thank yous! I can’t wait to share my love for CNY in @CNYWoman. I adore my home since ‘02 & deeply appreciate all of you. ” (#TrueStory)
In fact, winning the contest is a testament to the power of social media and the power of your networks, said Brown. People didn’t have to press vote, but they did, she said, and she credits her self-proclaimed “includer” personality and the connections she made as a young professional.
And she’s now expanding her network to include SU graduates past and present, as she’s becoming one of the people on the hill who they can turn to when feeling lost about one of the most important decisions of their lives — finding a career that has meaning.
“Whether it’s an alum who graduated 20 years ago in need of a change, a student who is panicking because she doesn’t have a summer internship yet or feels like she should have a job like all of her friends do, I can be a calming influence,” said Brown.
Why? Because she knows firsthand the feeling of second guessing your intended professional path. Since fourth grade, Brown dreamed about becoming a news anchor like America’s sweetheart, Katie Couric.
“Everyone knew I wanted to be on TV and live that lifestyle of being in the public eye. I was so gung ho that that’s what I wanted all through college and even through my first years as a reporter,” said Brown. But after four years of living her dream as a full-time reporter at NewsChannel 9, a position the broadcast journalism major landed straight out of college in 2006, Brown discovered that sometimes the reality of “making it” isn’t what it seems.
“I was really good at the real people stories, but at the end of the day it was the hard stories that really affected me,” said Brown.
She still gets choked up about the last story she covered. It was the story of a 21-year-old Oneida County man who murdered his newborn son. “I was sent to the house to get a reaction from the mother of the baby and the neighbors. I went there thinking, ‘how am I going to do this?’” she recalled with tears in her eyes.
Brown faced an internal conflict of wanting to stay and help make things better, but as a reporter her job was to get the story, tell it and move on to the next one.
“My priorities in life had changed and it was important for me to be doing something that at the end of the day I came home and felt like I had done something for the greater good,” she said, adding that rushing off to cover breaking news like Couric had also lost its appeal.
She toyed with the idea of trying a different TV station or moving to a new city, but CNY had become a place she didn’t want to leave.
“Sure in big cities there are tons of opportunities but in Syracuse you can be a young professional and actually have a voice and sculpt things that are happening rather than getting lost in the shuffle,” she said. “I made the decision to make CNY my home, and I so badly want to see more students making a life here. We have the most amazing talent at SU. My goal is to make them see that it is a good quality of life here.”
While she’ll always remember covering the fun fair stories, reporting from the middle of a snow storm or being dropped by helicopter into Onondaga Lake to illustrate an ice rescue, Brown wouldn’t ask for that life again in a million years.
“Anybody who knows me will tell you that I am a totally different person from where I was. Channel 9 was an amazing growing and learning experience. I met people I will never forget and I covered stories I will never forget. But there were times when I would come home and just bawl my eyes out because I felt like I had to do that and had to love it because I went to school for it. At the end of the day, I didn’t love it and I didn’t feel fulfilled. Now I come home I have a bounce in my step and I love what I’ve done,” said Brown.
And it shows. It’s 3 p.m. and with a bounce in her step, grinning from ear to ear, she jets off to greet the latest alumni speaker, blasting out little bits of helpful information for students throughout the event, before ending the day with one last tweet to her 2,234 followers that reassures that she’s truly found fulfillment: “Today totally rocked. #thatisall.”