The Kick Off of the PDP Guest Speaker Series

Teaching Professional Development online has its hurdles, but one perk has been the birth of the PDP Guest Speakers Series, a two-week long run of professionals sharing their work histories and advice to the Professional Development students via Zoom. 

Faculty members—including Stephanie Anderson, Ranjit Souri and Jeff Wilson—serve as hosts, asking informational style interview questions for the hour to hour-and-a-half long interview—all while students have the chance to interact with the guest speaker by asking questions aloud (by unmuting themselves) and relaying comments and ideas in the chat. 

The guest speakers were stationed around the world, from Burkina Faso in West Africa to Toronto in Canada to DC and Chicago—and many of them were UIC alums, which students mentioned was inspiring for them.  

Throughout the 10 days, 13 guest speakers shared their expertise and answered students’ questions, with audiences as big as 93 attendees. 

“It started with the idea of trying to bring in a few guest speakers for my own sections, and then it grew to the entire department,” Stephanie Anderson, PDP faculty member, says. “It was a clear way to maximize the benefit of learning from the speaker, for all, and everyone on the team jumped onboard.”

“I’m so moved by the generosity of these guest speakers,” Anderson says. “They all showed up completely, offering their expertise, their contact information and their advice to students they’ve never met before, for no compensation. Besides our students learning about career experiences, they are also gaining firsthand exposure of what generosity looks like.”

Guest Speakers included:

  • Ashley Anderson, Human rights advocate, Associate Livelihood & Economic Inclusion Officer - at United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)


Smile, a BA 220 student says (on Ashley Anderson): “When she discussed volunteering in Greece, I really like how she pulled out a picture and explained what she did in this volunteer opportunity. It impacts me to join and do more volunteerism. I also like what she said about internships, her examples really made me want to do the same thing as her. She enlightened me a lot about human rights, and about the UN.”


  • Dr. Nic Weststrate, Assistant Professor Educational Psychology, & Faculty-in-Residence. Nic has been exploring the influence of intergenerational storytelling on psychosocial development. He is currently examining this within the context of families and the LGBTQ community.
  • Bill Russell: Former Managing Director and Head of European Futures at Citigroup. Former Vice President at Salomon Brothers and Salomon Smith Barney. Former Executive Director of Equity Derivatives at Goldman Sachs.  Former Director of the Futures and Options Association in the United Kingdom. Former President of the Futures Industry Association’s European Chapter. Experienced Improvisational Comedian & Director. Public Speaker & Presenter with engagements in the U.S., Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and New Zealand.
  • Alex Almazan, Revenue Management Analyst at United Airlines. Alex is a double alum from UIC (BA Sociology ‘12 & MBA Management & Business Analytics ‘18). She is also a 5 year veteran of the Business Career Center.
  • Matt Alex: Former Principal at Deloitte, where he led the Future of Work, Smart Campus, and Student Transformation Initiatives. Former Consultant at PricewaterhouseCoopers. Co-founder of Beyond Academics. Higher-Ed Technology thought leader. UIC double-alum.
  • Caitlyn Ford – Director, Digital Media & Strategy at Empower. A 2011 UIC Marketing graduate, Caitlyn has a variety experience in digital media. She spent 6+ years with Leo Burnett prior to moving to Empower, and also has experience with Crain’s and Rewards Network.
  • Chris Ulrich, Body language expert, speaker, creative consultant, improv comedian, & former domestic policy advisor to Vice President, Al Gore  


Bruna, a BA 420 student says (on Chris Ulrich): “My experience with the informational interview with Chris Ulrich was an amazing one. He is such an inspiring person and he really opened my mind. For example, when he shared with us that he brings energy to the moments and he thanks the world before every action is something that we should all do. Bright people take bright actions, and this is what we should learn with them!”


  • Pearl Patel, PHR – Senior Manager HR Analytics & Reporting @ Beam Suntory. A 2013 graduate from UIC in Management, Pearl has a breadth of experience in a variety of HR functions with Target, CDK Global, Kraft-Heinz, and Beam Suntory. 
  • Abin Kuriakose is Director of ChicagoNext at World Business Chicago, where he has worked since 2016. World Business Chicago is the City of Chicago’s economic development organization chaired by Mayor Lightfoot & I lead ChicagoNEXT is WBC’s dedicated initiative driving inclusive growth and opportunity for our city’s tech economy.
  • Abhinaya Konduru is an Associate at M25 Group - an early-stage micro-venture capital fund based in Chicago. They invest solely in companies headquartered in the Midwest in software and tech-enabled start-ups. Abhinaya is a 2017 UIC grad that majored in Finance and Computer Science. She was active in FIG, serving in a variety of leadership positions, including President.
  • Shahbaz Khan, Senior Data Scientist at Crowe. Shahbaz is a double UIC alumnus - BS IDS & FInance ‘15 and MSBA ‘17 and was active with FIG and co-founder of the Investment Banking Association while at UIC. He did his capstone with Crowe and has been there since 2017.
  • Marge Johnsson: Executive Director, Innovation & Growth Center at Northeastern Illinois University. Award-winning serial entrepreneur. Former State of Illinois Small Business Person of the Year. UIC alum. Inductee, UIC Chicago-Area Entrepreneurship Hall of Fame.
  • Eugene Fula - International Tax Manager at Grant Thornton LLP. Eugene is a double alum from UIC, earning his BS Accounting in 2013 and his MS Accounting in 2014. He is a member of Beta Gamma Sigma and was President of the Accounting Club. Eugene worked as a Recruiting Coordinator in the Business Career Center. He did internships with RR Donnelley and PwC. He launched his career at PwC in 2014, moved to Liberty Global in 2017, and landed at Grant Thornton in August of last year.