We Are Everywhere

Illustration showing connections via technology


When Annie Powers ’15 (BA) began looking for a job, she had a pretty good idea of where she wanted to work.

“I wanted to get into sales and technology. I was hoping to work at Salesforce,” she recalls. “So I went online. I searched ‘USD and Salesforce,’ and Aaron’s name came up.”

At the time, Aaron Blumenkranz ‘97 (BA) was a regional vice president with the cloud computing powerhouse.

“I’d like to say I prospected him on LinkedIn,” Powers jokes. But her sleuthing paid off. She messaged him online and after speaking by phone, the two met in person. Blumenkranz helped her apply for a position.

“He was really helpful throughout the whole process. He helped me understand Salesforce, he prepared me for my interview, and ever since then he’s been a mentor to me.”

Powers didn’t get the first job she applied for, but she succeeded the second time. After just a couple of years at the company’s office in San Francisco, she’s an account executive responsible for more than 300 clients.

“One thing I like about hiring USD alumni is that you know what you’re getting: someone thoughtful, smart and ethical with the social intelligence to navigate complex situations.”

“Annie and I built a relationship, which I think is what USD really embodies,” says Blumenkranz, now a field sales leader at Google. “One thing I like about hiring USD alumni is that you know what you’re getting. Someone that’s thoughtful, smart and ethical. But they’re also going to have the social intelligence to navigate complex situations.”

Over the years, Blumenkranz has drawn on that rich resource to fill internships and other positions, while also serving for a time on the board of the Alumni Association and acting as a student mentor. “I’m totally open to meeting or talking to alumni on the phone. I don’t always have a job opening, but I’m happy to give advice and help them brainstorm about what they want and how to achieve it.”

Access to alumni such as Blumenkranz hasn’t always been that easy for students and young graduates. USD is a relatively young school, and its once-fledgling alumni network reflected that in the beginning. But things began to change about 10 years ago, when the financial crisis made finding a first job that much harder.

“University leaders determined there was an additional need to be preparing our students for the world outside of college,” says Kara Marsh Proffitt ’04 (BA), director of alumni operations and engagement. “In the past half-decade, the Career Development Center has grown astronomically. With that renewed focus there, it’s trickled down to a lot of other entities on campus.”

Of particular importance is Proffitt’s office, which launched Hire USD, a targeted campaign in partnership with career development. “The program is really being a champion for the concept of putting USD alumni and students first; giving the opportunity to fellow Toreros first and foremost, thinking about USD talent when job opportunities open in your office.”

With about 25,000 alumni living in San Diego and a total of some 68,000 worldwide, it’s a fertile field. Housed within the Alumni Association’s dedicated website, Hire USD is a virtual treasure trove of information and opportunity. Handshake, the platform’s job listing portal, is the place where employers can post jobs, internships and volunteer openings for free. Torero Connections link current students and alumni directly with other alumni for mentorship and career advice.

For employers, opportunities to volunteer on campus or participate in career fairs feature prominently. Another program, Torero Treks, takes small groups of students locally and around the country and gives them an inside look at workplaces that employ graduates of USD.

“This is one of the key benefits of an alumni association,” Proffitt says. “Leveraging this network to create opportunities.”

Some alumni, such as James Brennan ’96 (BBA), were actively plumbing the university’s talent pool well before this latest push. A hugely successful San Diego entrepreneur, Brennan launched a series of nightclubs and restaurants, including Stingaree and Herringbone, before branching out into consumer products. As CEO of Enlightened Brand Ventures, Brennan co-founded and nurtured Suja Juice, Kopari Beauty and Original Grain, a local watchmaker. His latest baby is Liveli, a health supplement company.

Brennan’s strong ties to USD have led to more than 100 internships and job opportunities.

Brennan’s casual demeanor and wide smile belie his enviable standing among the city’s business elite. His strong ties to USD have led to more than 100 internships and job opportunities for students and young graduates.

Illustration of tree with arrows for branches“I’ve hired valets, restaurant managers, servers and executives,” Brennan says. “I think an alum’s greatest responsibility to the school is the students coming out. That’s number one. Don’t get me wrong, writing a check is very important, and we all need to do that too. But now that we’re coming into our own, there are no more excuses. Now it’s about digging in and taking advantage of what the school is putting out.”

There’s no doubt he means it. Sitting in Kopari’s state-of-the-art La Jolla headquarters, Brennan is flanked by Megan Whitman ’10 (BS) and Tori Mauser-Jeppesen ’15 (BAcc/BA). Whitman began working for him right after graduation, taking a job she’d seen advertised on the university’s online job board.

“I actually didn’t understand the USD connection until my first day on the job,” she says. “But I met James that day, and then it made sense.” Since then, Whitman has been with Brennan’s companies for all but about two years. She became Kopari’s chief digital officer in 2015 and can claim credit for a good part of the company’s rapidly expanding footprint.

“I don’t think that when Megan was working on her math degree she thought she was going to end up here,” Brennan jokes. “But you know, it made a lot of sense once you look at all the things she’s doing on a daily basis.”

Mauser-Jeppesen took a different route. She joined KPMG right out of college, putting in long hours as a junior accountant for two and a half years.

“I realized I wanted to feel like I was making more of a tangible impact on something,” she says. “I’m actually a huge user of Kopari and I was familiar with James’ name through that, through Suja and the USD network. I went on LinkedIn. I think my first line was ‘Hi, I’m a fellow Torero and I’m looking to transition out of public accounting. I just wanted to reach out and see if you had anything in mind. Email me.’”

Brennan did, the next day. Liveli was in its infancy, and they were looking to bring somebody on for finance and accounting. “I think the fact that he saw USD on my LinkedIn and that I added ‘fellow Torero’ on my first note caught his eye,” Mauser-Jeppesen says.

Brennan remains remarkably open to engaging with students and alumni. He gets bombarded with requests to connect on Linked-In but says he’ll always accept an invitation from a Torero. Even more effective are handwritten notes.

But while he’s happy to speak by phone or squeeze you in for a coffee, make sure you have something to say before you set something up.

“I’m very busy,” he says. “It should be very easy to knock on the door and have the door opened. But make sure it’s the right time and you’re ready to have a conversation.”

Brennan’s loyalty may run deep, but it’s far from unique. Alumni often come back to campus to participate in career fairs and other events that connect them with students. They appear on expert panels, discussing topics ranging from engineering to computer science to journalism. At more than 200 alumni events worldwide every year, students interact with fellow Toreros who might hire them or otherwise help them navigate a future beyond school.

“Students love it, and we appreciate alumni coming here and giving back this way,” says Sheila Schaffzin, assistant director of employer relations and operations in the Career Development Center. “What we find is it helps the students feel more comfortable and connected with the organizations they represent.”

The appreciation is mutual. “I’ve been fortunate to stay pretty close to the university,” says Rasheed Behrooznia ’02 (BS/BA), vice president of technical product delivery at Cubic Transportation Systems. “We’ve hired quite a few students as interns, early graduates, and even more senior-level professionals.”

Illustration of figures crossing finish line“The engineers that come out of USD are high caliber. They prioritize things like ethics, sustainability and humanitarian efforts.”

Over the past seven years at Cubic, Behrooznia says he’s brought in more than 30 Toreros to fill an array of positions. “The engineers that come out of USD are really high caliber. They prioritize things like ethics, sustainability and humanitarian efforts. I think that makes a big difference in the kind of employee you get.”

Cubic tracks promising young engineering students by sponsoring some of their senior capstone projects. And Behrooznia often shares job postings with the Career Development Center, which he says has become an excellent resource as the office has grown over the past few years.

“We’ll also occasionally host a Torero Trek or participate in campus events,” he says, adding this bit of advice for young job seekers.

“Come to those, get your name front and center, and then connect with us on LinkedIn. Our school might be small with a relatively young alumni base, but the connections are pretty strong. Build them over time and they’ll be beneficial when the time comes.”

His thoughts are echoed by Kristine Duehren ’08 (BA), who started working as a server at Firehouse in Pacific Beach and quickly worked her way up through its parent company, SDCM Restaurant Group. Today, she’s a managing partner with a hand in seven restaurants across the city, and was nominated for Woman of the Year by San Diego Magazine.

“I would say networking is your best friend. See what other USD alumni are doing and reach out to them,” she says. “I haven’t had a USD alumnus personally reach out to me, but if I did, I would 100 percent go out of my way to at least get them an interview and try to place them somewhere.”

As USD’s alumni network continues to grow in size and influence, its young beneficiaries are already starting to pay it back.

At Salesforce, Annie Powers, who’d been helped by Aaron Blumenkranz, did the same for another graduate who found her on LinkedIn.

“I trained her for the interview, what to say, what they’re looking for, and I referred her internally as well,” Powers says.

“She got the position, and now she’s been transferred to Singapore. I got to help out another Torero. It’s really special when you can do that.” Powers also recently learned that her team manager is a Torero too. “I’ve met other alumni at Salesforce as well.” she says. “We are everywhere.” — Karen Gross

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