Virtual Speed Networking event allows students and alumni to connect

A Virtual Speed Networking event sponsored by Newhouse NYC provided the program’s 17 students with an opportunity to connect with 16 Syracuse University alumni for a series of six-minute meetings.   

The evening served as a culminating event for the Newhouse NYC program, which was offered in a remote format for the fall semester due to COVID-19.   

Andrew Siciliano ‘96 (left), sports broadcaster at NFL Network and DIRECTV’s Red Zone, and Carter Griffin, senior broadcast and digital journalism major.

“I’m looking forward to the confidence boost the students get coming out of this event,” said Newhouse NYC program adviser Marisa Bardach Ramel ’04 prior to the event. She said she often sees students transform from being intimidated to “mastering connection-making.” 

Cheryl Brody Franklin ’04, director of Newhouse NYC, invited alumni participants from a wide range of fields, including Andrew Siciliano ’96, sports broadcaster at NFL Network and DIRECTV’s Red Zone; Dwight Caines ’88, co-president of marketing at Universal Pictures; Deidra Maddock ’96, vice president at The Walt Disney Company; and Madina Touré G‘13, reporter at Politico. After brief introductions, the alumni opened up their virtual meeting rooms and students started their one-on-one meetings.

Katie Benson, senior graphic design major, and Alexis De Paulis ‘18, digital designer at Bandier.

At the end of the 90-minute session, the participating students and alumni expressed enthusiasm for the experience. 

“This was a blast!” Julie Kosin ’14, senior culture editor at, posted in the chat. “Blown away by the talent of these students, though not surprised.” 

Christopher Cicchiello, a junior magazine, news and digital journalism major, called it an “amazing experience that granted me the opportunity to bolster [my network] with an array of alumni so willing to help guide and mentor us.” 

After the event, students said the conversations were genuine, insightful and sometimes even  a little goofy. Natalie Dascoulias, a senior broadcast and digital journalism major, said she was surprised when her conversation with Eric Gurian ’04, president of Tina Fey’s production company Little Stranger, turned into a discussion about the culture in Cyprus after she told him she applied for a scholarship that would take her there. 

Newhouse NYC’s Virtual Speed Networking event featured 17 students and 16 alumni.

“The main thing is finding common ground,” said Eric Vilas-Boas ’12, entertainment editor at Observer Media. “You want to find something to connect you to the person you are talking to. Make it organic, fun and enjoyable.”  

Jaime Sasso ’09, producer for NBC Olympics, noted that when she was invited to the event, she thought two hours was going to be a long time, but once she completed several six-minute conversations with students, she wished she’d had longer to connect. 

Advertising senior Jiaman (Maggie) Peng agreed, writing in the Zoom chat: “I never knew six-minute calls could be so productive.”  

“We got such a positive response to this event from both students and alumni, so it makes me even more motivated to plan innovative and creative virtual events this spring,” says Franklin, who notes that even though Newhouse NYC may return to a residential format for the spring semester, social distancing will prohibit that many people to gather in one room. “An event like this would have to be virtual, and as we showed with this event, virtual is just as valuable as in-person.” 

Gina Trejo is a senior with dual majors in television, radio and film and English. This semester, as part of the Newhouse NYC semester, she is interning at Gigantic Pictures. She will graduate next month.