Real World 101: BCom alumni return to UBC Sauder to show students the ropes


UBC Sauder: In Real Life (IRL) is an innovative and interactive aspect of the COMM 486M capstone course on Strategy and Decision Making. This all-day tutorial connects graduating BCom students with alumni to help prepare them for the first few years of their professional lives.


Covering a range of topics and combining stories of success and failure with practical exercises, Sauder: IRL also gives alumni an opportunity to put themselves back in students’ shoes and share what they wish they’d known before graduation.

Posted 2020-02-28

For many students, graduation is not all about the excitement of finishing university. Anxiety about what comes next is common among those who are about to navigate the professional world for the first time.

Since 2015, Sauder: IRL enables graduating BCom students the chance to connect with young, successful professionals who graduated from the same program. Focusing on what happens during the first three to five years post-graduation, alumni draw from their own professional and personal experiences to share what they wish they’d known and to ease the stress of the transition for graduating students. The course was the brainchild of UBC Sauder faculty members Jeff Kroeker and Paul Cubbon and it’s clearly resonating with both students and alumni.

“I think if students come away feeling better about the unknown and their definition of success, if we can help them feel less stressed about this transition in any way, then I would feel we were successful,” says one of the alumni facilitators, Kim Bergen (BCom ‘13), now Director of Capital Markets at Sandstorm Gold Royalties.

“We ask students at the start of term to reflect back on their BCom experiences inside and outside of the program that have shaped their skills, way of thinking and sense of self. We ask them to close the term by mapping out the next stage of their lives. Sauder: IRL provides students a chance to connect with and learn from young alumni in a unique environment,” says UBC Sauder Adjunct Professor Conor Topley, one of the COMM486M instructors.

“There’s this whole other world of learning that you’re just about to embark on, and so this is the beginning as opposed to the end of the degree. The beginning of the learning you’re going to do for the rest of your life,” says Laura Silvester (BCom ‘11), Director of Ecosystems at Hootsuite.

With all-day sessions on January 25 and February 1, two groups of graduating BCom students were able to engage with seven alumni of the program. Over the course of the day, workshops covering strategic thinking, energy management, goal-setting, and influence were led by the alumni.

The topics of each workshop change every year, depending on feedback and what the alumni feel is most important. “We learn a lot from each other, from the students, and from going through the practice of designing and putting together content every year. Because we do evolve and iterate so it’s not just static content,” Silvester explains.

The contents may change, but the same group of seven alumni return every year to facilitate the sessions. In order to ensure the content is relevant, the team is actively looking for other young alumni to bring into the fold to continue to make UBC Sauder IRL as impactful as possible.

“There’s so much that I got from UBC Sauder outside of the classroom. And most of it came from alumni, so that’s the number one reason I want to give back,” says Margaret Curran (BCom ‘11), Interim Director of Finance at MEC. “The number two reason is that I still learn a lot from students. Being out of UBC Sauder for almost 10 years now, there’s a lot you lose touch with.”

The alumni also agreed that Sauder: IRL provides an opportunity to connect in ways that aren’t possible in the classroom or in traditional networking events. “Yes, you can have guest speakers show up in a classroom. That is not what we’re doing. We’re actually leading them through an entire journey, an entire day where we, as a group, come together and say ‘How do we want students to feel at the end of this day?’” Silvester says.

“I think a big factor is just the container we create here. There’s safety and trust, where students can share things that they may not share otherwise. That allows for sincere self-examination, as opposed to trying to portray how they want others to perceive them,” says Cole Nakatani (BCom ‘11), co-founder of Hydra Labs.

For graduating students, speaking with professionals who were in their shoes not long ago helps ease the anxiety about what comes next. “It helps with the uncertainty, seeing UBC Sauder alumni who were in your situation, and seeing that they’re fine,” says fourth-year BCom student Isha Kanyal. “Everyone has a different journey. But the end goal is a job that you love.”

“The fact that our alumni network is willing to come out and spend a full day with us is amazing,” said fourth-year BCom student Katie Dempsey. “I want to be able to do that too.”

Inspired by Sauder In Real Life? If you’re a BCom graduate with insights to share and time to offer, please contact