Business Matters

At Mason, Personal Touch Builds Pipeline to Student Internships, Jobs

Illustration by Marcia Staimer
Illustration by Marcia Staimer



By Damian Cristodero

When Christian Adounvo makes an acquaintance, it’s not with the intent of landing a job. Sometimes it just works out that way.

Through a friendship built in a George Mason University math class, Adounvo said he got an internship as a project development engineer at Intel. Through his relationship with Linda Kovac, director of advancement and alumni relations at George Mason’s Volgenau School of Engineering, he landed an internship as a systems engineer at CACI.

And when a recruiter at Northrop Grumman was hunting for job candidates, she recommended Adounvo, whom she had met at a National Society of Black Engineers convention. That resulted in his position of the past two years: penetration tester in software development.

Adounvo, 26, earned a BS in computer engineering from Mason in 2013 and plans to graduate in 2016 with a master’s in management of secure information systems. His journey demonstrates how networking and Mason’s strong relationships with top-tier businesses facilitate student opportunities for internships and jobs.

“Start as early as possible,” Adounvo said of networking. “Attend conferences, meet people, keep in touch with those contacts you make, and foster those relationships.”

Mason embraces networking on an institutional scale. Patriot alumni have helped students get a foot in the door at places such as Google, NASA, and Amazon.

University Career Services and Alumni Affairs encourage alumni business owners, executives, and recruiters to participate in networking events or in Mason’s Career Link, where experiences and career advice are shared. There also is Mason’s Employer Advisory Board, where employers and university staff discuss recruiting issues.

Student groups invite alumni to networking events. One group recently visited MetroStar, an IT consulting firm owned by Mason grad Ali Manouchehri, BA Philosophy ’99. Manouchehri said about 30 percent of the 200 employees in his two Reston, Virginia, companies are from his alma mater.

“Even with all the technology that exists for finding employment, networks of contacts are still often the best way to let people know you are looking for work,” said Robert Youmans, head of UX research for streams, photos, and sharing at Google.

Mason PhD psychology student Melissa Smith took two classes with Youmans, who from 2011 to 2014 was a professor of human factors and applied cognition in the Psychology Department at Mason. They stayed in touch after Youmans moved to Google. He encouraged her to apply there for an internship as a user experience researcher, which she got.

Adounvo got his internship at CACI after Kovac recommended him to Deb Dunie, at the time CACI’s chief technology officer.

“I found the folks coming out of Mason to be of terrific quality,” said Dunie, now retired but still a member of the Volgenau School’s advisory board.

“Our students are fortunate,” Kovac said. “They meet a lot of folks from industry in a lot of different ways.”

Including through Adounvo, who often speaks about networking to undergraduate classes at Mason and is always looking for talent to recommend to Grumman.

“The sooner you start [networking] the better, so that by the time you graduate you’ve had two or three years building relationships,” he said. “That opens a lot of doors.”