Victor Aguilar ʼ21 grew up in Oklahoma, and as a Butler student studying in the Lacy School of Business, Detroit was not a city he had ever considered as a place to begin his career. But during fall break of his sophomore year, Aguilar participated in Butler’s Detroit Trek, a three-day program designed to expose students to internship and career opportunities in the city while networking with local Butler alumni. Aguilar participated in the Trek again the following year, and after graduating from Butler last May, he moved to Detroit to begin his career as a Finance Analyst at General Motors. 

“Without the Detroit Trek I would not have been interested in or known about Detroit at all, nor about the kind of companies that are in Detroit and the opportunities here,” Aguilar says. “It’s no understatement to say that the Trek program completely changed the direction of my career. Without the program, I wouldn’t have thought about this area, and I wouldn’t have thought about General Motors, so it’s a very special program for me. Butler University always talks about real-world experience, and that’s what makes this program so effective and so unique.”

In 2014, the Lacy School of Business began the Trek program with the Wall Street Trek to expose students to career opportunities in the finance sector in New York City. Since then, 48 students have participated in the Wall Street Trek with another 16 slated to participate this year, and many have gone on to secure internships or jobs with firms headquartered in New York City. Encouraged by the success of the Wall Street Trek, Butler’s Office of Career and Professional Success and the Office of University Advancement partnered to expand the program into other cities with active Butler alumni communities.

In 2018, thanks to a passionate group of Detroit-area alumni, the Detroit Trek began offering students an inside look at life in the Motor City. Last October, with the help of the second largest alumni community outside of Central Indiana, the program expanded once again to include a Chicago Trek. The Detroit and Chicago Treks are open to students of any major and include exposure to careers in a variety of industries and sectors in each city.

The Trek trips have been made possible through donations from local alumni. Several lead donors made significant gifts to help launch the Trek programs in each city, and over the past two years, 41 donor families have participated in Butler’s annual Day of Giving to support the Trek funds for Detroit and Chicago in particular. As a result, students pay a small participation fee to attend the Trek, and the rest of the experience, including transportation, lodging, and networking events are all paid for by Butler graduates eager to introduce current students to life in their city. Last fall, 10 students participated in the Detroit Trek and 14 made the inaugural trek to Chicago. 

“Knowing that this experience was funded by alumni donors is heartwarming,” said McKena Moore ʼ23, a Management and Information Systems major who participated in the Chicago Trek last fall. “Every alumni that I met was welcoming and was excited to meet me, and this truly made me feel part of the Butler community. I am thankful for the donors who funded this trip because it opened up doors of opportunity for me and my peers who attended.”

Along with tours of companies where Butler alumni work or have contacts, the students also participate in networking events with alumni in the area, allowing the participants an opportunity to hear about what it’s like to live and work in the city directly from fellow Bulldogs.

“My favorite part of this experience was being able to develop my networking skills,” Moore said. “I got to speak to many different Butler alumni about their journey and career paths, and the trip influenced my feelings about seeing Chicago as more than a tourist town. It was interesting to hear from alumni first hand about how much Chicago has to offer.”

Aguilar is a prime example that along with practical networking skills, the Trek program has also been effective in connecting students to internship and career opportunities. Andrew Sales ʼ85, a member of the Detroit Steering Committee who helps to organize the Trek, says the Detroit alumni community made it a goal to connect every Butler student from the Detroit area with an internship opportunity. Together, the group has identified available internship and career opportunities across the city, and the Trek provides an opportunity to showcase those potential career paths to interested students.

“There are a lot of multinational corporations that are operating in Detroit, and there are all kinds of jobs for recent graduates in those companies, so it’s not just business majors. There are some very influential people who are Butler alums in the Detroit area who are very engaged with helping students find opportunities here,” Sales says. 

Kevin McDevitt ʼ77, former Chair of the Greater Detroit Butler Community Steering Committee, says the Trek program not only exposes Butler students to opportunities in the city, but it also elevates Butler’s profile in the region and offers prominent alumni in the area a meaningful way to connect with students.

“I’m just so proud of the students at Butler who choose to take time from their fall break and make this trip,” McDevitt says. “Their presence, their demeanor, and how they engage in conversations with the employers is just outstanding. Helping students with internships and career mentoring was one of our main goals from the beginning, but the Trek has just turned out to be a win for everybody.”

Brent Sever ʼ11, Chair of the Chicago Butler Community Steering Committee, agrees. 

“We have such a great alumni base in Chicago, and having the opportunity to engage with students and hear about their career aspirations is really a highlight of the Trek for the alumni who are involved,” Sever says. “It’s rewarding when we can engage our huge professional alumni network here to connect those Butler students with jobs, and it gives the alumni a chance to connect with each other as well.” 

Sever says the Trek gives alumni a very tangible way to help Butler students, whether in person at one of the networking events during the Trek, or through financial support of the Trek program. In hopes of ensuring the Trek remains an ongoing annual opportunity for Butler students, the steering committees from each city are challenging fellow alumni to support the Trek through a dollar-for-dollar matching gift challenge on Butler’s Day of Giving, February 23-24. 

“I had such a great experience at Butler, and I’m passionate about making sure that the students who are there now have as good or even a better experience than I had,” Sever says.

Aguilar remembers the genuine alumni support was palpable to him as a student participant on the Trek, and it only became more apparent upon graduation. After securing his job at General Motors, Aguilar says it was comforting to know he would already have a network of fellow Bulldogs in the city when he arrived, making the prospect of moving to a new city much less daunting.

“Pretty early into my senior year I landed the job at General Motors, and immediately the Detroit alumni were very happy for me and were reaching out telling me to let them know as soon as I got settled and where I was living and that they wanted me to come to the alumni events, so I felt very welcomed here right from the start,” Aguilar says. “I don’t think you get the full appreciation until you go on these trips and see the passion and support from these alumni. It’s very real.”