Published On: April 24, 2023

Matt Verrilli – Contributor

Originally published 

Karen Walters, a pharmaceutical scientist, told a group of area college students Thursday that networking is key throughout your career.


Before networking and meeting people who were part of her industry, Walters had no idea about the pharmaceutical research field. Once she did, it opened up job opportunities, and she has remained in the industry for over two decades.

Walters was among several speakers at a “Connecting Students and Professionals of Color” event, sponsored by BioPath, at Southern Connecticut State University Thursday.

She was joined by Senior Engineer Director, R&D at Medtronic Richard Simpson, Alexion research scientist Melissa Lasaro, cybersecurity graduate student from SCSU Donte Brooks, and senior pre-med biology student Melanie Burgos.

The event was geared toward helping students connect and network with other students and professionals in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields.

BioPath began in 2015 after a memorandum of understanding between the city of New Haven and Southern. Through events such as Thursday’s panel, other networking events, workshops and individual coaching, students get skill development opportunities and increased access to career opportunities.

Opening remarks were made by SCSU president Joe Bertolino and the CEO of Gateway Community College William Brown to students from Southern, Gateway and other local schools, as well as area professionals.

Not having any Latinx influences was a big reason Burgos felt she may not belong in the STEM field. When she first got to Southern, she established the Latinx in STEM club to help students in the Latinx community pursue careers in STEM. Burgos said that as time went on, she saw more people of color coming into the STEM field.

“I saw that change and said, ‘Okay, I want to keep that change going at Southern’,” she said.

The panelists agreed that no matter the opportunity, you must be persistent and learn to continuously advocate for yourself. Brown and Simpson urged students to know their personal stories, and be able to communicate those stories to prospective employers.

“If you’re not willing to bring something to the table, do not expect to be offered a seat at the table,” said Walters.

Simpson said that when hiring candidates for positions, he never looks at the GPA, or where the applicant attended school, but rather at their attitude and experiences they had during college, such as internships.

People of color may not always feel they are 100% qualified for an opportunity, Walters said.

Walters noted that struggles are important, and they will only make you stronger so you will be able to take on the next opportunity.

Brooks said you should not be afraid to ask for an opportunity and get told “no.” Brooks told attendees to never attach their value to the value that someone else ascribes to them.