Capstone Project Panel: 5 Alumni Share their Experiences with the Class of 2021

Author: Danielle Koterbay

Capstone Panel with ESTEEM AlumniCapstone Panel with ESTEEM Alumni

Even though the Fall Semester has ended, ESTEEM staff and faculty are still dedicated to providing ESTEEM students with helpful resources for Capstone projects that will continue throughout the winter break as well as for future career pursuits. On December 3, 44 ESTEEM students and staff gathered virtually to hear from five ESTEEM alumni -- Whitney Bouey ‘19, Sam Krause ‘18, Susie Lira-Gonzalez ‘19, Natalie May ‘18, and Nic Zenker ‘18, who all shared their personal experiences in ESTEEM and provided advice on how to make the most of the Capstone experience and how to best leverage those helpful learning experiences in future career endeavors.

Whitney Bouey attended LSU as an undergraduate and studied Industrial Mechanical Engineering. Her capstone project was with SRAM, a leading bicycle component manufacturer based in Chicago, IL. After ESTEEM, she has continued her work with SRAM, serving as a product manager in their Chicago office. 

Sam Krause attended Notre Dame as an undergraduate and studied Philosophy. Before coming to ESTEEM, Sam received his J.D. at Georgetown University and practiced law. Desiring to immerse himself in innovation, Sam joined ESTEEM, where his capstone project was with KSM Technology Partners, LLC working to create a launch strategy for a B2B SaaS product. Sam is currently working as a Product Innovation Analyst for Project Management Institute. 

Susie Lira-Gonzalez attended Gonzaga University as an undergraduate and studied Mechanical Engineering. Her capstone project was with Avanade, a joint venture between Accenture and Microsoft that seeks to “help transform clients’ workplaces to unlock value in the workplace.” After reflecting on what she would like to pursue for a future career, she continued with Avanade as a Consultant and now serves as a Manager for Avanade in Denver, Colorado.

Natalie May attended John Carroll University as an undergraduate and studied Biochemistry. Her capstone project was with a confidential Food & Beverage Industry Startup Venture, where she served as a Strategic Analyst. After ESTEEM, Natalie joined Stackline, which is a retail intelligence and software company based in Seattle.  

Nic Zenker attended Notre Dame as an undergraduate and studied Neuroscience & Behavior. His capstone project was with AddEvent, Inc., an early-stage technology company, that creates powerful calendar management and marketing solutions. After ESTEEM, Nic has continued with AddEvent where he serves as the COO in the heart of Silicon Valley to oversee daily operations while working to develop and implement effective growth strategies and processes. 

Current ESTEEM Students in the Class of 2021 are nearing the halfway point on their capstone projects. Over this winter break, students are eagerly staying in touch with their capstone sponsors, while also working to further various capstone deliverables: market analysis, draft of a launch strategy, and the main component: completing at least fifty customer validation interviews. The ESTEEM alums are quite familiar with this process, so for the panel, they were mainly focused on providing wisdom and guidance for the Capstone as well as for future career discernment. 

Some highlights from the panel:

Whitney focused on the importance of managing capstone relationships effectively, especially with the project company sponsor. Establishing expectations and guidelines early on best, since sponsors and company employees understandably have a lot on their minds. ESTEEM students can be successful if they don’t let things slip through the cracks (taking charge and holding individuals accountable in an appropriate manner). Susie covered time management within the capstone realm, but also pivoted to describing the ESTEEM program overall. She mentioned how there is a good chance an ESTEEM student is busy with the stuff that they genuinely enjoy doing, but in order to fully “be present” and successfully achieve time management, it is important to establish one’s core values (and have this be a guiding principle for extracurriculars, a future career, etc.), since it truly is impossible to “say yes” to everything. 

Sam highlighted the importance of cherishing his ESTEEM education. ESTEEM exposed him to innovation in a way that allowed him to filter through future job opportunities that truly fit his developed skills and discovered interests. Natalie emphasized how ESTEEM truly helped her develop her soft skills. Through side projects and her capstone experience, she established a level of confidence and ambition that allowed her to excel in job interviews. From his personal experience with AddEvent, Nic expressed the importance of taking on grunt work in startups, since it reveals how passionate one can be about an opportunity as well as the importance of taking initiative. 

Overall, the current ESTEEM cohort is very grateful for the ESTEEM alum who spoke on this panel, as well as the knowledgeable ESTEEM alum cohort as a whole. It is always wonderful to receive guidance regarding how to succeed with one’s capstone project, as well as learn helpful tips when contemplating how to best position one’s skills (acquired in ESTEEM and beyond) for a future career, whether in an early startup or a larger company.