By Jim Sabataso

CASTLETON — A new speaker series aims to share professional career advice for navigating the coronavirus pandemic.

The Rutland Rising Job Talk series is being organized by Brandon resident Michael Shank in partnership with Castleton University.

The free series, which launches at noon Friday, will run every Friday through Nov. 20. Talks will be delivered via Zoom.

Shank is communications director for the Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance and has worked extensively in the world of environmental and climate policy. He’s also an adjunct professor at the New York University Center for Global Affairs and the George Mason University Carter School for Peace and Conflict Resolution.

“I’m always thinking about educational opportunities for local students,” Shank said Tuesday. “This year has hit everyone hard, obviously, and I’m seeing a lot of anxiety among students in terms of the job market.”

While the series is geared toward college students, specifically those in Rutland County, Shank said it is open to all. In particular, he encouraged high school students to check it out.

Shank has leveraged his near and far connections to put together a slate of speakers representing the public and private sectors, including individuals who have worked in Congress, the State Department, the Defense Department, the United Nations, Google, Boeing and various nonprofit organizations.

“I tried to pick speakers who were dynamic and interesting, because on Zoom, you have to keep people’s attention,” he said. “And so I asked friends and colleagues that I knew could keep the attention virtually.”

Friday’s speaker will be Jillian Bonnardeaux, a foreign service officer with the State Department, who will deliver “Foreign Service 101: How to Be a Diplomat and Represent America Abroad.”

On Sept. 25, former U.S. Congressman Michael Honda and former Vermont Secretary of Education Rebecca Holcombe will lead “How to Advocate for Equity as an Educator and Policymaker.”

Future talks will feature an engineer from Google, a representative from the Government Accountability Project and an adviser from International Alert, a global peacebuilding organization.

The talks will be about an hour long and include an opportunity for audience questions and discussion.

Shank he said he is especially excited about the talks focused on public service.

“I’m very interested in promoting public service as much as possible,” he said. “I just think we need more new energy, new ideas, new problem solving, new solutions in that space. And I think the younger generation represents some of the cutting-edge thinking in terms of where we should go so I really want their input in that space.”

“Now more than ever, I want Vermont represented internationally,” Shank said, explaining that he imagines a future where students from Rutland County are working as ambassadors in the Foreign Service or at the State Department representing the government abroad.

Renée Beaupre White, director of Career Services at Castleton, said the talks promise to be “informative and engaging.”

“I’m hoping that students who participate leave with not only great information, but also are hopeful about their careers and their futures,” she said.

She added that faculty members are encouraging students to attend.

Jessica Duncan, director of experiential learning and workplace readiness at CU, called it an “amazing opportunity for (students) to access this information and see themselves in these careers.”

“It also creates very large access to some incredible individuals that we might not typically see here on campus,” she said. “These are change makers.”

Shank said he understands that area students are feeling anxious about the future, but he wants them to know that there are educators “who really care deeply about their future.”

He wants those kids to know that there are people who’ve got their back.

“We’re here to help as educators and as professionals who have landed careers. How do we help the next generation do the same?”

Shank said, moving forward, he wants to add a mentoring and tutoring component to further support students.

“What I want to come out of these sessions and series is students who are interested — they want to know more, they’re reaching out to the speakers, the speakers are showing them the way opening doors,” he said.

Visit to register for the talks.