Paying It Forward
Three recent OCC alumni help each other succeed in careers and life.
Pay it Forward, Give Back, Pass it On … all are expressions for what OCC alumni do naturally, and describe how three specific recent graduates have helped each other succeed.
When Joe Mercadante graduated from OCC in 2006, he almost immediately opened his own marketing firm. Even though he enjoyed studying Criminal Justice, the self-proclaimed “hands-on learner” picked up the experience he needed while working with another marketing business during his OCC tenure.
“I had a very good experience at OCC,” says Mercadante. “Even though I’ve never been the scholastic type, I enjoyed my coursework, the vibrant campus and the real-world experience the professors brought to my classes.”
Initially, his business, Unleash Group, Inc., worked with a variety of clients, but in 2008, Mercadante decided he wanted to make his business as recession-resistant as possible and realized that the medical professionals among his clients were not seeing the same downturn from the recession as some of his other clients. So, since 2009/2010, his niche business, catering to the marketing needs of doctors and hospitals, has been booming.
“The medical field will always be needed, and it will always need marketing help,” he says. Unleash Group provides mostly digital services for its clients — websites, landing pages, social media campaigns — with some print work.
When Kim Malony, director of Alumni and Advancement, reached out as OCC launched the first Local Alumni Network event, Mercadante agreed to participate.
“OCC believes our alumni population — a group nearly 50,000 strong — is one of the College’s finest assets,” says Malony. “It is our priority to keep our alumni engaged, not only with the College but with one another.”
During the 2019 event, Mercadante met Laura Wagner who was involved with a nearby nonprofit, Ocean’s Harbor House. She explained that the youth shelter needed some website help, and Mercadante again offered his assistance.
Wagner graduated from OCC in 2008 and continued her studies at Kean University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in marketing. Today, she teaches management and marketing at both institutions as an adjunct and works with local organizations doing strategic planning and web design through her business, Meraki Services, LLC.
“I love teaching at both schools, and I encourage my students to network whenever possible. Getting the degree is just a piece of the puzzle; networking is everything, and connections help across the board. It feels so good when I connect students, and they help each other out,” Wagner adds.
Her in-classroom encouragement really works: Wagner invited Lisa Wit, a former student at Ocean and Kean, to join her at the local alumni networking event in February 2020, and as luck and opportunity would have it, Mercadante was looking for a part-time employee.
“When I met Lisa, I liked the idea of her being local and being an OCC graduate,” he says. He hired Wit for that position, which she quickly mastered, and she has been working full-time with Mercadante and his team as Client Services Manager, managing a team of eight, for more than a year.
“You rarely meet someone who learns as quickly as Lisa,” says Mercadante. “This is all techbased thinking and isn’t easy to learn. She is programming HTML and encrypting website traffic, creating monthly reports, and doing some graphic design and content edits … serious things that she picked right up.”
For her part, Wit loves working with the Unleash team and is grateful that she changed her major while at Kean Ocean from Business Administration to Marketing, where Wagner became somewhat of a mentor. “I’m interested in attending even more events and getting more involved,” she says. “Networking is so important … as a way to meet people and learn about the community.”
“The more we, as a local business community, can provide opportunity to others and involve OCC students in our industry, and give them the tools to succeed, the more we serve everyone,” adds Mercadante.
“OCC’s Alumni Network is an incredible resource and we hope our alumni take advantage of all it has to offer” says Malony. “Whether an alum is interested in networking, professional development and career services, continuing education, arts and entertainment, or helping current students on their educational journeys, the opportunities are limitless. Once a Viking, always a Viking!”
To learn about ways to get involved with the OCC Alumni Network, email firstname.lastname@example.org.