Central to the shift in how colleges and universities are addressing career development is greater connectivity and collaboration between stakeholders and offices on campus. At the University of Utah, Career Services is working in conjunction with academic partners and advisors to engage students in the career preparation process earlier and ultimately drive increased opportunities tied to their respective degrees.
Universal Pain Points Igniting Collaboration in Career Services
University of Utah Associate Director Kelly Dries, as well as fellow career coaches Emily McCoy-Marley and Eric Bloomquist, recognize many institutions across the country are focusing on aligning departments around a joint mission due to shared struggles.
Like many career services offices across the country, University of Utah has to meet the challenge of addressing the career needs of over 30,000 students with a staff of 10 career coaches. In addition, Bloomquist sites a lack of student engagement with Career Services and attendance at events as a major problem they sought to solve in connecting with faculty.
“One of our pain points was a lack of awareness — students, faculty and even some staff not totally understanding what we do in Career Services or what our role is,” McCoy-Marley added.
As the Salt Lake City institution set out to supplement Career Services’ efforts, it found a path to a solution based on its own student surveys.
“Last year, we reviewed all of the surveys we conduct with students, and by and large the majority of students find out about career services and our offerings through their academic advisors,” Bloomquist noted. “So, by way of increasing academic advisors’ knowledge of what we do, our hope was that then more academic advisors would share this with students.
Developing Alliances with Academic Partners
The first step in developing a bond between Career Services and academic partners was to make fostering relationships with academic departments part of Dries’ formal responsibilities in her job description.
In dedicating herself to that initiative, Dries set out to hold meetings with the dean of each individual college to share first-destination outcomes from the previous year. From there, a Career Alliance was created to bring deans together to discuss overall career readiness of University of Utah students.
“We created programming for our academic advisors surrounding our office’s resources and knowledge areas — using UCareerPath, enhancing their LinkedIn profile — all in an effort to help them understand how we can help students, which helped create their buy-in for what we do in Career Services,” Dries explained. “We’re also striving to help our academic partners facilitate these conversations with students on the importance of utilizing our office.”
Programming includes an annual Academic Partner Open Houses where Career Services share with academic advisors the programming and initiatives they are focusing on in the coming year. Academic partners are also included in the hiring process when Career Services is vetting career coaches in order to encourage additional buy-in and engagement with staff once they are hired.
Dries, McCoy-Marley, Bloomquist and the rest of Career Services have also found a way to involve students in galvanizing the relationship with their academic counterparts. Through a faculty recognition program, students nominate faculty champions. Those nominated represent faculty partners already engaging students in career preparation that Career Services can partner with.
Joint Benefits for Career Services and Faculty
University of Utah Career Services is already experiencing positive returns in developing stronger relationships with faculty.
According to Bloomquist, he’s able to make much more of an impact because academic partnerships have freed up his time for more productive coaching conversations with students. No longer is he solely responsible for planning and executing career programs, as faculty have taken on ownership in organizing events and consulting with Bloomquist on his ideas.
Faculty have also contributed financially in order to expand Career Services programs, such as Career Treks. Previously, these employer site visits occurred solely in the Salt Lake City area. McCoy-Marley, though, worked to develop out-of-state relationships with employers who could host these visits. The final hurdle in expanding the program was gaining the proper funding. In order to make the out-of-state visits a possibility, the College of Fine Arts matched Career Services funding.
“We’ve really been able to maximize what we’ve been able to do with our dollars by working together with faculty on the same goal,” Bloomquist states.
And Career Services is returning that favor by supporting academic advisors in their duties. As time is always a limited commodity, career coaches can ease the burden academic advisors deal with in terms of balancing their day-to-day responsibilities while meeting with students regarding career development. Armed with the awareness of understanding Career Services’ value, advisors can refer students their way and shift their focus to planning curriculum and aiding students with their academics.
Dries also pointed out that a major goal of Career Services is to be present in classrooms on campus.
“Having a captive audience of 30 to 100 students at once is more effective and efficient. There are times when faculty get sick or they might have to present research at a conference, so we made it our goal to let them know that in those instances when they can’t teach, we could come in and teach their class,” she explained further. “Whether it is a presentation on resumes, what you could do with a degree in History, interviewing, or job searching, we have found it incredibly helpful to have these opportunities to present in the classroom.”
In the past year, Career Services has doubled their presence in the classroom.
Collaboratively Creating Best-Possible Student Outcomes
The desired result now stemming from the partnership between Career Services and faculty is that students are ready to discuss and explore their career pursuits early in their college experience.
“Now more than ever, students want to have meaningful work,” Bloomquist said. “By creating more collaborative programming early, students are able to identify what is meaningful to them sooner and reflect on that, rather than approach this April of their senior year and say, ‘I need help getting a job.’”
Another benefit for students regarding their career prospects, is that they’re gaining employment relative to their degree of study. Through collaboration with academic departments, Career Services is able to host programming involving employers specific to particular degrees and areas of study. As a result, students network with individuals working in their field of interest.
“We are able to connect students with opportunities, community members and employers that maybe they haven’t considered yet,” Bloomquist said. “It’s important to drive positive outcomes to different degree programs.”
Dries explains the goal is to create a culture at University of Utah where multiple individuals are asking students what they what to accomplish when they leave the university. Then, as a group, staff and faculty work together to facilitate students’ career ideals in order to ensure students know what resources Career Services offers to help them reach their goals.
“The criticalness of students engaging in conversations around their careers and future goals is the job of the entire institution, and that is what we are striving to accomplish at the University of Utah.” Dries said.