Beyond Career Fairs
A new location and leadership elevate Career Services at Saint Louis University.
A little more than a decade ago, researchers found approximately 75% of college freshmen reported getting a good job was a “very important” factor in their decision to attend college. Today, that percentage exceeds 90%.
“With the rising cost of tuition, students and parents are asking, ‘What is the return on my investment?’” said Jeffery L. Jackson, Saint Louis University’s new associate provost for career development. “They want to know what degree they can earn and what they can do with it.”
Jackson said the expectation of having a job upon graduation and the call for greater accountability from accrediting institutions has led to a paradigm shift in higher education regarding career services. Universities recognize the value of career services engaging more fully with students, employers, faculty and alumni to develop career-ready graduates. Career centers are transitioning from standing alone to standing with members from student and academic affairs to offer services.
Jackson, who joined SLU this past summer to lead the reorganization of career services, said the University took a giant step toward demonstrating its commitment to helping students find their purpose by relocating the Career Services Center (CSC) from the third floor of Busch Student Center to prime real estate in the heart of campus. The CSC’s new space is on the first floor of Griesedieck Hall, once home to the dining hall. Natural light floods a spacious reception area filled with bright green and blue chairs. Group workstations, counselor offices, a conference room and six interview rooms line the space.
Even with this inviting presence, Jackson is not waiting for students to cross the threshold. He is pursuing them. He wants the CSC to become a significant element of the student experience rather than a resource they seek out as they approach graduation. He and his staff are identifying student touchpoints, such as the admission office and residential life, where the CSC can engage with students from day one. His staff is providing talking points to residence hall directors, and the center is now a stop on campus tours.
“It’s not hocus-pocus,” he said. “We just want to get our story to students so they can take advantage of our services.”
While the center continues to offer traditional support, such as counseling, résumé assistance and career fairs, Jackson said the center will launch new initiatives designed to reach Generation Z. This includes greater use of technology and a higher profile on the web and social media to showcase the CSC’s approachability and relevance.
“The current crop of students is bombarded with distractions,” he said. “Their schedules are packed. They may not be thinking about four years from now, which is why we have to create intentional opportunities for them to have their epiphanies.”
Jackson and his staff are planning initiatives to reach still-deciding students, promoting internships and mentorships, and expanding collaborations with employers. His primary emphasis, however, is customizing career-decision programs for students.
“The one-size-fits-all model is outdated,” said Jackson, who revitalized careers services at Bowling Green State University and Indiana University South Bend before joining SLU. “Department and student needs are varied. The introverted student may not come to a career fair but will come to a small, industry-specific alumni event. A chemistry professor may not think his students would benefit from an etiquette dinner but would benefit from a discussion panel. We’re here to make that happen.”
Perks of Membership
Jackson also has plans to expand outreach to alumni, not only as potential mentors for students but as professionals who may be between jobs or want to change jobs.
“As far as I’m concerned, alumni have a lifetime membership to career services,” said Jackson, who is working on an alumni survey he hopes to distribute in 2020.
Educating prospective employers is another item on Jackson’s agenda.
“My generation wanted job security,” he said. “We worked hard and silently. This new crew wants more. They want feedback. They want to know how they fit into the big picture. They’re willing to take a chance on startups, which didn’t exist in my day. As part of our community outreach, we will meet with employers to help them understand how today’s graduates think and how they can attract the best candidates.”
Jackson admits changing the culture in career services is a large task and his agenda is ambitious, but he said he’ll begin by building a coalition of the willing.
“We’ll start with one student at a time, one faculty member at a time,” he said. “Once they start spreading the word about our distinct programs, they become ambassadors for our center.”
Change in the Weather
When she arrived on SLU’s campus in 1996, Diane (Davis) Devine (A&S ’00) was an undeclared freshman with no clear path. She flipped through a course catalog and landed on a map/chart analysis class offered in the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences.
“I fell in love with meteorology,” Devine said. “I could either work for the National Weather Service or be a TV meteorologist and, at 19, being on TV sounded cool.”
A “Career Decisions” course assignment required Devine to conduct an informational
interview with someone in her desired field. She made a connection with local meteorologist
who mentored Devine for four years and helped her land her first job after graduation
morning meteorologist for a Clarksburg, West Virginia, television station.
Then 9/11 happened.
“I just wanted to come home,” she said. “I was still dating my boyfriend in St. Louis, and the idea of packing up and moving to a new city every time I got a job suddenly didn’t seem as exciting as before.”
Devine returned to St. Louis in 2002 and started from scratch. The alum turned to SLU’s Career Services Center for help.
Her career counselor guided her through a personal inventory, provided resources and reading material, and suggested Devine take a variety of temporary positions to explore options.
Devine temped as an office account manager, a clerk for a construction company and
support staff in the undergraduate admissions office at Washington University in St. Louis. That position led to a full-time job and her epiphany.
“I found I was drawn to counseling and advising students,” she said. “Everything clicked
Devine pursued a master’s degree in counseling with an emphasis on career services
from the University of Missouri-St. Louis. She held positions in career services at
UMSL and in the
community college system before returning home — yet again. Devine is a career counselor in
SLU’s Career Services Center.
“It’s surreal,” she said. “I walk through the doors and imagine myself as a homesick freshman from Omaha, eating in the Griesedieck cafeteria. Now it’s my office.”
— By Marie Dilg, photos by Steve Dolan
Saint Louis University is a Catholic, Jesuit institution that values academic excellence, life-changing research, compassionate health care, and a strong commitment to faith and service. Founded in 1818, the University fosters the intellectual and character development of more than 13,000 students on campuses in St. Louis and Madrid, Spain. Building on a legacy of now more than 200 years, Saint Louis University continues to move forward with an unwavering commitment to a higher purpose, a greater good.