Faculty Engagement Strategies for Career Services


When I (Kelly) first moved into a Career Center role where I would be working heavily with faculty, a well-meaning colleague gave me a book called, Faculty Incivility: The Rise of the Academic Bully Culture and What to Do About It. I remember thinking to myself, “What in the world have I gotten myself into?” I questioned whether I was cut out to work with these intimidating faculty members I read about. I armed myself with the tools in the book, ready to sway any bully I met.

I won’t lie and tell you that these bullies didn’t exist. As I’m sure many of you have experienced, I certainly encountered my handful of academic bullies. However, I also discovered some incredible faculty allies who were instrumental partners in the success of the career center. During my time at the University of Utah’s Career & Professional Development Center, I had the pleasure of collaborating in depth with one of those individuals—Dr. Kody Powell, a University of Utah Chemical Engineering faculty member.

Below, Kody and I share three ways career centers can get faculty engaged and unveil a top 10 list for how faculty can best support their students’ career development.

How does a Career Center get faculty engaged?

1. Recognize faculty who are doing good work

KD (Kelly Dries): It is important to find your champions and let them know the work they are doing makes a difference, and it’s important to do this in a way that works at your specific institution. At the University of Utah, my job was to uncover our faculty champions on campus, and there was no better way to figure that out than to directly ask the students. We called on students to nominate faculty who they felt were making a difference in their career development. We created a committee to review nominations, and selected 20 faculty winners. This year was the 4th year of that award program, so the University of Utah has a plethora of Career Champions on campus. Kody was one of those Faculty Recognition Award winners.

KP (Kody Powell): It’s true that everyone likes getting awards and recognition. Recognition is beneficial to our careers as faculty members. Career development should be to help students and not be for the awards or recognition. But it certainly doesn’t hurt to have something to show for hard work.

When I started as faculty, I came directly from industry, so I would find myself talking about the importance of technical experience to students in class. To me, this was no big deal (and sometimes, admittedly, I was just killing time). Then one of my students in class nominated me for a Faculty Champion award. At the awards ceremony, they read my student’s nomination statement. I was touched and surprised to see how my little ramblings in class had impacted this student. That made me realize how influential I was as a professor and how easy it was to make an impact in students’ lives. This award served as a catalyst for me, and I have since tried to help our students boost their resumes and be placed in fulfilling jobs.

2. Utilize the faculty member’s expertise and connections

KP: Career centers have trained professionals with a ton of resources to help students. Faculty have domain-specific knowledge and connections. But they also have students’ attention. In my department, we’ve learned to plan simple events in conjunction with the career center. These events don’t need to be big productions. They can be very informal resume reviews where faculty, career center staff, experienced students, and/or industry representatives critique resumes.

KD: When I began my current job at the University of Redlands, I found a variety of faculty doing great work to engage students with alumni around career conversations. One faculty member planned a Career Pathways event to bring back young alumni to share their career journeys and advice, another hosted a networking event during Homecoming weekend, another held a speed networking event with alumni. The moral of the story is that great work was happening with faculty all over campus when I arrived last summer.

Rather than try to assert any authority, I offered support where I could (whether to help connect with additional alumni, be a volunteer, or help advertise), and I showed up at the events to demonstrate support. Many career centers can get in the habit of seeking ownership over anything career-related because we see that as “our expertise.” Believe me, I get it – we want to remain relevant – we want to be seen as the experts. We fear what might happen if we are not. However, by re-thinking our expertise to be facilitators of career development instead of owning it, we might enhance faculty viewing themselves as champions of this work alongside us. When good work is already happening, let it keep happening. The more partners we have joining us in this work, the better off our campuses and our students are.

3. Inspire your faculty champions to inspire their peers

KD: Because there are different politics on every campus, it’s important to learn what makes your faculty members tick. At the University of Redlands, we implemented a similar student nomination process to the University of Utah to learn who our faculty champions were but with a different end goal in mind. The 5 faculty winners from our student nomination process will become Career Fellows for the upcoming 19-20 academic year. In addition to receiving financial compensation from the Dean for earning recognition as a Career Fellow, these faculty:

  • Engage career topics within the curriculum and their syllabus,

  • Promote career education to their fellow colleagues in their department,

  • Find ways to integrate the career readiness competencies into their syllabus/classes, including the creation of career-related learning outcomes for their courses,

  • Meet monthly with the Executive Director of the Career Center and the Dean of the College of Arts & Sciences,

  • Assess the career related additions to their classes and provide a report at the end of the semester demonstrating which outcomes were achieved, and

  • Lead trainings for their peer faculty members at the completion of their fellowship.

We rely on the expertise of the faculty members and the fact that faculty listen to other faculty.

What can faculty do?

KP – Faculty are uniquely positioned to help students thrive in their career preparations. We have a captive audience multiple times per week with students anxiously trying to internalize the things we tell them. While we must be focused on educating and helping them master the subject matter, it will be for naught if they do not get the opportunity to apply these things in the real world, which means they’ll have to get a job at some point. It makes a tremendous impact for students to hear their professors telling them about the importance of getting prepped for the job market.

In my field (engineering), student must complete at least an internship or two and have some meaningful technical skills and accomplishments to list on their resume. Many students are hyper-focused on their coursework and getting high GPAs, and they are somewhat surprised to hear that a GPA alone won’t carry you. When they hear a professor telling them to focus on things other than class, and to fill their resume with relevant experience, it really sinks in.

Here is a top 10 list for how you can get career preparation on students’ radar:

  1. Have former students present about their internships (5 minutes before/after class).

  2. Offer to review students resumes and offer feedback (takes about 10 minutes/student and can be done over email).

  3. Put on very informal resume workshops (get the career center and experienced students to volunteer).

  4. Give extra credit in class for students who submit their resume and improve them throughout the semester.

  5. Plan projects and exams to not interfere with the career fair or other large career center hiring/recruiting events.

  6. Talk occasionally in class about the importance of internships and early career preparation.

  7. Help arrange networking opportunities between students and employers.

  8. Advocate for your students and recommend them to employers.

  9. Build relationships with students and ask for their help when they become alumni.

  10. If you find yourself spread too thin (as I’m sure we all do), leverage the career center, experienced students, student groups, and alumni to help.

Why does this matter?

KD: Students are attending higher education to improve their outcomes in life – to get a better job, to have a better life. Students also are facing increased pressure with the rising cost of higher education, the changing demands of jobs, and the high expectations that exist in the current workforce. Finding partners on campus who can help us engage students in conversations around careers and support the students’ career preparedness is critical now more than ever.

KP: As professors, we pride ourselves on teaching subject matter, but students also need to learn soft skills, like interpersonal communication, time management, teamwork, salesmanship, presentation skills, and adaptability. Employers expect well-rounded employees prepared for the real world. Professors need to help students understand the range of hard and soft skills necessary to succeed. We need to emphasize the importance of getting outside the classroom and getting some real-world experience. When students hear it from us, they listen.

About

Dr. Kelly Dries: As the Executive Director for the Office of Career & Professional Development at the University of Redlands, Kelly oversees the integration of career education across campus, with the goal of creating an ecosystem for career development at the University. Kelly comes to the University of Redlands from the University of Utah, where she served as associate director for counseling services and operations in the Career and Professional Development Center. In this role, Kelly supervised a team of 10 career coaches, overseeing the hiring, onboarding, and training of the career coaching team. Kelly also set the overall strategy for outreach to academic departments and senior/administration to build institutional support. Previously at the University of Utah, Kelly served as the Assistant Director for Programming and prior to that she served as a career counselor.

Prior to getting her start in Student Affairs, Kelly gained experience as an Educator in the MD Public School System, as well as a researcher at an elite Pediatric Research Institute in MD.

Dr. Kody Powell,: Assistant Professor in Chemical Engineering, University of Utah. A native of Huntington, Utah, Dr. Powell received his bachelors in chemical engineering from the University of Utah. He then earned a Ph.D. in chemical engineering from the University of Texas at Austin in 2013. He has worked for Fairchild Semiconductor in West Jordan as well as for ExxonMobil Research and Engineering in Texas. Powell’s research focuses on smart energy and manufacturing systems and using real-time data to enhance their performance. He has received grants from the National Science foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program and the University of Texas at Austin Office of Sustainability. He’s also received the Oblad Silver Medal of Excellence from the U’s Department of Chemical Engineering and the Outstanding Senior Award from the U’s chapter of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers.

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