Learning Happens Everywhere: The Classroom to Career Initiative

AUTHORS: from University of Texas, San Antonio

  • Heather J. Shipley Ph.D., Senior Vice Provost of Academic Affairs and Dean of University College

  • Ginnifer Cie Gee, Ed.D, Associate Vice Provost of Career-Engaged Learning

  • Kimberly Andrews Espy, Ph.D. Provost and Senior Vice President of Academic Affairs



What does a career ready graduate look like?

Career ready is more than a cap, gown, and diploma, it is about deepening student learning experiences and career success for the first job and beyond. Marketable skills, which are critical for career success, are not only developed through experiential learning but also through a student’s college journey. As we analyzed the needs of our post-graduates we asked ourselves if we, as a university, were doing enough to prepare for their career (or professional school). We realized that even if students have mastered these skills, many do not realize it, nor have the ability to connect their skills and talents with job specific requirements. Through the Classroom to Career (C2C) Initiative, it was identified that an experiential learning culture is needed across campus to cultivate these connections. This analysis led us to develop an integrated campus-wide framework for expanding and enhancing experiential learning opportunities for UTSA students to better prepare them post-graduation.


Experiential learning can foster career readiness. According to the Association for Experiential Education (2013), experiential education applies to multiple methodologies in which learners are engaged in direct experience. These opportunities have a significant impact on learning and career readiness (NACE, 2019). For example, our students who participate in experiences, develop a fuller understanding of practical applications for their classroom learning, explore career interests prior to graduation, gain marketable skills, and acquire real-world experiences to build a resume, which in turn increases their career readiness and self-efficacy.


The career ready graduate is able to close the gap between higher education and career through experiential learning that develops marketable skills needed for a successful transition.


This is illustrated through student testimonials:


“I gained many critical experiences, ranging from leadership and management to participating in each role within the warehouse. I also enjoyed how my manager gave me creative freedom to create the warehouse map. Being free to create and gaining real-world experience motivates me to finish my last two semesters strong because I have an opportunity waiting for me in the end.” – Michael (Mechanical Engineering Major)


“I’ve learned how to navigate important accounting programs that most Fortune 500 companies use, and I learned about the process of filing a quarterly report from start to finish. My boss was a huge inspiration to me during my internship: he helped me realize I would like to be a financial manager one day, eventually working my way up to a Vice President of a finance department.” Brooke (Finance Major)


“My extraordinary internship experience brought me a step closer to my dream job of having a creative agency one day. I realized that I want to keep going with my career as a graphic designer in the world of entrepreneurship. I enjoy the fast-paced environment, the work, and the multiple hats you have to wear in the startup world.” –Ivan (Communications)


In the 2018 NSSE survey, 34% of undergraduate students stated they participated in experiential learning. However, 75% of first year students said that they planned to pursue these opportunities while at UTSA, indicating a high level of student interest in this area. Hands on experience in real world situations like internships, service learning, undergraduate research, and study abroad create a connection from the academic learning to real life application which increases the student’s marketability and self-efficacy but also helps them experience applied learning, ah-ha moments, skills, etc. In order to translate these experiences into career readiness, students have to be able to articulate their experiences into marketable skills. In a survey of employers, articulation of marketable skills was noted as needing improvement. It was clear that more classroom to career connections were needed for the majority of our population.


What is best for our student population?

Consideration of UTSA’s undergraduate population was a large contributor to our C2C Initiative. We are a Hispanic-serving institution (~56% Hispanic students), about 70% of our students are eligible for financial aid, about 50% are Pell eligible, and about 55% of our undergraduates identify as first-generation college students. Many of our students work, therefore, finding time to include coursework and outside experiential learning (often unpaid) is difficult logistically and financially. Based on the background and needs of our student population, it is important we provide a variety of opportunities. For example, in our Rowdy Corp program, work-study eligible students conduct their work-study job in a non-profit or government organization in the city. This type of signature learning experience directly aligns with UTSA’s vision of exemplifying an urban-serving, Hispanic-thriving discovery enterprise. By re-imagining UTSA’s career-engaged learning structure, the more we can interweave students’ classroom learning with real-world applications and the better positioned our students will be to pursue their career goals.


Three ways we are creating a career-engaged culture.


Structural

Moving into the second year of our Classroom 2 Career initiative we have focused on creating the Career-Engaged Learning unit under Academic Affairs, which houses our career center, undergraduate research office, service learning office, pre-professional office, and entrepreneurship and innovation office overseen by an associate vice provost. Previously, these offices were in different Vice President areas across campus and overseen by various individuals. In addition, an external review on our career center was conducted to understand the overall career culture on campus and provide a vision for career education on campus. By merging these areas together, it removes the silos that existed, creates a hub where career related activities are focused and can better collaborate with the academic colleges and other units on campus. This restructuring has increased dialog and intentionality on campus about experiential learning and formed stronger collaborations that sustain and increase these opportunities for our students.


Academic

We have identified 3-5 marketable skills for each academic program. Students acquire these skills through the degree program curriculum, general education courses, and the experiential learning experiences they participate in. This includes development of non-credit and credit courses with structured reflection as an avenue to self-awareness related to professionalism and work ethic to improve ability to connect experience to future professional goals. These efforts and strategies have led to the foundation of prioritization, coordinated career practices, better collaboration and connectivity, and scaling of services to provide the basis for our integrated career campus network. In addition, the overall initiative will provide direct benefit to our students; develop a diverse career workforce, and our community.


Community

Intense efforts have started to revitalize existing community employer partnerships as well as to create new ones. With the structural changes integrating all the areas of Career Engaged Learning, we are able to fold in faculty connections and plug them up with the career center and research. Instead of a silo approach, we are creating an ecosystem to nurture all the elements needed in the career ready model for our students. Though we are in the early stages of this process, these changes have allowed us to increase engagement with faculty and community partners folding them into our existing programs and creating opportunities to discover new experiences we can develop for our students.



Dr. Heather J. Shipley

Senior Vice Provost of Academic Affairs and Dean of the University College

Dr. Heather J. Shipley is the Senior Vice Provost of Academic Affairs and Dean of the University College and Burzik Professor in Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Texas at San Antonio. She holds a BS degree in Chemistry from Baylor University, Waco, Texas and a MS and Ph.D. in Environmental Engineering from Rice University, Houston, Texas. Dr. Shipley’s research interests and expertise are in water chemistry, water treatment, and environmental nanotechnology. Dr. Shipley is committed to undergraduate education and mentoring underrepresented groups at the undergraduate and graduate level. She is involved in and a member of several professional organizations such as the American Chemical Society (ACS), Association of Environmental Engineering & Science Professors (AEESP), American Society of Engineering Education (ASEE) and has received several prestigious teaching and research awards.



Ginnifer Cie Gee, Ed.D

Associate Vice Provost of Career-Engaged Learning

Dr. Cié Gee currently serves as the Associate Vice Provost for Career-Engaged Learning and a clinical faculty member at the University of Texas San Antonio.  Prior to this role, she held various positions in Enrollment Management including strategic planning, admissions, and registrar.    Outside UTSA, she is active in various professional organizations and served as the President of SACRAO in 2019. Cié is an award winning presenter and frequent contributor to various higher education publications. She holds a Bachelor and Master of Arts in Interpersonal Communication, a Doctorate in Educational Leadership, and AACRAO Strategic Enrollment Management Endorsement.



Kimberly Andrews Espy, Ph.D. Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs With nearly 25 years of experience in higher education, Kimberly Andrews Espy has earned a national reputation for helping institutions achieve transformative results in academic and student success, faculty and staff development and university-community collaborations. As UTSA’s chief academic officer, she oversees nine colleges, the Graduate School, international programs, libraries, strategic enrollment, student affairs, in addition to other offices that support faculty and students and advance institutional success. Prior to joining UTSA, Dr. Espy was senior vice president for research at the University of Arizona and previously served as vice president for research and innovation and dean of the Graduate School at the University of Oregon. A translational clinical neuroscientist, Dr. Espy has earned more than $18 million in funding to study how young children control their attention to promote learning, academic and health outcomes. She is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Psychological Association.

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