Career Services on task with conference, initiative
Story by Rick Vacek
Photos by Darryl Webb
GCU News Bureau
The impact and the reach of the Career Services department at Grand Canyon University keeps expanding, in more ways than one.
For the first time, the department was host on Thursday to the Arizona Statewide Career Services Conference, which brings together 80 professionals who work at colleges and universities across the state.
That alone was significant, but even more impactful for students will be the assimilation this fall of Career Services into every college at GCU. Right from the start of the students’ first year, Career Services will be introduced through all university success classes via the department’s career-assessment tool, Career Compass. Students will be required to complete the assessment and learn how to utilize the results to research career paths that will fit them well. The goal is to have a dedicated adviser in every college.
“We really want to make sure that the students are prepared not just academically, but also spiritually, socially and professionally,” Career Services adviser Marette Hahn said. “Yes, doing well in academics is fantastic, but just a 4.0 isn’t going to get you the job. So we want to make sure that throughout the entire time they’re here, they’re learning those really crucial skills for professional development to make sure they’re ready to go out and get that first job.”
Beyond the classroom, Career Services can accomplish that goal with mock interviews, resumé reviews and helping students and alumni find new jobs or new careers. Career Services also manages the hiring process for all student workers on campus, a number that is expected to reach 3,000 in the 2016-17 academic year.
“We know that it’s the soft skills that are important, and sometimes it’s hard to learn them in the classroom,” said Jacqueline Smith, the Career Services director. “Working on campus is a great way for students to practice and get experience with all the soft skills — the networking, the eye contact, coming to work on time, and knowing what it’s like to work on a team before they graduate.”
Hahn said, “Students who have been student workers here at GCU, they’re more professionally prepared at graduation. When GCU wants to hire our alumni, even our hiring managers make comments about how professional they already are, being 21, 22, 23. Just having that real-life experience and some of that coaching along the way has already made them prepared, so we see it already and we want to extend it to everyone.”
Career Services’ goal is to never have a student walk in two weeks before commencement and ask for a resumé review. That’s too late.
“I think if they see us as a resource and understand all of our services and what we bring to the table, they’re going to utilize us,” Smith said. “Our services are free for a lifetime. If they’re alums and they’re out five or 10 years and are thinking about a career change, they’ll feel comfortable coming back to us, and hopefully they’ll stay connected.”
Staying connected was the aim of the state conference. Its theme was iMPACT, iNFLUENCE, iNSPIRE, and it had the right keynote speaker to get it off to an inspirational start — Dr. Deb Wade, GCU’s vice president of psychological and counseling services, who in her inimitable DebWade-ian style gave attendees a variety of ways to, as she put it, turn students into champions.
Wade started her presentation with a hilarious “Gotta Love Millennials” video by Micah Tyler, sung to the tune of “Life Goes On.” She then spent the remainder of the time sharing the psychology behind what students are facing and how professionals can better get through to them.
“I just come in and talk about my field and what I’m interested in, which is psychology, and how that affects everything we do,” she said. “So, really, it’s using what I know to help them be better at what they do, and they also help me be better at what I do.”
Smith said people at the conference were coming to her afterward to say how much they enjoyed Wade’s talk.
“She definitely hit all the points of things we want to do as Career Services professionals,” Smith said. “She was very inspiring, and she gave us some really key things to think about when we’re in front of our students. She’s very passionate about what she does, so that’s why we wanted to highlight her skill and her passion.
“We’re all one big family, and we’re helping students from different perspectives. She’s there to encourage and inspire students, and so are we.”
Wade works mainly with athletes, and she said they routinely come to her late in their college career to start talking about jobs that are outside athletics.
“They start coming in and saying things, like, ‘I’ve been an athlete since I was 5 years old. I always thought I would go on professionally. That may not happen. I’ve got to start thinking about a career, and I don’t have a clue what I’m going to do. I’m lost and I’m worried and I’m scared, and what do I do now? I’ve always been defined as an athlete,’” she said.
“It comes up a lot. I send them to Career Services and say, ‘You’re going to feel warmth and welcome and you’re going to get tools, you’re going to get fed, you’re going to feel good about it and we’re going to continue to talk about what’s next for you.’”
The conference’s other keynote speaker was Sheri Smith, CEO and founder of Indigo Project, which helps students understand their communication styles and identify their strengths.
There also were workshops featuring the partnership between Career Services and Enrollment, the integration of Career Services into the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) curriculum and the Honors College, and the successful recruiting program of Enterprise Rent-A-Car, which has hired a multitude of GCU students.
Now that the conference is behind them, the Career Services staff members at GCU can go back to focusing on how the new setup will affect the department. She can’t wait.
“When we get in the classroom when they’re a freshman, we start questioning them and they’ve got a chance to really think about what they want to do,” Smith said.
Hahn’s take: “They cannot leave without knowing there’s a Career Services department.”
With more reach comes more impact. And that’s Job One for Career Services.
Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or firstname.lastname@example.org.