Newswise — What’s next? That question looms in the minds of many students nearing the end of college. Now that the COVID-19 pandemic has made finding a job a little more challenging, the "what's next" question may seem even more daunting. But students at the CSU shouldn't worry. Not only does the university provide a quality education to prepare them for the workforce, but it also helps them along the path to landing a position after graduation.
“We need to meet our Graduation Initiative 2025 goals and help our students graduate, but we also need to make them aware of the job opportunities available to them in California,” says Duan Jackson, interim systemwide director for student advising initiatives at the CSU Office of the Chancellor. “I think our career services are at the forefront of informing students about new and interesting job opportunities and filling those job gaps.”
Each of the CSU’s 23 campuses works through its career center, draws on alumni networks and runs its own programs to provide career education to its students. But they can also turn to the system’s collective knowledge for how best to serve students in this way, sharing resources across campuses and receiving professional development training in software, career counseling, advising and alumni relations from the Office of the Chancellor.
Here are just some of the ways campuses are supporting students moving from college to career.
The Right Track
From résumé and cover letter development to interview prep and job searching, CSU career services play a key role in helping students enter the working world. But the pandemic required campuses to transition these offerings to the virtual space.
“Our career and advising services didn’t miss a beat when pivoting to the virtual environment,” Jackson says. “They continued offering their services, doing outreach, conducting workshops and providing interview and résumé support—and they’re serving even more students than before.”
The California State University Channel Islands Career Development and Alumni Engagement team, for example, converted workshops usually conducted in person into prerecorded micro-lectures, including interactive videos, and opened virtual career counseling appointments. They also introduced an artificial intelligence software that provides feedback on résumés and mock interviews—though they had already planned to acquire the program before the pandemic.
Another hurdle was adapting career fairs to a virtual format. In line with other campuses, CSUCI adopted a virtual career fair software that allowed students to sign up for one-on-one or small-group video sessions with recruiters and share their résumés in advance of the meeting.
“There were a lot of opportunities for advanced preparation among our candidates. It put them in a position where … they were doing an actual informal interview because the employer already knew who they were, their skill set, their values and strengths and what they could potentially bring to the organization,” says CSUCI Director of Career Development and Alumni Engagement Amanda Carpenter, Ed.D. “The time spent with that employer was a lot more meaningful than an in-person fair in the sense that they weren't on the introduction level.”
Dr. Carpenter expects the campus will need to continue doing a hybrid career fair that incorporates the virtual space, because it allows recruiters outside the region to participate more easily.
With nearly four million living alumni, the CSU’s students and recent graduates have an extensive alumni network on which to rely. One way campuses harness this resource is by bringing in alumni to share career advice with students, like CSUCI’s Dolphin PodTalks or California State University, Bakersfield’s Alumni Rising 'Runner program.
But students can also take advantage of their campuses’ alumni mentorship programs to forge relationships and expand their professional network.
The 'Runner Alumni Mentor Program (RAMP) at CSU Bakersfield pairs up alumni with juniors, seniors and graduate students based on their shared industry and interests and encourages them to meet up virtually once a month.
“It really is just to show students that jumping into the real world after graduation is a lot less scary than they might think,” says Sarah Hendrick, CSUB director of alumni engagement. “What alumni mentors do is bring out what's already there with our students. Our students are getting a great education and learning useful skills that will be [crucial] in the workforce. But sometimes it just takes a mentor to bring that out of them, show them what's possible and maybe introduce them to an opportunity where they flourish.”
Some students have, in fact, gotten internships and jobs through the program—like Marcos Figueroa, '20, who landed a summer 2020 internship with NASA and Norma Hernandez, ’20, who accepted a producing position at a local news station.
CSUB also recently launched 'RunnerBridge, an online mentoring tool that helps the team match mentors and mentees but also allows students and alumni to connect for one-off meetings, called flash mentoring. Other CSU campuses offer similar tools.
“Getting a job these days is so much who you know, and that's not something you're going to learn in a classroom,” says CSUB Senior Alumni Engagement Specialist Christine Bedell. “You have to just start meeting people and getting to know them, and so we pick up that ball and help students run with it.”
The introduction of 'RunnerBridge and transitioning alumni events to online has also pushed more alumni outside the area to participate. “The majority of our alumni mentors who signed up because of the new online platform were completely new mentors,” Hendrick says. “It allowed alumni who are not here locally in the Bakersfield or Kern County area to mentor students. … We have alumni from different states or different parts of California who now are able to mentor our students, and they don't need to physically be here to participate in our events.”
The CSUB alumni team also received LinkedIn webinars and other resources to share with students from California State University, Los Angeles—which has a robust alumni mentorship program and frequently lends support to other campus programs.
Like RAMP, the Cal State LA Alumni Mentoring Program offers traditional mentoring, placing students and alumni in partnerships that span the academic year to assist mentees in reaching their professional goals. Additionally, it incorporates an online component that allows for flash mentoring, facilitates matching and offers supplemental professional development resources. In spring 2020, the program introduced a new feature that allows alumni-to-alumni mentoring.
“The Cal State LA Alumni Mentoring Program provides equitable opportunities and easily accessible tools and resources to all students, particularly underrepresented students competing for entry-level positions in the job market,” says Maria Ubago, Cal State LA executive director for alumni relations. “By linking student/alumni mentees with suitable alumni mentors, mentees receive a competitive advantage in today's fast-changing job market. Participating in the mentoring program allows students to receive firsthand insight and direction from alumni who share similar experiences and work in the student’s industry of interest.”
Being a part of the CSU alumni network then becomes a lifetime benefit for graduates, as they can continue to connect with a dynamic alumni community. In addition to their campus networks, those who relocate outside the state can also join CSU-wide groups like the CSU-NYC Alumni Network or the CSU-DC Alumni Network.
At CSUCI, the Adopt-a-Grad campaign, established for students who graduated in 2020, is the latest effort to help students launch a career. Costing about $150 per student and funded by donations from alumni, corporate partners, faculty, staff and the community, the initiative provided students with a resource package consisting of a five-year Alumni and Friends Association membership, continued access to career services, six-months access to LinkedIn Learning and a year-subscription to Microsoft Office Suite.
“This class in particular is not only facing very extraordinary challenges related to the pandemic and the job market completely shifting just a couple months before their graduation, but they also experienced some unique challenges just to be able to get to their degree, [including] the Borderline Bar and Grill shooting and multiple fires,” Carpenter says. “To say this class was resilient would be quite an understatement. So we were originally thinking about this class and what we could do to support them as they make that transition from student to workforce.”
For 2020, all 125 students who submitted a completed application received a package. The CSUCI team has also decided to make Adopt-a-Grad an annual campaign, though each year it will reassess which resources the students need most.
“We want to make it meaningful for the graduates, with tools they could actually utilize as they make that transition—not just packaging tools and giving them the resources, but providing that continued support and investing in their growth,” Carpenter says. “Because we know, particularly for new grads in the class of 2020, they're going to be navigating an extraordinary market over the next couple of years as we continue to recover economically.”
Crystal Vargas, ’20, B.S. Biology, says of the opportunity: “With the Adopt-a-Grad package, I can continue utilizing CSUCI resources to help me reach the next step towards my research journey. … Being a first-generation student, I am grateful for this opportunity that CSUCI offers because I might be able to continue my journey with an immense amount of support I never thought I could have.”
Preparing to land a job doesn’t just start when students are about to graduate. By incorporating career education presentations into first-year seminars, California State University, East Bay gets students thinking about their career path early. Conducted by career counselors and Freshmen and Sophomore Success Team (FASST) advisors, these workshops introduce students to the various steps of applying for internships and jobs.
Students are also encouraged to fill out a career plan of action to keep track of graduation and career goals throughout college and participate in Career Success Week, featuring workshops and alumni panels.
“A lot of our students are first generation and so we educate not just them, but their families, on that process,” says Kathryn Palmieri, CSUEB executive director of Academic Advising & Career Education (AACE). She explains that the school tries to expose students early to the application process because of its emphasis on students completing internships, especially for academic credit.
“Internships are probably the most important thing students can do to prepare for the working world,” Palmieri says. “If it is an approved site through CalState S4 for academic credit, the employer has offered and agreed to give students one-on-one training, experience and mentorship. In a sense, it's not just an internship. Students get job experience on-site and have somebody to ask questions who's an expert in the field.”
In addition to academic credit, AACE has funding programs like the Community Service Scholarship Program to provide students with a stipend while completing unpaid internships.
“The goal is that students will have already had at least one, maybe two, internships or a couple of part-time jobs [before they graduate], so that when they hit senior year, they know what they're looking for and are prepared,” Palmieri says.