Small Business

UA-Fayetteville teachers school students in careers

FAYETTEVILLE — University of Arkansas, Fayetteville faculty members intent on making sure their students are career ready learned more about how to accomplish that objective Friday during a conference on campus.

It’s imperative to ensure all students have access to resources so they can build meaningful careers, and “we’re all in this together,” said Erica Estes, vice chancellor in the Office of Career Connections at UA-Fayetteville. “We want all of our students to succeed.”

Career Connections staff are particularly intent on reaching students from traditionally underserved backgrounds, such as first-generation students, who tend to be less familiar with Career Connections and career planning, she said. Career Connections aims to weave lifelong career confidence and readiness into the full college experience and beyond.

Student Success, one of three strategic priorities for the university, is more than merely getting students to graduation; it’s connecting them with their ideas and passions so they can be “productive citizens” beyond graduation, and the earlier that work begins, the better, said Chancellor Charles Robinson. “Every day, people question the value of a college education,” and it’s pivotal “to our student success mission” that the university prepare students to enter careers as quickly as possible after graduation.

Faculty members play a critical role in that, because if faculty members can motivate students regarding their post-graduation plans, those students will perform better in class and are more likely to graduate, said Provost Terry Martin. That’s “life-changing.”

Faculty-student relationships are paramount because they make students feel supported, Estes seconded. “Little comments can make such a difference for students.”

The Career Everywhere conference, hosted by the university’s Office of Career Connections, offered techniques for incorporating career education into courses and helping students achieve their post-graduation goals. Conference sessions included an employer panel where employers discussed recruitment and applications, a faculty panel where faculty members who have successfully incorporated career education in their classes shared their tips, and other breakout sessions.

It’s incumbent upon faculty members to help students discover careers in their spheres of interest, because students can follow interests for many years and through a variety of different jobs, said Estes. “Job titles change daily,” but passions don’t change dramatically over time.

In her classes, Stephanie Thomas sets up the “why” for students to seize their attention, as they “need to know why this is important,” said the associate professor of Practice of Supply Chain Management. It’s also a signal to students she cares about their lives after college, as “I’m planting seeds” with career discussions.

Thomas, executive director for Women Impacting Supply Chain Excellence, also makes extra credit available for students who explore other career resources on their own time, because class time is limited, she said. “Time is the biggest barrier.”

And even though she values class time as much as any teacher, she allows students to attend her department’s career fair rather than class on the day it’s offered, because “I want them to go,” she said. She’s also careful to “keep my finger on the pulse” of the supply chain management industry by spending time with industry professionals, so “I know the skills employers are looking for, [and] I bring that into the classroom.”

In the first course for the master’s degree in Human Resources Development, Jim Maddox’s students are required to create a personal development plan, which forces them to envision their future more concretely, said the teaching assistant professor and Human Resources Development Graduate program coordinator. They also need to interview a Human Resources Development professional — an interaction students have often described as energizing and eye opening — as “I try to make real-world projects in class.”

In the International Human Resources Development course, he exposes students to other cultures through an assignment, he said. He gives students a training manual, and then they have to adapt it to a culture of their choosing.

Maddox also encourages ample “personal reflection” by students, he said. “Did you change? If not, did you really learn anything?”

The alumni-mentor program in the chemical engineering department has been “incredible” for current students, as mentors provide “fantastic career advice, and we’ve seen students really gain confidence, [especially] first-generation students,” said Heather Walker, associate department head for the Undergraduate Program in her department and a teaching assistant professor. “It gives them someone to ask questions to besides the professor,” and — as an added bonus — the alumni mentoring program has increased alumni engagement.

She also has students practice delivering presentations to various audiences and keeps in touch with current engineers, she said. Because she knows “what’s going on in the industry,” she can connect class content to “the real world.”

When she advises students, she asks them about opportunities beyond only their classes — from study abroad to internships — and sends out a weekly email to all undergraduates alerting them of events in the week ahead in her department, she said. She also takes students on site visits to labs, because while it’s valuable to bring businesses to campus, it’s also useful at times to take students out to industry locations.

Chris Shields, a faculty member in criminology and sociology, project manager for the Terrorism Research Center, and supporter of roughly 100 interns within his department, discusses internship opportunities with as many students as he can, and he frequently sends students to Career Connections for tutelage on everything from resumes to interviewing, he said.

He also has students write about their internship experiences, then connect those to what they’ve learned in classes, and he shares his personal experiences as an attorney — as well as asking current lawyers and judges to do likewise — with students, as many plan to go to law school.

Of the 4,500 UA-Fayetteville Class of 2022 graduates who reported their career outcomes, nearly two-thirds entered the workforce, while another 20% went on to graduate school, according to the university. Nearly half of students going into the workforce after graduation stayed in Arkansas to begin their careers, with 63% of Arkansas students and 23% of out-of-state students staying in Arkansas for jobs.

The Career Everywhere concept is gaining momentum nationally due to the recognition that students learn valuable career education skills and tools from the people they have relationships with and with whom they meet regularly, according to the university. Career Everywhere provides equity and access to career development resources for all students through a network of faculty, staff, alumni and employer career champions.

The economic and workforce impact of outreach by Career Connections is “really significant,” said Mike Malone, vice chancellor of economic development. In the last month, more than 500 employers have been brought to campus by Career Connections to recruit students, and nearly 4,500 students attended Career Connections career fairs during the 2022-23 academic year to meet with more than 800 employers.

And employers value those opportunities, said Carol Vella, Associate Director, Marketing – Diversity, Equity & Inclusion at Walmart. “Our number-one school to hire from is” UA-Fayetteville, as its students traditionally boast “strong work ethic and willingness to learn.”

Enterprise is on campus “all the time,” and “recruiting is essential,” said Marleen Arboleda, group talent acquisition manager at Enterprise. “It all starts with our people, [as] we only recruit from within, and we need to continue our internal pipeline.”

If students from UA-Fayetteville bring sales aptitude, customer service, leadership, communication ability, flexibility and work ethic, Enterprise can train them and bridge any gaps, she said. Then, they can progress to levels of increasing responsibility in the company as they gain experience.

Vella knows this to be true, as she has several friends who started at Enterprise in entry-level positions, and now are in management, she said. Like Enterprise, Walmart much prefers to retain employees and help them grow — “[we want] the right talent who will stay with us.”

“We’re hiring more than 1,000 interns for next summer,” Vella added. “Communication skills are number one, we’re always looking for adaptability, and a positive attitude really goes a long way.”

While both Vella and Arboleda appreciate large career fairs on campus, they look forward even more to “intimate” meetings with smaller groups of students, so they can spend more time with students and get to know them better, and vice versa, the latter said. “It’s more impactful for students.”

Employers need to share opportunities with students any way they can, as students are often unaware of them, said Donna K. Graham, director for Central Arkansas Industry and Community Engagement UA-Fayetteville. That can lead to “matchmaking” between students and jobs.

Walmart will even set up conversations between, for example, a music major at the university and music majors now working at Walmart in business leadership, Vella said. “We can create personal connections.”

    Marleen Arboleda, group talent acquisition manager at Enterprise Holdings, speaks Friday during the University of Arkansas Office of Career Connections Career Everywhere Faculty Conference in the Union Ballroom. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/J.T. Wampler)