If the task of finding work and a rewarding career is challenging for most graduates, it can be even more problematic for students from low-income backgrounds. With less access to support and fewer existing networks in their chosen dream professions, these kinds of disadvantages can often result in higher college attrition and lower graduation rates. Yet, according to a Gallup-Purdue study on the relationship between student experiences in college and later job satisfaction, students who participate in a combination of research projects, extracurricular activities, internships and close relationships with faculty find it easier to obtain employment and are more highly engaged in their jobs after college.
Those kinds of discoveries were also reflected in a report by Barnes & Noble College, Achieving Success for Non-Traditional Students, which revealed that while 37 percent of at-risk students felt confident they will be able to accomplish their academic and career goals (compared to twice that for those considered not at risk) 72 percent of those same students considered support opportunities such as career counseling of value.
Those kinds of statistics speak to the opportunity Sean Gil, Director of the Career Center at the University of California, Riverside, appreciates. “When I came to campus five years ago, typical behavior was that more than half of our students would only start their career search after they received their diploma,” he says, “and although that experience might be common, it just had to change.”
The University’s response has been realized in the new Career Center, which opened in October. Challenged by a lack of space, Gil saw an opportunity when Barnes & Noble College consolidated their bookstore on the first floor of the plaza, providing a new home for the center on the ground level. “It enabled us to develop a whole new plan and create a safe, professional and welcoming place to explore career paths and identify the steps needed for our students to achieve their dream careers,” he says.
Now offering a spacious public area, visitors to the center can meet with skilled career counselors, utilize unique job search tools such as the SCOTjobs online database; attend career exploration seminars, resume writing and interview skills workshops; attend annual career fairs and even practice interviewing techniques with the center’s counselors. “We really want to make this space a destination location,” Gil explains.
For lower-income students, who, among other challenges, may need to work part time and have less time to build the kinds of connections that will help them in their careers, the center is especially important. UC Riverside’s strategy is to connect with students before they get to campus. “Ideally in their freshman year — or even before — and then with multiple engagements through their senior year and graduation,” Gil says.
That ‘early and often’ approach to career support has not only had an impact on students’ ability to get a job after graduation, but, Gil notes, also helped improve the school’s retention and graduation rates. “If they’re engaged in their career, they’re going to want to graduate — and do it on time,” he notes.
With the new center, it’s just the beginning of creating UC Riverside’s enhanced support for students. “Every year we have students who will not show up for a campus interview or we’ll get students who didn’t have anything to wear,” Gil explains. With access to changing rooms in the career center, it’s another opportunity for students to be better prepared and more confident for that job interview.
Just one floor above the center, the UC Riverside Bookstore is discovering new ways to partner with the Career Center. “They have been great partners and neighbors,” says Store Manager Tabitha Rosser of the center and Gil. “Soon after the center opened, we partnered to use the new facility to set up interviews for back-to-school rush booksellers,” says Rosser. “We let the center know when we would be hiring and they allowed us to hold our interviews in their new facility — helping us to hire some really great student booksellers on campus.” The bookstore, in turn, donated cosmetics to the center to help with their career makeovers.
With access to loans, Pell Grants and other scholarship programs, it can still be difficult for at-risk students to attain a college education — and an equal challenge may occur after graduation. Surveys of out-placement and alumni career services report that 65-85 percent of job seekers find their jobs through networking, and that places an even stronger emphasis on the role college career centers can play.
Gil says that in addition to internship programs and corporate involvement with the campus, one of the critical pieces to the puzzle is the active engagement of alumni. “The new Career Center at UC Riverside helps us leverage those kinds of connections, both physical and virtual, with all of our new video technology, and expand our reach to alumni, bringing them into the physical brick-and-mortar program to engage with students. That kind of engagement is just critical.”