Is the University Preparing Students for the Job Market?

By Marcelle Rutherfurd

Every student has received the question “What are you going to do after college?” at least once, if not many times, from family and friends. Most students find this question annoying and stressful, but there comes a time when students need to ask themselves the same thing. It is easy to forget that there’s world outside of the campus bubble, but eventually students have to leave and find some way to support themselves and their goals. How well does the University prepare students for employment, and what resources exist on campus to help students find out what they really want to do after college?

A look at the statistics from the class of 2016 shows that the University does tend to produce strong and employable students. A survey of the class of 2016 done by Career and Employment Services (CES) tells us that 93 percent of the graduated students are employed, continuing their education, or engaged in public service. Only 6 percent of these students were still seeking employment, and 1 percent listed “Travel/Other.”

These statistics indicate that the University prepares students quite well for the “real world.” CES is the department on campus most involved in assisting students with job and internship searches. In the hallway of CES, located on the first floor of Howarth, there is a notepad on the wall that reads “Top Ten Skills Employers look For.”

“One of the biggest things I think CES really does is help students explain how they have those skills. We don’t necessarily train them to have those skills — that’s done in the classroom, but we help students identify which of those skills they have. We help them identify which of those skills they have used in the past, and which they can use going forward,” Sue Dahlin, Employer Relations Manager at CES, said.

CES has many resources and events to help students, and they also have an excited and engaged group of people working in their offices.

“I’ve been here almost 14 years and in a number of different roles in CES. One of the things that drew me to the University of Puget Sound is that we take a really individualized approach with students. It’s not a cookie-cutter approach — every student who walks in here has their own goals, has their own plans, has their own dreams. The advisors at CES help students identify an action plan and articulate the value of their experience and Puget Sound education to employers,” Alana Hentges, Director of Career Services, said.

CES not only helps students figure out their goals and aspirations, but they also do a lot of logistical work to help students find employment. CES hosts job fairs and other such events where employers and recruiters come to campus to meet students. CES helps students with on-campus jobs as well.

“One of the other pieces about CES that’s unique at Puget Sound is that we are not just career services, we are also Student Employment and Career Services together, and part-time jobs are some really early, very important experiences where students build the skills to be successful beyond the University,” Hentges said.

A unique thing about Puget Sound is that a large portion of the students who attend are employees of the University. This is rare, according to CES — most Universities do not have as high of a rate of employed students.

“That’s something I market to employers when I’m having those initial conversations about what sets Puget Sound students apart. A lot of students here do work while they’re at school. You’re going to get someone who’s learned the basics of a job already,” Dahlin said.

Judging by the statistics of the class of 2016, these methods that are unique to Puget Sound work. Riley Lawrence ’17, who is currently employed by BlackRock in Seattle as an analyst, confirms this.

“I was offered the job in May 2017, actually on the day of graduation, and began working in June 2017, one month later,” Lawrence said.

Lawrence completed a degree in Business with Spanish and Economics minors. She was also deeply involved in the campus community. During her time at Puget Sound, Lawrence worked on campus. She also competed on the varsity Volleyball team and was a member of Greek Life.

“I had the opportunity to gain leadership experience and opportunity to be involved in so many things that made up for my lack of time/experience in the workforce. Puget Sound facilitates doing it all in regards to Greek Life, Athletics, School, Work, and Clubs,” Lawrence said.

“Learning to balance all those things prepared me for juggling multiple tasks at work, but also those items were huge talking points in my interviews. I feel like the culture at Puget Sound outside of the classroom helped prepare me just as much as what I learned inside the classroom,” Lawrence continued.

Lawrence feels that her experiences outside the classroom fostered her employability. She also highlighted the benefits of a liberal arts education when searching for jobs.

“I honestly believe the University’s liberal arts approach to education emphasizes learning how to learn more than anything else, which is what you need to know when starting a new job. When you first start, you have to learn everything — the new position, new computer applications, company culture, work-life balance, etc,” Lawrence said.

“My day-to-day tasks weren’t outlined in the textbooks I read in school; however, my courses and professors taught how to ask questions and how to work in groups, which helped develop the skills I need to tackle something brand new,” Lawrence continued.

“Honestly, my first few months on my new job reminded me of being in the random philosophy or biology course that I would never have taken if it weren’t for the requirements. Those classes taught me how to be comfortable being uncomfortable and how to work through something way outside my scope of understanding. My major in business and those courses and professors equipped me with enough knowledge to make it through a tough business interview, but the entirety of the liberal arts education prepared me to succeed once I got the job,” Lawrence concluded.

Not only does the University work to prepare students for the real world, but there are new projects and departments working to improve this aspect of the University currently in development.

Experiential Learning is a relatively new department on campus that is deeply involved with all aspects of the Puget Sound curriculum. In terms of fostering employable students, Experiential Learning is focusing heavily on developing programs to help students from all backgrounds succeed.

“We have also focused, starting with our very first year, on a summer fellowship opportunity for students who are interested in non-profit or public sector agencies but who otherwise would not be able to afford an unpaid internship,” Renee Houston, Associate Dean and Head of Experiential Learning, said.

“Because so many of those internship opportunities are unpaid it can be really challenging for students to take advantage of those opportunities, because many of them go home for the summer and work. So that program was also designed with that student in mind, who really wanted to be able to take a non-profit sector position and really learn something about where they might want to end up as a result of getting their degree here,” Houston continued.

Experiential Learning also provides extensive instruction for students participating in the Summer Internship program. Students learn how to construct a resume and cover letter, and how to best approach a job, all while getting real-world experience.

Experiential Learning is aiming to become an even larger part of the campus community in the future.

“Our big vision is that every Puget Sound student will have an opportunity to do an internship, and that internship will be accompanied by … what they call a career pedagogy option. So you might have noticed that we launched this program called RISE. There were posters everywhere in the fall and now its happening; it’s called the Reflective Immersive Sophomore Experience,” Houston said.

RISE is a program where sophomores take a class over the course of the semester where they explore all areas of searching for and building a career.

“Because sophomores are declaring their major by the end of their sophomore year we think that it’s a good opportunity for them to also begin exploring what they want to do as a career,” Houston concluded.

So, does the University prepare students for employment? All signs point to yes. The many resources on campus, which are built into the structure of the University, help students create the best future they can for themselves. Every person interviewed for this article highlighted that students have to be self-motivated in their desire to be employable, and actively seek the help of these resources.

The outcome is often positive for graduates of the University who want to find employment after college. The next time someone asks what you are going to do after college, even if you don’t know the answer yet, you can tell them that the odds of you being okay are heavily in your favor.

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