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Welcome to MCEEA’s Faces on Campus campaign!

Over the next year – we will be highlighting the career educators and employers who make up our great organization. Each week we will pay tribute to the individuals who devote their lives to helping students take that key first step into their professional career and the employers who welcome and develop them into the professionals they will become.

We hope you enjoy the insights, stories, and laughs of the people of MCEEA.

This week brings us to Cornerstone University (www.cornerstone.edu) in Grand Rapids. Cornerstone is an independent, non-denominational Christian university based in Grand Rapids. The university offers traditional undergraduate programs rooted in liberal arts, as well as adult undergraduate and graduate programs through the Professional & Graduate Studies division (PGS), Grand Rapids Theological Seminary (GRTS) and Asia Biblical Theological Seminary (ABTS).

Our interviewee is Anne Gaertner – Senior Director of Employer Relations and Internships with Cornerstone’s Traditional and Undergraduate studies division. Anne began her tenure at Cornerstone in December of 2014 and has served as Adjunct Faculty in addition to her role in career education.

Joe Bamberger: Walk us through it - what do you do in your position? What does your job entail?

Anne Gaertner: I think I have one of the best jobs in the world. My role at Cornerstone is, if I had to put it into two buckets, I'd say it's twofold. One, it's to help students answer that big hairy question, what do I want to do with my life? Cornerstone is a small school; we have about 1200 traditional undergraduates. So, we really have the opportunity to get to know students one on one. We take a narrative approach with students and really talk with them one on one about who they are, and being a Christian College, how God uniquely gifted them. And we take that and ask, “what is your background? What is your past? What is your history? How do those strengths and gifts come together to create your future?” Answering that big hairy question, “Who am I? Where am I going? And then how do I get there” - that's my one bucket. Then my other bucket, the employer relations part, which I love equally, is working with organizations to develop internship programs, internship opportunities, and then connecting with employers for entry-level opportunities. I get the best of both worlds. Being a smaller school, I get to sit on both sides of that fence, if you will, at larger schools, some of my peers and colleagues, they only get to do the employer relations, or they only get to do the career coaching, I get to do both of those. I love being able to do both.

JB: That is great. If you had to pick one aspect of your position, what would you say is your favorite?

AG: Celebrating wins.

I love celebrating the victories and the wins. My favorite part of my job is when I get an email or a phone call from a student that says “I got the job, I got the internship” or when I get the call from an employer or an email when they say, “we ended up hiring your student.” That's the win. The favorite part of my job is when those dots have connected, the puzzle pieces are together and it's a match. That's the favorite part of my job.

JB: If I'm an employer that doesn't have a relationship with Cornerstone, what's your pitch? Why should I consider Cornerstone? What's unique about your students?

AG: The distinctive thing that you'll find about our students are their values. Employers typically seek out Cornerstone University students for their character. That's time and time again what we hear about our students is the character. You can train for skill, but you can't train for character. A Cornerstone University student is going to have the unmatched character that employers are often looking for.

JB: Do you have a least favorite part of your job?

AG: The least favorite part of my job is when students don't take an active role in their college education. By that I mean, when they're passive. When they wait until senior year to do an internship. That just that breaks my heart when a senior last semester walks into my office and says I'm graduating. That's my least favorite part of my job. Because I know they could have done so much more.

JB: Is there a particular major on campus you find you struggle with the most in helping connect a student with career opportunities?

AG: The hardest majors are math - oddly enough. And I would say it's more because there hasn't been  strategy about why they picked math. “I'm good at math. I'm good at numbers. I like math. I like numbers.” Okay... I like people, my dogs like people. Math is definitely the hardest because often they're stereotypically- a good math student ends up being a math major, without a lot of thought, intent and direction. Then that means we're pushed into their junior, senior year with internships, everything just gets pushed back. And internships need to match the course of study, right? So math internships, are your analysts or your actuaries, positions like that. And positions like that often recruit six to twelve months in advance, so those take time. If a math major comes to me three months before graduation, and doesn't have an internship yet, we're all up against a wall. Math majors are very smart, very, very smart. But math is definitely. One of the hardest majors to support.

JB: I always expect liberal arts to be the answer here.

AG: Really, with a history internship, you just need an opportunity to think critically and there's more requirements than that, but that's the basic framework. So, think critically and write, we can find you an opportunity like that. Studying history doesn’t mean you’re going to be a historian. We often hear from law school who want applicants that were NOT pre-law and want someone like a history major.

I always say your major is your foundation. It's not the nail in the coffin. And that's a really morbid analogy. But yes, like psychology, communications, business, those have tons of options. We just have to have to have tough conversations with students about you need to put a stake in the ground and you got to make a decision. So, with math, you've already made your decision. Now, other more general majors students need to do some advanced planning.

JB: With this current generation of students, what piece of the puzzle, in terms of career readiness, and interviewing, do you think they struggle with the most?

AG: I think that today's college students struggle with the concept of building relationships, AKA that bad word called networking. The concept of meeting someone before you “need them” is foreign to today's students. Students think that networking is you’re a man on the street, opening his coat jacket selling you a bunch of gold watches. That's not networking. We all know that, every one of us that's part of MCEEA knows that that's not networking. Networking is building relationships. And that's really foreign to students, for a variety of reasons. Maybe depending on where a student comes from, if they're a first-generation college student and their parents weren't in a business or professional setting, their parents haven't networked or built relationships, so they didn't learn about it. Perhaps they're an international student and not originally from the United States. So culturally, it's a bit of a difference. I think just the relationship piece is one of the hardest things for today's students to tackle in terms of career preparation.

JB: Do you have a favorite event on campus?

AG: It's a frequent event. Every Friday at Cornerstone we have warm chocolate chip cookies in the cafeteria at lunch. So, it's not your typical career fair, but it is a frequent occurrence. I love something we have called Idea Pitch. And it's part of one of our business classes where students have 90 seconds to make a pitch. And we have the chance to bring in employers to be the judges and I love that, because it gives me a chance to offer employers the chance to see our students in their element. If they're on campus, they're on their turf, versus being in a corporate setting, or a nonprofit setting for the interview. But then it also ups the ante too for our students. Historically, our students have just made those pitches to faculty. But there's a little bit of nervousness that goes into knowing that an employer is coming in, an adult, a professional is coming in. But again, it just, it ups the stakes a little bit to know that someone from the outside is coming in.

JB: That's typically a business pitch that they have to create?

AG: It's a product or service, they just have to come up with a product or a service. The event is more about their ability to pitch. So, if you wanted to pitch ice cubes to an Eskimo you could, it's about your ability to sell. Today’s college students may not have as much experience with public presentations, with persuasive speeches, with needing to get up in front of an audience and make a pitch - make that eye contact, use appropriate hand gestures, wear a blazer, wear a suit. It's about their ability to sell and then secondarily is the idea.

JB: Like a little mini Shark Tank in 90 seconds?

AG: That's exactly it.

JB: Let's switch gears here a little bit. Tell me about your involvement with MCEEA.

AG: I became involved with MCEEA dating back to 2015. When I personally had a career transition, I worked in public relations for 15 years and had always been involved with students and young talent. I was the advisor to a professional group at my undergrad alma mater (Fire Up Chips!). But then was ready for something different and found the opportunity to pivot to higher education. I'd always known I like students and young talent, but I needed that professional connection to other career centers, to learn from them. And I needed that connection to employers. So MCEEA was like drinking from a firehose, it was an amazing introduction; and onboarding, to really the employer relations space. I fundamentally understand relationships, that's what public relations was, but my audience was different now. So that's how MCEEA really built that bridge for me and helped me establish relationships within other colleges, but then also with employers that I wouldn't necessarily have access to here in West Michigan.

JB: Do you have a favorite event or activity that MCEEA has hosted that you've taken part of?

AG: One of my favorite MCEEA events was one hosted I believe in 2016. It was a diversity and inclusion event that Susan Proctor with Grand Valley State University really spearheaded, and it was with Meijer at their corporate headquarters. It gave me a chance to meet an employer, again, that I wouldn't have access to as a smaller school, and get to go visit their corporate headquarters, but then we also got an inside look at what Meijer DEI framework was.

JB: For someone considering a career in career education, what piece of advice would you give them?

AG: If anyone was considering going into career education, I would give them the encouragement to think about it as a career coach versus a career counselor. That's one of the things I learned early on, in my career in this role, after attending a couple of different events, is that we can't just dole out a prescription, give advice, and expect someone to go do it. This is a series of coaching actions. This work is a series of ongoing conversations. Sure, there's going to be the one student that you just meet once, and we'll help them work through an issue. But think of this as a coaching opportunity. Think of it as a chance to work with a student from the time they're a freshman to a senior, or for when they're a junior transfer to a senior. You get to have that coaching relationship, and you're going to be with a student along their journey. This isn't a one stop shop. This is a journey in a relationship. So going into it with that framework and lens is something I'd encourage you to keep in mind.

JB: Final thoughts?

AG: The one thing that I'd like to say is if there's any recruiters that are at all concerned about internships - career services, career coaches - would love to talk to you about that. The experiences you provide, create your pipeline, create your talent. We as colleges and universities want to work with you to develop those opportunities. Sure, a recruiter is going to have an affinity to one school or another. They might have an affinity to a business major versus a communications major. But at the end of the day, you have talent at Michigan colleges and universities with students that want to stay here. They want to live, work, and play in Michigan. Let's work together to find a way where we can grow and keep your talent here.

Faces on Campus is a weekly interview series highlighting members of MCEEA conducted by Joe Bamberger of Emerge Consulting. Be sure to follow MCEEA on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and MCEEA.org

Connect with Anne Gaertner on LinkedIn
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