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 Lawrence Technological University – LTU (https://www.ltu.edu/). LTU is a private university in Southfield, Michigan. The university offers undergraduate, masters, and doctoral programs in science, technology, engineering, architecture and design, and mathematics fields. The university's four colleges are Architecture and Design, Arts and Sciences, Business and Information Technology, and Engineering.
Our interviewee is Peg Pierce - former Director of Career Services. Peg recently retired in September 2020 and has taken on a new role as a Career Consultant Advisor at LTU.
Joe Bamberger - Congratulations on your pseudo retirement. When we talk about your role as a director versus your role as a consultant what would you say your favorite part of your job is in both capacities?
Peg Pierce - As the director, what I loved was being able to create the format and the way that we could reach out to students figuring out what it was that they were most in need of and how we could do that. And we always tried to do that in a very creative and engaging kind of way. From my standpoint, that was great. Along with that came all of the other things, the reporting on keeping track of numbers, the first destination surveys, things like that. Those were the things I was happier to step away from. From the standpoint of my current role, what I get to do now is primarily meet with students. Meeting with students means, for the most part, zoom calls, phone interviews, and occasional in-person conference, but for the most part, we're just looking at using technology to create that relationship-building experience. It's really a chance for me to get back in touch with what students are most concerned about. I actually am finding that I love that part of this opportunity.
JB - Do you have a favorite event on campus that your students participate in? Whether it's job search-related, career fair, or some form of readiness training? What was your favorite event?
PP - We do a week in February, which is a career-focused week of activities. We're not doing it as much this year, but where we do mock interviews, where we bring in employers, and we do speed interviews. We bring people around a table and the employer shoots off a series of questions and then gives feedback. We do resume critiquing, by employers. Then we end up with an etiquette dinner. When my staff first brought up this idea of an etiquette dinner, I thought do you really think students want to do that? The reality is yes, they really do. It allows us to talk to them in a way that they get to understand what the rules of the game are. They get the inside track of how they make that first impression. Realistically, that is something that I think really continues to intimidate students. When you can break it down for them in a friendly environment and feed them some good food. Last year, we brought in Lila Lazarus from Channel Seven, she did a phenomenal job of really helping students understand how important social graces are, whether it's in a dining situation or networking when you're meeting people informally, someone's coming into your classroom, when you're going to an event, how critical those couple instances you might have with that person in terms of giving them a positive impression. One of my other favorite things we did was a career camp. At the beginning of the school year, we got the athletic department into letting us use a couple of their golf carts. We ran around campus and picked people up and told them, we'll give them a free ride over to the football stadium - all they had to do was talk careers with us. We just had an informal career conversation. Part of what we want to do is want students to know we're very approachable, feel comfortable in coming to us. Every freshman year, we do something called game day, where we go over and we play games with them in the residence hall, we order pizza. My favorite game has universally been Uno. We don't talk about anything other than introducing ourselves and letting them know where we're located. They're freshmen, they just got here, they don't need to be thinking about what they have to do when they graduate. We just want you to know that we're here, we're approachable, we're nice people. And you know, come see us, come get to know us because we can make a difference.
JB - When you look at the current generation of students that you have, is there a part of the career process they struggle with the most?
PP - I think the thing that's toughest for them is just getting over the fear of making that first connection. They're not afraid of writing a resume, they're not afraid of talking to people, but it's reaching out to establish that conversation. It's networking, and networking is just an opportunity to communicate with other people. But it's still intimidating. It's still intimidating for me at my age, I still find when I go to big events, and I have to establish a relationship with a bunch of people I don't know, I still am a little intimidated by the process. That's probably one of the things that we have to continue to work with students to let them know: here are some things you can do that make it more comfortable, here are some things that you might want to think about in terms of being able to give them something that they remember about.
JB - Do you have a least favorite part of your new role?
PP - Not necessarily, except for when I get called into meetings that I don't want to have to deal with anymore.
JB - Is there a particular major on campus you find is the hardest to connect with employers?
PP - At any given time it might be one versus another. Right now, architecture is still a hot commodity. We're getting a lot of employers but a few years ago, that was a real struggle and the economy was tougher. It was harder to help architects figure out what they could do with their degrees outside of the building industry. Now the building is still going hot, that's going well for us. Biomedical engineering is always a bit of a challenge for us. It's one of the engineering fields that are more aligned with science than it isn't necessarily with the patterns of engineers. When scientists hire or when biomedical firms hire, they tend to hire once they've gotten a grant, or once they've gotten funding for a program, and they need people like overnight, but they haven't necessarily been cultivating a talent pipeline, because they haven't had any previous to this. They hire one or two people at a time as opposed to our automotive industry that routinely, each year, bigger firms bring in a whole class of people. It's a very different type of hiring process. BME students can look at what's happening with mechanicals and electricals and bethink how come they're getting courted and I'm not? Although ironically enough, biomedical engineering is a field that automotive firms are very interested in. The ergonomics of the product that they build are critical safety components and those are all things BME candidates have a real wealth of knowledge on.
JB - If I'm an employer that doesn't have a relationship yet with Lawrence Tech, why should I consider hiring an LTU student?
PP - There are certain things that we say Lawrence Tech has and one is reputation. I do get calls all-time for employers and still do that say, "Hey, I hired a couple of your alums a few years ago, the best candidate I've ever had", or "recently hired an alum, or recently brought an intern on, they get things going so quickly, they're so quick to learn." So our reputation precedes us. That's what our faculty do. They teach students the things that students need to know to be productive for employers. The flexibility of being a small school, where we really do have access to our faculty, and we can sit down with them and say, "Hey, I've got an employer who's interested in having somebody come on board in February, what are the possibilities of them working this out with their course schedule" Then the location that we're in is dynamic because we're located just outside of the Detroit Metro downtown area, about an 11-minute commute if someone needs to go into an office in Detroit to wherever our campus is. Southfield is full of Fortune 50 companies, and then the southeastern Michigan area is rich with opportunities. Its reputation, location, flexibility, that are really our calling cards.
JB - Let's shift gears a little bit. How long have you been involved with MCEEA?
PP - I have probably been involved for 16-18 years. That was back when it was two separate organizations and we had a couple of years of pulling our hair out to figure out how we could align both organizations to being one.
JB - Have you served on any committees, or leadership positions? What's been your level of involvement?
PP - My involvement primarily was running the awards. I probably did that for about 8-10 years. I haven't been as active the last several years, but I did that year after year after year, I think was about eight years.
JB - Let's say MCEEA had unlimited time and funding. What would you want to see added to the programming or to the membership? What can the clients do to improve?
PP - First of all, I want to give you kudos because when we did that alignment, the overwhelming concern was that we didn't have as many employers engaged as we did in academic environments. Today, that's a very different picture. I really think that's been successful at being able to get more employers engaged. The thing that we always want to continue to work for is getting the lines of communication open between the employers and educators so employers know who to go. I promoteMCEEA all the time with employers because even though they're coming to Lawrence Tech, the value of the ability to connect with people at other schools that might have a similar program is excellent. That's something employers asked consistently as "I'm looking for people this specific major, what schools should I continue connecting with?" The more tools that we can have that make that available to employers, the better. It all pulls down to networking if you stop and think about it. This is now how employers and schools can network together to better understand what each of us can do for each other.
JB - For someone looking to explore a career in career education, with your experience, what piece of advice might you leave them?
PP - The thing that I have found to be most helpful is the education and the experience. I've hired a lot of my advisors who actually worked as students in a career center when they were in school. I like working with students that come out of a master's in higher education. It doesn't necessarily have to be career concentric, but I want to make sure that they've had a couple of career courses because I want them to understand the dynamics of the career theory, and how that shapes how people make decisions, how people find out what they want to do with their lives. I think that that's a critical component of being an effective career advisor. It's great to be able to point them in the direction of a resource, like Handshake or Purple Briefcase, or one of the other tools that are out there. But I want someone who's going to help that student develop and educate and teach them those skills for a lifetime. I use the analogy all the time of feed a man a fish, and you feed them for the night; teach him how to fish, and they will be able to eat for a lifetime. That's the concept I think we're dealing with here is we want people to be able to understand and really be able to appreciate what it takes to make effective decisions about your life. We're in the business of helping people make life decisions, and that you can't underestimate the value of that.
JB - Any final thoughts or anything you'd like to leave with the readers?
PP - Just the importance of having a professional development organization is critical. I advise my students all the time to do this. We as professionals should be doing it as well. Also, the connections that I've made over the years, I think it's important to get involved at a state or local level first. Go to a big conference like NACE. The first year I went to NACE, I found it to be completely overwhelming. At the state level, you really are starting to develop people who are going to be in your backyard. I can't tell you how many times I've picked up the phone and called Wayne or Oakland, or talked to one of my colleagues at another school to say, "Hey, this is happening. Are you having anything like this? Do you see this trend?" I think it's so critical, it's so important for us to be able to talk as professionals to each other, to really be able to see what's going on to share information, and to be supportive of each other.
JB - Peg, I appreciate you taking the time. I appreciate the conversation.
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 Peg on LinkedIn