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 Western Michigan University (https://wmich.edu/) a public research university in Kalamazoo, Michigan. The university has 147 undergraduate degree programs, 73 master's degree programs, 30 doctoral programs, and one specialist degree program.
Our interviewee is Sarah Hagen – Career Development Specialist. Sarah has been in this role for five years but on Western's campus working in higher ed for 10 years. Before this, she was in academic advising. The two roles that she had within higher ed are similar in terms of working one-on-one with students to help them identify, plan for, and meet their goals, whether they're academic or career.
Joe Bamberger - What would you say your favorite part of your role is?
Sarah Hagen - We get to do a lot; every day is different. I have appointments with students, I do presentations and workshops for groups. I do a lot of work with strengths with the Clifton strengths assessment, I think that's my favorite part is helping identify our understanding of their strengths and how those strengths work for them. There's a lot to be said for assessments that are grounded in positive psychology and help students really understand like, what's right with them? And what they do well. I think working with strengths is probably the thing I like the most to really identify what they're great at, their areas of talent, and just maximizing those.
JB - If I'm unfamiliar with your university, why should I spend time on campus? Why should I recruit Broncos?
SH -I think COVID has really thrown a whole wrench in a lot of our traditional kind of exciting things that happen around campus, as has happened everywhere. But I think that we are a very welcoming campus, that we've got that really typical kind of Midwest, everybody's-welcome-here kind of environment. I grew up in Kalamazoo, so this is my hometown campus. I feel like I kind of know every inch of it. It's very comforting and it's a place where I think people feel really welcome.
JB - Do you have a favorite event that is career and job search focused on campus?
SH - Our job fairs are always fun because we get to see our students all dressed up, and nervous and know that we've done some coaching to get them in front of an employer, to find that dream job or that dream internship. It is different with COVID, not having those events live and in person. I'm definitely looking forward to when those can return. It's definitely the payoff of the job when we worked with the student, we've helped them with their resume, we've helped them practice interviewing, we've done some mock 30-second commercial, how they introduce themselves, and then they go through the whole job fair process, they get an interview, and then they get that job. That's really the rewarding part. When students get that pay-off piece of "you did it, we worked hard together and you did all that hard work, and you got the job, and you got the internship" and set themselves up on that path to success.
JB - When you look at the current generation of your student population, is there something that you feel that they struggle with the most when it comes to job hunting?
SH - Everybody, regardless of age, or industry, it's just a tough economy right now. The job market is really tight and a lot of my conversations with students are just saying "this is hard right now. This is a tough time to be job searching, but how can we help focus on you know, your branding statement, what makes you unique? What are the skills that you bring to the table?" This generation, having technology in the palm of their hand at all times, sometimes they don't always know how to use it to their advantage. They'll Google any answer to anything in the world, but sometimes are struggling with the step-by-step process they need to take to find a job. Where do I look? What do I do? I just think in general, job searching is just a tough thing and I don't envy students right now with this current climate.
JB - I graduated college in 2009, which was a similar time period for trying to connect with career opportunities.
SH - Yeah, and we go through these waves hopefully not with a lot of frequency, but those of us that can kind of remember 2008-2009 that it's tough, that this has happened again, but we're going to get through it, it's going to get better. We try to just instill that resilience and grit kind of traits that help them push through these hard times and know that their know their value, know how to market their value so that employers can see what a great they would make to their team.
JB - Do you have a least favorite part of your role?
SH - Some of them just a little, logistical things we have to do sometimes. I love working with strengths, but when I give a strengths presentation to a class, just the administrative piece of coordinating it all and sending all the emails. Just some of those logistical things which we have an office admin now, that is awesome, that can help with a lot of those logistical pieces. Sometimes it's just really dumb day-to-day things that you got to do, the monotonous stuff. What we really love to do in career work is be with students and hear their stories. Anything that really takes us away from that mission, there are those things in every job, that check the box stuff that you've just got to do, you can't get rid of it. But someone else could help do that for me and I can focus on the work with the students, that would be awesome.
JB - Is there a major on-campus that you struggle with the most when connecting to career opportunities?
SH - We have the college to career majors, engineering and accounting, and nursing that are really easy to identify their path. Things that are outside of that oftentimes, it's really the student that struggles to understand that value. So a lot of our liberal arts degrees. I was a political science major as an undergrad, and I never really knew what I was gonna do with that, or the career track, I could take for that. Helping them understand the value of those liberal arts degrees and how they've learned how to communicate and research and problem solve and those things that all employers are looking for. I would say those are trickier because the students themselves don't always see it. Say study history. Does that mean I am a historian? What else is there outside of that? A lot of their friends that are engineering majors know this is the track I'm going to take, and this is the job I'm going to get when I graduate. So they struggle with how do I market myself? What types of jobs am I looking for? I would say those liberal arts, traditional liberal arts degrees are the ones that can be trickier than others.
JB - Pulling into your previous role in academic advising, as students express interest towards those liberal arts and some of those degrees, does the conversation of why come up? Is it more passion-driven, or is it short-term, long-term thinking, from that perspective? Put on that hat if you can and walk us through how students think and choose.
SH - Yeah, I mean, really, understanding what you are interested in, what you're good at, your areas of strength is a great first step in choosing a major. A lot of times, you know, engineering, I know I'm going to get a job and I'm gonna make a lot of money and that could be the kind of a great value of the decision to make. But if I suck at math, and I hate it, and I don't enjoy physics, then that's not going to work for me. So helping students understand what are things you're really interested in, and being successful in the classroom and being engaged in the classroom, regardless of what your major is, is a really great way to decide if you're going to spend that money and that time in those classes, what's something that you're going to enjoy, that you're going to succeed in. Then you build those transferable skills, those job skills as you go. You can build those skills across all majors, it's just connecting to something that you're interested in something that isn't going to be a snooze fest when you're in class or something that you're really going to struggle with. The engineering thing, for me: math is not my thing at all. I can barely do algebra. So why would I ever put myself in a position to go through two years of calculus - it's just not gonna work. Soaring with your strengths is super important.
JB - If someone is looking to follow your career path into career advising, what pieces of advice might you give them?
SH - I did go on to a graduate program. My masters is in higher ed Student Affairs, which really is targeted towards working with college students in multiple different capacities. Before going to grad school though, I was a recruiter, I was kind of on the other side of the table from what I do now. That background really did help me understand from an employer's perspective, what employers look for how they think, how they recruit and interview, and that just helped to inform the work that I do now, on this side of the table, when I'm working with students and helping them think about what how are you going to market yourself so that an employer is going to be interested in excited about your resume in the hundreds that they're looking at a time, so I think that was a benefit. The grad program for sure, in terms of understanding, development, how they think, we've all been through it, but to have that really refresher and that deeper dive into, how students make decisions and problem solve because it helps put you in their shoes, when they no show an appointment or you ask them to do something and they don't do it. They also have other developmental things that are going on, that might be more important, especially in the time of COVID. Helping to understand their frame of mind and some of the challenges that they face so you're able to connect more accurately, more helpfully, support them. That theory of challenge and support, we want to push them outside of their comfort zone, we want to challenge them to learn new things and take on new things, but also support them when they get stuck and help them out when they follow are not successful. So there's that balancing act. That's really important.
JB - When you were in recruiting in a previous role, did you do campus recruiting at all?
SH - I did. That was my primary role was campus recruiting for an internship program. I got to be on a college campus and recruit college students. That's the fun part. I thought what if I could just do that and hang out with college students all the time. When I was an undergrad, I didn't realize that there was academic advising. I didn't know there was career advising. I just didn't take advantage of those resources. It was this whole new world that it was a job you could do. Being on campus in that role, really is what led me to what I'm doing now.
JB - Coming from both sides of the same equation, what frustrated you most as a campus recruiter that you understand now being on the school side of things?
SH - That's a good question. You want the best of the best, you want to see the best students that are at that school because you want to hire the best, right? I understand now from a career advising college perspective, you can't just say here are the students that have the best grades and hire from this bucket. You have to give every student a chance. Sometimes going to the job fairs when you talk to a first-year student who just isn't doesn't have the experience yet to be a fit for your internship, for example, as a recruiter, that's frustrating because you want to get down to those who are the good candidates, who are likely to be a good fit for this role. Knowing now on this side of the table, our job really should be to help all students learn and develop, and even those first-year students have to get comfortable with having those conversations with a recruiter so that when it is their time to find an internship or full-time job, they've already had some practice with that. I would get sort of frustrated sometimes with those first-semester students that are just not going to be a fit for what I was looking for. Now on this side of the table, understanding that's a really important developmental piece for students is to have that practice to develop those skills and get them to get them ready for when it is their turn for that job search.
JB - Let's shift gears a little bit, how long have you been involved with MCEEA?
SH - Really, since I started in this role, so about five years.
JB - Do you have a favorite part?
SH - I was the chair of the 2019 conference and that was awesome. It was so fun, I got to really work closely with the organization to plan a big event and I had an awesome team that helped me with it. Being the face of that big event was cool. I got to experience leadership at a level that I hadn't yet in my career. Using that opportunity from MCEEA to build some leadership skills, and to put on a successful conference. I think of all the things I've done, building networks, learning opportunities, and professional development opportunities are all awesome, but that experience was definitely a career-high and super fun, for sure.
JB - Let's pretend for a second that MCEEA had unlimited time and funding. What would be some things you'd like to see added to programming or improved with MCEEA in some way?
SH - The thing that I really love about MCEEA is the network that I've built and the connections and friendships that I've made with folks through the organization. So, ways to continue to connect people on a more regular basis. There are folks that you would only see once a year at the conference. I talked about that conference piece and being a part of that leadership team, but that's kind of a small group of folks within the broader organization. When you get to know those folks on that deeper level, I could just pick up the phone and call them and ask a question with my university colleagues, how are you doing this? Give me some pointers on how you're navigating this, or with our employer partners, giving them a call like, "Hey, we want to put on this event. Have you ever done anything like this? What's your perspective from it?" Bridging those components and getting people connected. I don't know how; I think being virtual people can connect from across the state a lot easier than traveling in person to do it. How would we host more opportunities for people to just kind of connect and get to know each other on a more regular basis I think would be a cool thing to do, That's what I found most beneficial from being part of MCEEA.
JB - Any final thoughts or anything we haven't discussed that you would love to share?
SH - I think it's a great organization. I've made some great friends and people that I can just pick up the phone and call and ask those questions to is great with this kind of niche type of work. To just have people to bounce ideas off, I think especially during COVID when everybody had to shift, so almost overnight, having this network of people to bounce ideas off and ask those questions too and like what's worked for you what hasn't worked for you? I think that that's a great community piece of MCEEA and I hope more people would take advantage of that.
JB – Absolutely, I couldn't agree more.
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 Sarah on LinkedIn