Think back. As graduation approached, what resources were available to help you land your first professional position? On-campus career counseling? Corporate recruiters? Perhaps a favorite professor? Chances are, regardless of your answer, alumni weren’t a major part of the equation.
For today’s college graduates, it’s more important than ever to be well-versed in the “soft skills” of the work world, such as knowing how to write an effective resume and prepare for a job interview. Equally necessary are internships that will give a student an edge over other job applicants.
In looking at how to best prepare Bloomsburg’s students for the real world, the answer was clear: Reach out to the university’s vast pool of successful and talented graduates.
Jobs on the Horizon
Steve Carr ’97 and Craig Evans ’03 make no secret of their love for Bloomsburg University. So the managers at
Horsham-based accounting firm Kreischer Miller enthusiastically agreed to take part in the annual Zeigler Institute for Professional Development (ZIPD) Business Conference, where alumni meet students from the College of Business and hold career-building workshops. Three months later, Carr and Evans hosted four students at their firm for the Sophomore Experiential Learning (SEL) program, a job shadowing experience. And this October, just one year after the ZIPD conference, five Bloomsburg graduates will be among the 10 new accountants the firm is bringing on.
Carr and Evans credit this interaction and other opportunities for paving the way for the firm’s newest employees. “I like the feeling I get from giving back and I get to see the direct reward, like these five new hires,” Carr says. “The ZIPD program and everything else Bloomsburg is doing to align the alumni directly with the students and vice versa: it’s great to be back in the Husky family and the university is making it very easy to get involved.”
Earlier this year, more than 125 alumni came to the Hotel Bethlehem for the first Career Connections Reception. University President David Soltz talked about the goal of building a network of alumni who engage with students as mentors and provide opportunities for job shadowing, internships and possible employment. Another reception was held this spring at the Comcast Center in Philadelphia, with more being arranged in other alumni networks.
“Our alumni are our greatest asset, a human endowment that is ready and willing to give back,” says Lynda Michaels ’87/’88M, assistant vice president for alumni and professional engagement. “Our alumni are interested in giving students that extra edge, to launch students into their careers with applied learning experiences and a professional toolkit which enhances the excellent academic preparation they receive.”
As Carr and Evans can attest, many alumni see an added benefit to working with the students — identifying great potential employees.
Daniel C. Confalone, senior vice president and chief financial officer for Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Network in Allentown, says he applauds Bloomsburg’s efforts and was happy to arrange a “Career Road Trip’’ that brought 35 students to his center in November 2012.
“I thought it would be nice to help some students with career planning and thought they could benefit from seeing what we have here,” says Confalone ’79. “Our speech therapy department at Good Shepherd is mostly made up of Bloomsburg alumni and Bloomsburg has a phenomenal speech therapy program that is nationally known. So it was a good fit for us to invite the speech therapy students here to meet the therapists and talk about their careers.”
In the last year, Good Shepherd has also hosted several students for the SEL job shadowing program. “It was almost like paying it forward,” he says. “It was very fulfilling for me to be able to do that and have that relationship established.”
Confalone encourages alumni to think back to the early days of their career. “I would have them reflect on the challenges they faced in getting their first job and, if there had been help along the way, how that could have made it easier,” he says. “If there is an opportunity to reach out to Bloomsburg students and be part of helping our future leaders with their start, I think it’s very important for the alumni to assist in that process.”
Window to the Real World
Joe Hilgar, global sourcing manager for Allentown-based Air Products and Chemicals Inc., volunteered to serve on BU’s Alumni Board about five years ago. Hilgar ’75 has deep Bloomsburg ties — his father was an accounting professor and his wife, Sharon, was president of their graduating class. He grew up a block from Carver Hall.
Hilgar took part in the Career Connections at the Hotel Bethlehem and was a presenter at the last two ZIPD conferences. He recently helped an accounting graduate, Jennifer Geiger ’12, land a job with his company after he visited the campus and asking the Career Development Center to recommend six of the best students who didn’t yet have offers. Hilgar said he’s excited about the work the university is doing to find ways for alumni to help students.
“I believe students at Bloomsburg or any university need a window to the real world, need somebody every once in a while to shake them up and tell them what they are doing right and what they are doing not quite as right,” Hilgar says. “I think we’re moving in the right direction and I’m very optimistic about the Lehigh Valley Alumni Network being able to help students and support the university.’’
Nate Conroy ’06, assistant director of Alumni Affairs, says the emphasis on bringing students and alumni together is an ongoing process. “Our goal with career-related programs and events is to help prepare students for their future careers and also tie alumni back into the life of the university in a way that is meaningful for the alumni and critical for our students.”
Bloomsburg is also developing a program designed to help freshman figure out what career path they want to take, Michaels says.
Starting this fall, Huskies LEAD — Learn, Experience, Apply, Develop — will offer incoming students a chance to do career self-assessments and develop a plan that will include the appropriate academic courses, along with the kind of internships and other experiences they should pursue to meet their goals. As students advance, Bloomsburg will work with them to ensure they are on track to meet their career objectives.
Another new initiative is Professional U, which involves alumni and organizational partners in creating career-related, applied-learning experiences for students. Applied learning takes students beyond the classroom and challenges them to use complex problem-solving skills, develop written and verbal communication skills and employ critical thinking based on data and research.
“While we can never guarantee a graduate a job and a successful career, this is about arming them with the tools and an alumni network so they can be as well-positioned as possible,” Michaels says.
Brian Case, manager of academic relations for Allentown-based electric utility company PPL Corp., says he looks at his years at Bloomsburg as some of the best in his life. He finds it satisfying to stay connected with the university while offering important help to students.
Case, a 1983 graduate, attended the Career Connections event at the Hotel Bethlehem and frequently visits the campus to talk with students about potential jobs and internship opportunities. During 2012, nine students received internships with PPL. And internships can lead to jobs. BU graduate Kelly Reynolds ’12 began her career with PPL as an intern and now works in human resources there.
“There is this general desire from the Bloomsburg community to want to help others from the Bloomsburg community,” Case says. “The opportunity to give back in some way resonates with a lot of people.
“I think everybody realizes the value of a Bloomsburg education. There is a talented group of people there, and to take advantage of that connection is a win-win for both the students who get experience and the employers who get good talent.” •
(Editor’s note: Alumni, want to learn about getting involved? See www.bloomualumni.com.)
Jack Sherzer is a professional writer and principal partner with Message Prose LLC, www.messageprose.com, a communications and public relations firm in Harrisburg.