UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Each May, thousands of Penn State students graduate or leave their campus homes to head off for a new job or summer internship. With nationwide travel in lockdown, career offices across the University realized a major need: How do you introduce students and recent graduates to the ins and outs of living in a major city?
The solution became the "We Are Working in…" series of virtual workshops designed to connect students with alumni and professionals from major metropolitan areas like Philadelphia, New York, and Seattle.
Several career offices from Penn State’s expansive system of career support came together at the central, college and campus levels to create the virtual series. The collaboration was unique in scope and drew positive feedback from the more than 70 students who logged on.
The success of the series was just one example of the collaborative efforts of career offices over a year of virtual programming.
“The collaboration level between Penn State colleges and campuses has been a highlight of the virtual environment,” said Career Services Program Coordinator Matt Stein.
The virtual learning environment helps remove time and geographic barriers, allowing career offices to connect with students in a space that is comfortable and that fits into their schedules. All Penn State students can access career-related content anywhere at any time.
With employers not able to travel to campuses, career offices worked to facilitate networking-based events, giving students the opportunity to break off into smaller groups and connect with alumni and employers on a more intimate level, as opposed to a more general workshop.
Through the "We Are Working In..." series, students interested in opportunities on the west coast and in New York City have been able to more easily find those connections and participate in programs with employers from those areas.
“We were fortunate to host alumni this year from California and Washington, working for some very prestigious organizations," said Penn State Mont Alto Career Counselor Patty Gochenhauer.
Students had the opportunity to meet these individuals, learn more about their career journeys and connect for further networking and advice from the comfort of their own homes.
Students reported that they felt more comfortable talking to alumni, because they could relate to their Penn State educational foundation and start building a network in their future city.
“We are seeing more collaboration across the campuses by sharing our efforts with other career professionals to encourage their students, alumni and others to join these programs,” said Gochenhauer.
The collaboration allowed staff to leverage employer contacts, combine expertise in event planning and programming, and create maximum marketing visibility to ensure that the needs of students were being met.
One of the biggest challenges for career offices has been finding the appropriate balance to keep energy and engagement high in a virtual setting, according to Sherry Rice, director of Professional Development & Programming with the Smeal Business Career Center.
“Everyone has unique perspectives and ideas on how to best provide high-quality services to the most amount of students,” said Rice.
Career Services began to highlight other college and campus career office-run events on its website, livestream workshops, and share recorded sessions for students to access as needed. Career offices shared networking and learning opportunities in Nittany Lion Careers, the Penn State career platform.
With more than 3,000 views of recorded workshops, Career Services plans to continue to showcase career information from all University partners, even when campuses begin to slowly transition to normal operations.
Because of the success of the collaboration, the "We Are Working In…" series will be offered again in the fall 2021 and spring 2022 semesters.
“It has been amazing to see how everyone has pulled their expertise, their resources, their contacts, and their passion for supporting students to create programs to connect students to employers and support students in their own career development,” said Stein.