'Connections' and 'communities' are the new watchwords for Stanford's career services

Under a new model of career services, Stanford is offering specialized career development support to students and connecting them to internship and employment opportunities, mentoring and networking programs, and experiential learning opportunities, such as off-campus "career treks."

L.A. Cicero Student and counselor

Freshman Helen Xiong, right, talks with career counselor Kristin Conner at Munger dining hall.

Instead of waiting for students to come to the Career Development Center, Stanford's career counselors are traveling around campus and hosting "meetups" – informational chats in dining halls, classrooms and lounges designed to engage students in conversations about careers.

The meetups, which have been held since the start of the academic year, are one example of a new "connections model" of career services launched by Farouk Dey, associate vice provost for student affairs and executive director of career services at Stanford.

Dey, who joined Stanford in April 2013, said the objective of the new model is to facilitate students' successful transition from college to careers.

"We plan to do that by fully engaging the campus community to offer students specialized support in their academic communities and meaningful connections to experiences, mentors and employers," he said.

Dey is transforming campus career services from a traditional "transactional model," in which students make counseling appointments and attend lecture-style workshops and job fairs, to a "connections model," in which the career center reaches out to students where they live and study on campus, helps them explore their career interests, and connects them with mentoring and networking programs and with experiential learning opportunities, such as off campus "career treks."

"When you have a transactional model, most students delay visiting a career center until they've reached a crisis point – like waiting until you have a toothache to go to the dentist," he said. "For many students, the topic of careers can be a source of high anxiety."

Dey said the connections model is designed to empower the entire Stanford community – alumni, parents, faculty, advisers and staff – to contribute to students' career and professional development.

Greg Boardman, vice provost for student affairs, said the career center is teaching students skills that will be useful well past graduation.

"We are initiating change to help Stanford students develop the professional development skills and career connections that will last them the rest of their lives," Boardman said.

Connecting over lunch

During a recent meetup in a dining hall in a freshman dorm, students crowded around a table to hear Kathy Campbell, one of the career center's associate directors, give a 10-minute talk on three basic approaches to landing a summer job or internship, followed by a discussion.

Campbell, who has been a career counselor at Stanford for more than three decades, is a member of a new team devoted to freshmen and sophomores.

She compared the event to a game of musical chairs  – as students got the information they wanted and left, others took their chairs.

"I was so excited by the positive student response," Campbell said. "I felt like the most popular girl in the dining hall. By the time I got back to the office I was hoarse."

Since fall, the Freshman/Sophomore Career Community Team has held dozens of meetups. The sessions have focused on a variety of topics, including exploring career interests, composing resumes and cover letters, finding research opportunities, networking for introverts, and interviewing tips and tricks.

Three other career community teams have led meetups for undergraduate students, graduate students and postdocs in the schools of Earth Sciences, Engineering and Humanities & Sciences. The new discipline-focused approach is another example of the career center's new strategy of building career communities that will continue to support students after they graduate.

"No matter what your academic discipline is, you now have someone assigned to you who is accountable to you, who is expected to reach out to you and who will support you," Dey said.

The career center also has added support for PhD candidates and postdocs.

"The transition from a PhD or postdoc to an academic career has not been easy in recent years, especially for those in the humanities and social sciences," Dey said. "The career center now has career counselors specifically dedicated to their needs. We plan to invest more resources in finding alternative career opportunities for them."

The career center is using CampusQuad, a mobile app developed by a Silicon Valley startup, to encourage students and postdocs to attend meetups or make one-on-one appointments with their career counselors.

Connecting to employers

Dey gave Morris Graves, a member of the H&S Career Community team, a special assignment: identify and engage employers looking for talents and skills of students in the humanities and social sciences.

"So many H&S students aren't aware of the valuable skills they have to offer," Graves said.

In recent months, he has arranged campus visits for several companies interested in talking to Stanford's humanities and social science students, including a cosmetics retail chain, a media and entertainment company, a Silicon Valley asset manager and a sports marketing firm.

The company representatives didn't come to campus to just recruit students, Graves said, but also to talk to them about how valuable their education and talents are for these jobs. He said a major Bay Area computer technology company has made a commitment to Stanford to recruit students in the social sciences and the arts.

"Graves is the first of a new breed of career staff whose job is to develop relations with recruiters in various sectors, educate them about our students and talents, and connect them with student communities," Dey said. "The career center plans to hire more staff like Graves to diversify the internship and employment opportunities."

The career center has partnered with CollegeFeed, whose online job board allows students to create profiles showcasing their projects, work, classes and skills. After reviewing and approving a profile, the Silicon Valley startup presents it to its insider network of companies. This quarter, Stanford and CollegeFeed plan to host their first Digital Career Fair, a new alternative to the traditional job fair.

Experiences and mentors

The career center also offers Career Exploration Treks. This week, students will journey to the San Francisco headquarters of the Transbay Joint Powers Authority to learn about the legal and environmental issues related to its new transit terminal. A Stanford alumnus who is a respected environmental attorney will lead the visit.

Recent treks have included trips to organizations in the arts, finance and technology.

In addition, Stanford offers 16 career fairs throughout the school year. The career center also connects students with alumni through Stanford Alumni Mentoring, a joint project with the Stanford Alumni Association. Dey said he hopes to get more alumni involved in mentoring and recruiting students.

Taking the career conversation to the classroom is another new approach for the center.

For the last two years, the career center has partnered with Bill Burnett and Dave Evans to offer the Designing Your Life class for juniors and seniors and the Designing the Professional class for doctoral candidates. Burnett, the executive director of the Stanford Design Program, and Evans, a lecturer in the program, co-created the classes.

"I love the fact that students can earn credits for a course that helps them think about their future in a non-intimidating space," Dey said. "I am interested in identifying more faculty like Dave Evans to develop and teach curriculum about life and career exploration through the lens of their own academic discipline."

Career outcomes

To measure the impact of the new model, the career center is conducting brief surveys at the end of each quarter and reporting the findings to students.

The survey asks students about their awareness of available career resources, their engagement with counselors, their satisfaction with services and their learning outcomes.

"We have already seen a jump in awareness of resources from 25 percent to 60 percent since we launched our new model last fall," Dey said.

The career center is using a customer loyalty metric to measure student response to the new programs. It also has partnered with Institutional Research & Decision Support and the Registrar's Office to track students in their first jobs after graduation and their long-term professional experiences.

In coming months, the career center plans to hire industry experts in employment sectors of interest to students, including social impact, creative arts, startups, health care, communications, energy and sustainability. It also will provide additional support for underrepresented communities, including international, first-generation and LGBTQ students, as well as ethnic and cultural student groups.

"We are grateful for the support we have received from Provost John Etchemendy and campus partners to continue transforming career services at Stanford," Dey said. "Expectations are high and the career staff are working hard to meet them. We have come a long way in just one year, but still have so much to accomplish."