NACE Journal, February 2020
For career services professionals, finding a balance to engage employers, students, and faculty is essential to supporting quality career engagement and lifelong professional growth. With all groups seeking nontraditional engagement opportunities, experiencing event and communication fatigue, and facing a shortage of faculty buy-in, we are left with the mission to create innovative events that will benefit all constituencies at once. Like many career services offices, Chapman's Office of Career & Professional Development (CPD) began hosting career excursions several years ago to achieve this goal.
Career excursions are off-campus field trips to company headquarters and offices that offer students the opportunity to get a behind-the-scenes tour of the facility, learn about company culture, meet industry professionals, and explore internship and job opportunities. While the more traditional events, such as career fairs, are still offered as on-campus recruitment platforms, employers are delighted with the option to facilitate a firsthand experience with a targeted student population, and students are motivated to enrich their career exploration with a glimpse of their potential work environment.
Benefits to All Participants
Career excursions encourage students to be active participants in their own career exploration beyond a career counseling session. Often, reading and hearing about careers are not enough for students to grasp the reality of a potential career choice. Career excursions give students the opportunity to hear the day-to-day routine of professionals in their career of interest and leave with a call to action to the next steps in obtaining a position with the company or in the industry.
Employers that host career excursions optimize their recruiting impact and resources. They minimize time spent on nonengagement-related actions, such as commuting to a campus event. Instead, with an intimate and specific group of students at their site, employers have the opportunity to provide a customized presentation on employment opportunities, company culture, and history.
For career services professionals, cultivating and maintaining an active relationship with employers requires assessing recruitment needs and customizing programming options. In addition, excursions can manage expectations for all parties involved with a high return on investment. Career services professionals should cap a student group size to match the facility capacity, employer representative bandwidth, and event goals. In our experience, most career excursions are successful with 10 to 25 students—employers are not overwhelmed, and the limited seating motivates students. From a logistical standpoint, pre- and post-event planning is needed, such as transportation and marketing, but the actual on-site event execution is provided by the employer. Lastly, an excursion can also optimize staff hours as one or two staff members are needed for every excursion.
Universitywide Career Excursions
"The opportunity to visit the gaming company and interact with former Chapman grads and industry veterans was a great experience. Touring the facilities and hearing about the day-to-day of what it means to part of the gaming team was inspirational and motivating. From a game development faculty member's perspective, the visit provided great insight into the skills and tools my students need to master in preparation for their careers."
- Derek Prate, game development professor, Chapman University
The CPD offers opportunities for students and alumni from all disciplines to go behind the scenes of a particular industry and gain an exclusive look at the day-to-day operations of a company. CPD’s goal of facilitating these off-campus career excursions is to provide an educational experience outside of the classroom that demonstrates what students can do with their field of study at a small, mid-size, large, or global company. The excursions include roundtrip transportation, face-to-face interactions with employers, insights into company culture and operations, and information on future internship or job opportunities across a variety of functions and departments. Career excursions provide students the opportunity to ask questions and network with company employees and leaders to help further their career exploration by deepening their industry knowledge and exposing them to the work force. By participating in these off-campus site visits, students are able to feel better prepared and confident in the next steps of their career journey.
Career Excursions Updated
CPD’s career excursions traditionally focused on industry clusters and universitywide participation, leaving room for further customization to meet the engagement needs of employers looking for specific skill sets and majors and for students seeking program-specific career exploration opportunities.
In 2018-19, Chapman implemented a new career model, and specialized career excursions catering to narrower target audiences based on academic program became a tangible goal.
The new model is a hybrid consisting of centralized career services for all students and alumni (the CPD) that works directly with college career advisers housed within each of the university’s schools and colleges. The model is one that depends on a high level of collaboration and partnership; it requires universitywide standards of excellence and equal value attributed to addressing both macro-level career needs that transcend industries and those specialized resources and activities that meet micro-industry, college, and program-specific needs.
As a result of the new model, collaborating areas were identified and professional bridges were built. One of those collaboration opportunities was the expansion of career excursion programming.
College- and Program-Specific Career Excursions
“I think the career excursion to the oceanic agency was a great learning experience. I think ‘doing’ enhances the learning experience for students exponentially, especially with a faculty mentor on hand to answer questions or supplement the activity. We all retain more from an immersion experience. Teaching by lecture is useful, but students interacting with professionals in their professional laboratory setting enhances the experience and improves their retention of the information presented.”
- Fred Caporaso, food science professor, Chapman University
The career adviser for the Schmid College of Science & Technology and Fowler School of Engineering was able to collaborate in the planning of two micro-level excursions that synergized efforts among colleges and departments. For the first, she worked with the career adviser of Chapman’s Dodge College of Film and Media to coordinate an excursion in spring 2019 to a gaming company that is relevant to both tech and design students, resulting in a successful turnout among students.
Also taking part in the excursion was the game development instructor, who had limited engagement with career staff prior to the excursion. Like the students, the faculty member was amazed by the tour of the facility, alumni speakers, and internship overview that the company arranged during the visit. An added plus: As a result of the two-hour bus ride in Los Angeles traffic, the faculty member is now well informed of the professional development services that are available for his students.
The excursion transportation cost and student engagement expectations were shared among the two colleges. The event was posted on the university’s platform, with student registration access restricted to film and STEM colleges. Attendees included 22 students majoring in animation and visual effects, software engineering, or computer science, or minoring in game development programming as well as the faculty member and two career advisers.
Collaborating Across Departments
While collaborating across colleges served to be a very effective tool to increase attendance and interdisciplinary learning, the cost for transportation remained high, which limited the number of excursions that could be hosted annually.
Enter the Office of Residence Life and First Year Experience (RLFYE) and its “Beyond the Classroom” initiative, which assists in funding and promoting opportunities that bring together students and faculty members outside the regular classroom environment. The initiative is designed to break down interpersonal barriers to increase students’ ability to engage with faculty members for their various needs, be they curricular, professional, or personal.
By partnering with RLFYE, the STEM career adviser was able to coordinate the second event: a spring 2019 career excursion to an oceanic agency that handles fishery and seafood regulations. With a faculty liaison attending the excursion, the “Beyond the Classroom” program covered the transportation cost and liability waivers. This particular partnership not only facilitated an impactful career exploration event but also engaged faculty members within the industry. While the students and the faculty liaison were simply required to show up, the RLFYE program met its goal of facilitating an outside of the classroom experience for our students. As an added bonus, the excursion also met the employer’s outreach needs.
The excursion transportation cost was covered by the RLFYE program, while the marketing efforts and faculty recruitment were organized through the STEM career adviser’s college. Student registration, available through the university’s platform, was restricted to food science graduate students and STEM students interested in food science. Seven students majoring in food science or environmental sciences and policy took part with one faculty member and the STEM career adviser.
Future Considerations: Assessment and Expanded Outreach
Although we celebrate our outcomes, we also want to evaluate our excursions to improve effectiveness. To maintain historic and consistent data, we recognize the need for creating an assessment modality to gain quantitative and qualitative knowledge of the return on investment. To move beyond the satisfaction survey, and in partnership with the RLFYE program, an assessment modality is in the works to combine specific questions that will measure the student learning outcomes and identify areas of improvement.
In addition, we hope to explore other career excursion opportunities to include the collaboration of two to three colleges. That will optimize resources, allow career advisers to increase the frequency of excursions, and engage more faculty members. We also aim to continue partnering with the RLFYE program to mutually support each other in providing learning opportunities that go beyond the classroom and develop deeper connections between students, faculty, and industry.