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  • Menlo Revives Career Connect Day to Meet Goals

    January 27, 2020 | By NACE Staff

    Best Practices
    Students attend Career Connect Day at Menlo College.

    TAGS: best practices, program development, nace insights, career development

    Spotlight for Career Services Professionals

    Menlo College career services has extended its reach, strengthened students’ career readiness, and made key connections by transforming an ignored event—Career Connect Day—into a flagship offering.

    “Over the years, the event had lost its focus,” says Dylan Houle, director of internships, career services, and study abroad at Menlo College.

    “It initially started in the School of Business Administration. Students presented business plans and pitches during a competition judged by alumni and employers, and there were speakers. Since then, it has taken different shapes and forms, and has been supported and managed by different offices. It tried to be all things to all people and eventually got folded into our alumni and family day.”

    When Houle was hired in the summer of 2017, the event—and its budget—was in limbo and no office wanted to manage it. Career services, however, saw an opening.

    “One of the primary reasons that taking over this event was important for our office was that we saw it as an opportunity to execute some of our goals at scale,” Houle explains.

    “We're a small team; we have two full-time employees and two part-time employees, one of them being a student worker. When they offered us the budget for this event and the resources that went along with it, we saw it as an opportunity to integrate the eight NACE career competencies campuswide through a large-scale event.”

    Houle also knew that it could help bridge the faculty-staff divide and the classroom-to-career gap at scale. In spring 2018, the first year career services managed Career Connect Day, one of the challenges that the office faced was that classes were not cancelled for the event, which Menlo had done for previous iterations.

    “Buy-in from the faculty in that regard was quite limited,” Houle says. “We didn't have faculty delivering special workshops. We didn't have faculty promoting it to their students because some of the Career Connect Day events conflicted with class time. We were fighting for our students’ time and attention.”

    Despite this, career services was able to demonstrate the value of Career Connect Day through its guest speakers and alumni networking lunch. After that first Career Connect Day under career services’ direction, Kelly Davis was hired as Menlo’s assistant director of career services and study abroad, and she became the event’s staff lead.

    “We made a pitch to the provost and said that we were not able to engage as many students as we should have based on what we spent,” Houle says.

    “We suggested returning to the model of cancelling classes so we can make effective use of the donor’s sponsorship. The provost, who was new, was on board. Menlo’s commitment to the career readiness of its students was demonstrated by the president, provost, and leadership team in dedicating an entire day to career and professional development activities.”

    Last year, more than 50 percent of the Menlo student body participated in one or more Career Connect Day activities. These included 14 morning breakout sessions, a keynote speaker (Julie Zhou, author and vice president at Facebook), a career fair, and an evening student-alumni networking event.

    “To generate faculty buy-in, we invited them to lead breakout sessions on special topics of their choice; 10 faculty participated,” Houle points out.

    “Along with faculty, speakers included employer partners from Facebook, Uber, MassMutual, the San Jose Sharks, and more; representatives from student clubs, such as the Human Resources Club and the Real Estate Club; and alumni.”

    Houle and Davis explain that Career Connect Day has become an innovative and substantive solution to multiple challenges:

    • Building bridges with the faculty and ensuring greater “classroom-to-career” collaboration;
    • Attracting top-tier companies to the small college by attaching the career fair to a broader day of professional development and more candid opportunities for corporate branding;
    • Building community and greater affinity with alumni, five of whom returned to campus as guest speakers, and many more attended the evening mixer; and
    • Generating campus-wide excitement—rather than anxiety—around the career fair, networking, and career development in general.

    “We based our goals for Career Connect Day in reflection of Menlo's goals overall,” Davis says.

    “We raised the academic profile of Menlo as a whole by bringing in different speakers; engaged the expertise of our faculty, alumni, and staff; and bolstered the academic knowledge that exists at Menlo College. We also further enhanced the student experience. When I talk to employers that want to get involved with Career Connect Day, I explain that it is a day of professional development during which we instill in the students what lifelong learning really means.”

    Feedback from Career Connect Day has been very positive. Students noted great value in the breakout sessions, leading to a third time slot of breakouts being added for the 2020 iteration. In addition, Career Connect Day’s corporate sponsor has pledged to fund the event for the next five years.

    Houle says the success of the event has increased excitement campuswide and beyond for this year’s Career Connect Day.  

    “Kelly and I don't do anything alone,” he says. “We always do everything by committee—such as creating the group that reviews the session proposals—so it is not just career services saying this is how it is going to be. We make sure we have a voice from every department and every interested student group on campus. This way, everyone has a stake in its success.”

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