Spotlight for Career Services Professionals
The University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) created its Academic & Career Development Center (ACDC) in 2013 to serve as an integrated office of academic advising for exploring students, and career services for all students and alumni.
“We had a very dynamic and visionary chief student affairs officer—Dan Shipp—begin at UNO,” says Cathy Pettid, UNO’s assistant vice chancellor for student affairs and director of ACDC.
Pettid was the director of the university’s counseling center at the time and points out that licensed mental health counselors in the counseling center were also providing academic advising for exploring students.
“It was an arrangement that no longer made sense with the growing mental health needs that UNO—like most universities—was experiencing,” she says. “At the same time, our career services office was woefully understaffed. Merging the advising needs of exploring students with career services made intuitive sense and followed national best practice models. Thus, ACDC was born.”
The decision to merge was a collaborative effort. Conversations started with Pettid, Shipp, and the director of the career services office. From there, several key academic and student affairs leaders were brought into the conversation.
“Ultimately, the counselors provided training to the career services staff on best practices in advising through an intensive two-day workshop and ongoing weekly training meetings for a semester,” Pettid explains. “The transition was fairly seamless, [and ACDC] was immediately popular with students, faculty, and staff.”
ACDC “lives” in student affairs and reports to Pettid. Structurally, the center has assistant directors of employer relations, career advising, and academic advising who take leadership responsibility for their respective areas. In addition to the leadership team, ACDC has:
- Four academic and career advisers (some of whom also have responsibility for special scholarship groups);
- One academic coach;
- One office assistant;
- Two graduate assistants; and
- Three undergraduate peer advisers.
ACDC is also responsible for coordination of a first-year experience course, University Seminar 1010, which enrolls more than 500 students during the academic year.
“Career services and academic advisers are very intentional about having career conversations with students early in their college careers,” Pettid points out. “We also have a robust relationship with faculty and frequently attend classes to provide presentations on a wide variety of career-related topics.”
The strong relationship with faculty is essential to the center’s success. Since the merger, Pettid reports seeing stronger referrals from advisers across campus to the ACDC. One of the chief facilitators of this connection is programming and innovative initiatives. For example, the ACDC recently started a popular initiative called “Class at the Fair,” through which faculty are encouraged to host part or all of their class in a reserved area of Baxter Arena and then participate in the ACDC career fair.
Also, the assistant director of career advising implemented a free professional development workshop—Career Advising Certificate training—for UNO faculty and staff interested in learning strategies for effectively advising and referring students in the area of career exploration.
“This interactive training is offered once per semester,” Pettid notes. “Upon completion of the two half-day training sessions, participants are issued a certificate of completion. The topics covered in this training include ‘Career Development Framework,’ ‘UNO Resources and Referrals,’ ‘Finding Your Fit,’ and ‘Planning for Plan B.’
“Since implementing the Career Advising Certificate training, we have seen career and major exploration appointments double. Additionally, ACDC staff believe that working in an integrated office has made them better advisers because they know more about the academic piece when working with students for career advising, and vice versa.”
Despite the clear benefits of this new structure, there are still pitfalls to avoid. For UNO, this includes remaining balanced and not letting one of the functions “outshine” the others.
“Because we all function as generalists and meet a variety of campus needs, it’s important not to lose sight of our holistic mission: ‘To empower students to explore, develop, and succeed at UNO and beyond. We prepare students for meaningful work by building bridges with campus, community, and employers,’” Pettid explains.
She says one of the keys for the successful integration of academic advising and career advising is to foster flexibility, adaptability, and strong buy-in to the mission.
“Another key,” Pettid continues, “is to have dedicated leadership to the specific areas. For ACDC, weekly staff meetings have been another critical element. We are a hectic office, and carving out 90 minutes per week for everyone to come together for professional development around a best-practice article or concept in academic advising, career advising, or higher education is important for staff cohesion, education, and morale. We are incredibly fortunate in that we genuinely like and respect one another, and share core values of developing our students to their personal best.”