UB Today Alumni Magazine Online - Winter 2004
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Director of Career Services Dan Ryan is a proponent of hands-on training, as it contributes immensely to students' "theoretical and practical training" in the classroom.
  Crossing Over
Helping students make a smoother transition to the world of work

Story by Ann Whitcher

Illustration by A. Skwish, B.S. '84

Stroll through UB's Career Services Office in Capen Hall and you will spot sure signs of life after graduation-a library with titles like Business Etiquette for Dummies and Life After Shakespeare, information on GRE testing, an extensive collection of career videos and the like. Nearby are interviewing rooms where students and prospective employers can pursue the ideal match in a tight job market. The career office is filled with all kinds of tip sheets, from writing a résumé and preparing for an interview, to seeking a faculty reference and participating in UB's "Meet a Mentor" program. Beyond these expected signs of career-seeking activity, however, many at the university are trying to forge stronger links between the classroom and workplace through programs focused on career success across the disciplines. It is a phenomenon that can be observed in graduate and professional programs, too, and is often a happy by-product of curricular advances.

"We work very hard to help students learn to care about getting accurate information about careers," says Daniel J. Ryan, Ph.D. '97, director of career services at UB. "One of the best sources for career information is our tremendous base of alumni. 'Meet a Mentor'-an online database of 280 alumni volunteers who have offered to help students and recent graduates with career advice and networking opportunities-is an important part of this effort. We try to connect students with leaders in their field and with leaders in their community. In this way, they can get a better idea of what it's like to be a forensic scientist, an astronaut, a copywriter. We are fortunate to have a solid core of dedicated, caring alumni who are willing to spend a little time shepherding a student through this learning experience, while they explore a career possibility."

UB's diverse academic offerings help make the sale when it comes to meeting employer expectations. "We're an attractive campus because of our diversity," says Ryan. "Employers can come here and speak to people with backgrounds in engineering, pharmaceuticals-you name it."

Key to promoting the university in this manner is a series of job fairs held throughout the year. These are tailored to a range of interests and are often cosponsored by other university units. "We do a fair just for the health-related professions and one for technical majors," Ryan explains. "And we have a fair for graduate programs and law schools from across the country that are interested in recruiting our graduates. We also have a teacher recruitment fair (in which we collaborate with other schools), a business and liberal arts fair and internship and part-time employment events." Ryan's office also cosponsors "Jobsapalooza," which attracted 52 employers to the 2003 event in the Buffalo Convention Center and is free and open to all job seekers.


Professional master's programs

In recent years, the university has aggressively launched new degree or certificate programs that will intensify career preparation. UB now offers 38 master's programs that are combined with an undergraduate degree, in disciplines ranging from medicinal chemistry to aerospace engineering/business administration. According to UB Provost Elizabeth D. Capaldi, "these programs allow a student to complete a master's and undergraduate program in less time. The master's programs are those that can lead directly to very good employment."

Programs developed through a $225,000 award from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation in 2001, augmented by significant university funds, have allowed UB to develop professional master's degrees in emerging areas of bioscience. Joseph Gardella, professor of chemistry and associate dean in the College of Arts and Sciences, is now putting together three such programs-in molecular chemical biology, computational chemistry and environmental geographic information systems. Interested students are now admitted through the interdisciplinary master's of science in natural sciences, or through the College of Arts and Sciences department (chemistry, biology, geography, geology) corresponding with the professional master's being sought.

"The professional master's programs are designed to offer students not only in-depth coursework in special concentrations," adds Bruce Pitman, professor of mathematics and associate dean for research in the College of Arts and Sciences, "but also to give them exposure to topics in business and ethics that will help them in their jobs. The [Sloan] program encourages and assists students with internships, again to help them see what industry science looks like. The close connection with our external advisory board informs us of what industry wants in its employees."

According to Gardella, the UB initiative is tied to a national effort "to reexamine the role of master's degree training at Ph.D.-granting institutions and to create professional training that would lead more directly to industrial employment, given the current need for cross-disciplinary training and computational experience in these fields. We are trying to take advantage of the university's strengths in computational work, as we develop all three degree programs."

The university has also developed advanced certificate programs to bolster career preparation. Some of these are taken in tandem with doctoral or master's training. Others are pursued for their own benefit and may be all that an enrollee needs to flourish in a particular field. In another sign of flexibility, UB also allows students to complete two graduate degrees simultaneously in some areas. For instance, especially ambitious students can pursue an M.B.A. while also earning the M.D., J.D., M.S.W. or M.Arch. degree.


'Boot camp' for the world of work

In another form of career direction, the Engineering Career Institute (ECI)-featuring paid industrial internships for engineering majors at the close of the junior year-can be compared to "a boot camp for the world of work," says Ryan. "Indeed, any program that gives students the opportunity to add hands-on, extracurricular experience to the theoretical and practical training in the classroom will give them an advantage when they enter the workforce."

"The feedback from business executives is that engineering graduates in the United States are well prepared technically," says Dean Millar, assistant dean and ECI director. "However, they may lack some of the business-success skills that will make them immediately effective on the job. ECI supplements and enhances their technical preparation through pre-employment preparation classes that feature over 30 experts from industry. For example, a chief financial officer teaches corporate finance, two project managers teach project management, and company presidents and engineering directors teach leadership, teamwork and orientation to industry. It helps them understand some of the principles of corporate finance, project management, time management and value engineering [optimizing the effectiveness of the engineering solution]. ECI internships are located in firms from Long Island to the San Francisco Airport to Georgia to the State of Washington to Malaysia."

Of course, some fields are enjoying impressive growth, where newly minted graduates can look forward to a true seller's market. This is the case in the School of Nursing, where administrators are happy to make students aware of the current nationwide shortage of nurses. The school's placement rate for registered nurses who are graduates of the baccalaureate program is "near perfect," reports Assistant Dean Elaine R. Cusker.

Among many career-minded initiatives, the School of Nursing offers students a "capstone experience," which entails at least three weeks of 120 clinical hours spent working in an agency of the student's choosing, in a one-on-one relationship with a nurse preceptor. "Some of these students may go elsewhere in the state, or even to another state, to secure the right preceptorship, especially if they expect to relocate," says Martha Kemsley, Ph.D. '90, associate clinical professor and pediatric nurse practitioner. "This often leads to a permanent position." Often, too, she says, it can lead to a recent graduate being placed, enviably, in a specialty setting, such as intensive care, precisely because of the preceptorship training.


Meeting the demands of the marketplace

Market realities continually figure as School of Informatics curricular planners strive to match students with opportunities. According to School of Informatics Dean W. David Penniman, "the M.A. in informatics was designed in response to market research conducted in the business community. Employers from across New York State were given an opportunity to explain what skills are needed in the workplace. The courses in the program were then designed to train students to meet those needs.

"In a second example," he continues, "the American Library Association accredits our M.L.S. program. This accreditation is necessary when M.L.S. graduates are ready to enter the workplace, as many library employers require it of all applicants." Furthermore, as one of only two schools of informatics in the United States (the other is at Indiana University), "we are clearly at the forefront in creating new professional degrees in the information arena," says Penniman.

In the College of Arts and Sciences (responsible for educating 11,000 undergraduates and 1,700 graduate students), conversations with academic counselors are increasingly peppered with career talk. "Our undergraduate student specialists frequently meet with students to talk about UB and considerations beyond UB from their own vantage point," reports Donald T. McGuire Jr., adjunct assistant professor of classics and director of the college's student advisement services office. Students who pick more directed majors such as speech and hearing studies or the concentration in international business within the Department of Geography "know where they're heading," McGuire says. "On the other hand, students who gravitate to more flexible and less career-specific majors (English, classics, history) are always asking about career options from the outset-as are their parents!"


Choosing a career, not just a major

In the newly established School of Public Health and Health Professions, an advisement program is also helping students make better career connections as it clarifies the school's vision. The StARS (student advisement and recruitment services) program, established in 2003, is expected to help students plan more effectively for successful careers and first positions. "StARS offers academic advice to UB students in their first and second years with intended majors in exercise science, occupational therapy, physical therapy, athletic training and nutrition," says Cassandra F. Walker-Whiteside, Ed.M. '03, StARS director. "We're trying to give our students a great head start toward a career path, as opposed to their merely choosing a major." So while this office does everything from course scheduling to determining credits for transfer students, it also holds career and interest sessions in related fields.

Especially effective in helping students cross over into career success is UB's School of Management, which in 2002 was named number one in the world for customer satisfaction based on feedback from M.B.A. recruiters in a Wall Street Journal survey. (The newspaper did not create or publish this specific ranking within its larger 2003 survey of the world's top 50 business schools, but included UB for the third consecutive year.)

"We really strive to help students succeed," says Paul Allaire, Ed.M. '85 & B.S. '81, director of the school's career resources center. "And we cover all the details to help companies recruit here successfully." Allaire and his staff do this with programs like "M.B.A. Advantage," in which students examine issues of teamwork, problem solving and career preparation in sessions offered at three different points of the year, for the maximum benefit of those seeking diverse perspectives. "The other value-ad is a program we call 'Realistic Job Previews,'" says Allaire. "At two different times in the year, in January and again in August, we bring alumni back to sit in with small groups of M.B.A. students. The alumni talk very openly about their careers in, say, marketing or finance."

Often students themselves initiate return visits by knowledgeable alumni. In October 2003, says Alisha Taggart-Powell, M.S.W. '00, assistant director of recruitment and financial aid in the School of Social Work, "the School of Social Work Minority Student Association hosted an event where they brought back recent alumni to speak about life after graduating from the program, offered key advice on how to prepare for the job search and related survival skills on how to succeed."

Like other units of the university, the School of Law is developing curricula that help fortify the career connection after graduation, in addition to traditional career services, mentoring and the like. Vice Dean for Academic Affairs Peter Pitegoff cites curricula "in health care, in intellectual property, in international business transactions and in alternative dispute resolution that make a clear connection to areas of growth in the legal profession."


Curricular advances that count

"What distinguishes our program in this context," Pitegoff continues, "are the curricular concentrations that enable students to learn a particular area of law in depth and to learn how to solve problems, to learn what lawyers do in practice-this has clearly given them an advantage in career searches. And we've gotten feedback from employers that our students start with an understanding that's unusually advanced for a recent graduate."

Even when a job after graduation is all but certain, academic planners are fostering job skills that hold promise for the individual's long-term happiness in the field. "All our students find positions after graduation," says Elaine L. Davis, Ph.D. '82, associate professor and associate dean for student affairs in the School of Dental Medicine. "Most go on to do general practice residencies, others decide to pursue specialty training and others go directly into private practice. Our students are highly competitive in finding residency and postgraduate training positions. For this reason, we don't feel the need to work much on 'how to be successful.' However, we do want our students to make informed decisions about their chosen careers, so we do try to get them to think of, and gather information about, career options early on.

"For instance," says Davis, "students are formally introduced to concepts related to communicating with patients, and underlying causes of patient fear and anxiety at the end of the second year, at a time when they are beginning significant clinical experience. We believe that successful dentists must be able to communicate effectively with their patients, and must be able to treat anxious or fearful patients. Students also explore issues of cultural diversity in a seminar setting; they are also exposed to the concept of quality assurance and risk management."


Specialty rotations and a travel allowance

Like other academic units at UB, the School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences is precisely attuned to career issues, employing a range of initiatives to help students find suitable positions. "We offer specialty clinical rotations in such areas as HIV, renal transplant, ICU/CCU, community health centers and hospice work," comments Rebecca Brierley, B.A. '88, external affairs administrator. "Also, our dean has established a student travel fund to attend conferences, allowing students to network, be visible to others across the nation and be exposed to cutting-edge learning modalities."

"Programs in clinical pharmacokinetics, pharmacogenomics and the preclinical portfolio course-in which students engage in community-based preclinical work-give them heightened career preparation, as does pharmacy management, which teaches students how to run a business," adds Karl D. Fiebelkorn, M.B.A. '88 & B.S. '78, assistant dean for student affairs and professional relations.

Meanwhile, in UB's Office of Career Services, Dan Ryan and his staff continue to scan the horizon for job opportunities. "We are very aggressive in our employment efforts," says Ryan. New initiatives include this past fall's "career conversations," in which UB alumni, grouped by professional segment, met informally with about 200 UB students. The idea is to spur career connections and foster good career planning from these seemingly serendipitous encounters. A similar "speed networking" career event is planned for this spring, in which prospective employers and students will be brought into proximity, much in the way potential sweethearts are introduced in so-called "speed dating."

Although Ryan's office serves all students, it is not surprising that he and his staff see more seniors than freshmen. "However, this gap is narrowing with the addition of part-time employment programs," Ryan points out. "The career theme is stressed from freshman orientation, as these new students are acquainted with the importance of maintaining a career focus and gaining practical understanding of a given field throughout their undergraduate studies."


Ann Whitcher is editor of UB Today.



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