Release Date: November 17, 2014
BUFFALO, N.Y. – University at Buffalo senior Michael Kwame Twum knows firsthand how his university can change his life. He landed three coveted internships, beating out others with more traditional qualifications, all because of his contacts with UB’s Office of Career Services. Now, he’s looking at another great opportunity in a prominent downtown bank, just the kind of break he imagined throughout his undergraduate years.
“I was talking to people who had the same internships I was interested in, connecting me with other professionals who knew those jobs,” says Twum. “They were doing what they could to help me. And it was all through Career Services.”
Now picture this process — something most self-respecting graduates would say is as important as any experience they have with their university — multiplied a thousand times. Imagine the connections and referrals and informative pep talks start in a virtual world, but still retain the “emotional attachment” that happens when an alumnus of a university mentors someone going through a job or life transition and really needs help.
Imagine that key emotional connection of loyalty and affection students develop for their university becoming a continuous loop. One life-changing encounter leads to another, and the idea of UB being at the center of one of the most important parts of graduates’ lives becomes a trademark of the university.
That’s the vision — the work-in-progress, actually — of Arlene F. Kaukus, director of the Office of Career Services, and Larry Zielinski, executive director of the Office of Alumni Engagement. Merging their worlds of alumni and career services, Kaukus and Zielinski — both of whom who came to UB from prestigious private sector jobs — are building UB’s Career Community. The grand idea works on all cylinders: better jobs for grads, forging ties with what they call UB’s vast “powerhouse of talent” among its far-flung alumni, a boost to fundraising — not to mention the satisfaction of helping a great number of people and doing the right thing.
UB’s Career Community would make Twum the poster student for something that is occurring literally thousands of times a year from to Sheridan Drive to Singapore. His success story would be just another day-in-the-life for the UB Career Community.
“My mission is about helping students succeed,” says Kaukus. “One of the things we realized, particularly in the past three years, is some of the best help we can offer a student is to connect them with an alum who has connections to an opportunity, who might be able to offer career guidance, who actually may be the employer, or who maybe can review that student’s resume.
“We see our alumni as just huge resources to help our students succeed.”
That’s why Zielinski’s expertise and influence are so vital.
“The greatest value we have as a university — what is going to tie people to the university — is our alumni network,” says Zielinski. “For us to be able to say we have 237,000 alumni in over 100 countries, in all 50 states, in every major market, in every major career, every major industry, every major company: How can we harness that?”
That’s just the question Zielinski’s side of the equation is trying to figure out. The logistics of such a program is part of the challenge. What’s clear is the kind of immediate and tailored experience Twum is having is available for any UB student or alumnus.
“It’s a near-universal need,” says Zielinski. “Everyone at some point is in this situation where they need this kind of help. And at the other end of the transaction, it’s a nearly universal resource. I have never gone to a UB person and said, ‘I know a student in your field or an alumnus in career transition. Would you talk to him?’ and had someone say ‘no’ to me.”
The question is how to manage this willingness on a large scale.
“It’s got to be virtual,” says Kaukus. “It has to be easily accessible by both those who are in the helper mode and also those in need of help. That’s how people find information these days.”
And these discussions could start about careers, and evolve into advice about where to live or how to navigate a city or regular interactions that could lead to friendships. The Career Community will have a life of its own.
“The service itself — the connection of alumni-to-student, alumni-to-alumni — that’s a very personal interaction,” says Kaukus. “So regardless of where someone might be and regardless of where students might want to go and whatever insight the student is looking for, there will be a resource through the UB Career Community they can access.”
Zielinski says the UB Career Community now has close to 1,000 alumni willing to help. That number certainly will grow.
Kaukus recalls one of the first meetings her team had with Zielinski’s team. “We were both talking about the fact we can’t calculate on a daily basis the number of people who reach out to us to help their son, daughter, colleague or friend find ways to break into an industry or get connected to other professionals,” she said. “Given these conversations, we realized the potential of building a UB community that could be engaged in helping our students and alumni.”
This is how you build relationships and loyalty, she says.
And just as Twum is a good bet to maintain his fierce loyalty for his beloved UB throughout his life, these connections encouraged by the UB Career Community will be the lynchpin of lifelong relationships.
“You have to show them you’re not just a student coming into their office, and then they’ll never see you again,” says Twum. “You get out of Career Services exactly what you put into it. If you are putting in a full effort and show them you really want to pursue a career, you create advocates who will speak on your behalf.
“You don’t realize the ideas and services that come from this office,” he says. “These are things I never thought I could gain from school.”
Kaukus and Zielinski are building the UB Career Community through events, social media and email communications, as well as reaching out to alumni who already are helping in many capacities.
For more information or to join the UB Career Community, visit its website. http://alumni.buffalo.edu/career.