Published October 9, 2020
With clear intentions to give students “something to feel happy about and create meaningful connections,” Career Services has designed an innovative, interactive, digital-savvy approach to help students explore career paths by establishing personal networks and mentors, and having fun along the way.
Called Career Communities, the new initiative is both a practical strategy to encourage students to explore career paths — sometimes beyond their selected major — and a virtual world of engagement devices and incentives.
“Students often think career paths are linear, when in reality career paths are a beautiful, messy knot with interests and connections intertwined at each stop along the way,” says Jenna Smith, coordinator of assessment and marketing for Career Services.
Career Services built Career Communities around values and needs clearly evident for students struggling with career preparation amid a global pandemic.
“Three things we know students are seeking today more than ever: connections, a sense of belonging and community,” says Arlene Kaukus, director of Career Services. “During this COVID-19 situation and beyond, Career Communities responds to all three.”
At its strategic heart, the new strategy is a way for students to “think beyond their major to design life after college,” according to Holly Justice, who has guided the design of the strategy.
“Students often struggle with choosing a major for many reasons,” says Justice, one of six career coaches facilitating Career Communities. “And even after choosing a major, many voice anxiety about not seeing a linear connection of that major to the job market.”
The six career communities are built around industries to allow students to digitally explore their options alongside like-minded students, faculty and staff, employers and alumni in that industry.
Students can join as many communities as they want to explore, then perhaps narrow their interest over time. They have access to:
“Career Communities emphasizes that it’s OK to be curious, to follow interests, design a life including a job, no matter where you are, messy or not,” says Smith. “It’s also nice to have a community of people with you every step of the way.”
The initiative launched on Sept. 30 with a “Career Community Birthday,” an Instagram celebration featuring short videos of UB faculty, students and staff talking about their career path, videos Smith describes as “inspiring and bold.”
“And that’s what makes Career Communities so relevant,” says Kaukus. “It’s full of real people with real stories creating community where together, we discover that it’s OK to try something new, to follow interests and make connections in order to design a life you love.”
Nominated by students and staff, each featured speaker received a Career Community Birthday Box in appreciation of their involvement. Student influencers from various class levels, degrees and interests received their own birthday box at their home and shared their “unboxing” on Instagram to reach other UB students.
“Hopefully, these students will reach out to other students so they might become interested and join Career Communities together,” says Smith.
An upcoming video that includes the UB stories will feature a Career Community “branded sound” audio soundtrack created by alumni who developed a music-based startup company, Aviate, when they were UB students. The video also includes “string art,” making the point the path to success and careers often comes with twists and turns.
The celebration also includes a curated Spotify playlist by sophomore business administration major A.J. Franklin, aka DJ A.J., fondly known on campus as Boombox Guy. Career Services links to his playlist on the Career Communities website.
Franklin was recruited by Smith, who heard his musical contributions to campus before the pandemic.
“Last year, I would sit in my second-floor office in Capen Hall, and every day I’d hear music traveling through campus,” Smith says. “I was so curious; I had to know where this music was coming from.
“Finally, I uncovered on Reddit there was a legendary first-year student on campus who was responsible for making my week with his talent. ‘Boombox Guy’ — aka DJ A.J. — was known to travel to campus carrying two boom boxes blasting his latest playlist.”
When UB went fully remote this spring, Smith was disappointed her day wouldn’t be filled with hearing DJ A.J.’s music through the walls of Capen Hall.
“Then it occurred to me,” she says. “This is exactly what we tell students to do. Follow your interests, and that will allow you to uncover something you love. I knew it then, whatever we did with Career Communities, DJ A.J. had to be part of it.
“That’s the best part of Career Communities,” says Smith. “Students like A.J. Franklin can explore their interest in music while learning business skills and discover almost any industry where skills and interests are needed.”