Service Learning and Career Development Helps Students Prepare for Future

Kathryn Plummer (left), Jennifer Hansen and Adry Clark are the friendly, helpful people students will find in the Service Learning and Career Development office in the WUC.

For Western Oregon University students looking for an on-campus job, a work study position, a spring break adventure or a professional mentor, all the answers can be found in a single place: The Service Learning and Career Development (SLCD) office in the Werner University Center.

The office, led by Director Adry Clark along with Assistant Director Kathryn Plummer and Career Development Coordinator Jennifer Hansen, exists to “Explore what you want to do, get connected to experiences and excel thereafter,” as Plummer puts it.

The employees at the center can help students apply for an on-campus or off-campus job. They also coordinate work study positions and bring local and national employers to campus for job fairs. With at least 1,400 available jobs at WOU and hundreds more outside of campus, there is no reason a student who wants a job can’t get one.

But, Clark is quick to point out, there is even more to what SLCD provides.

“We also help them figure out what they want to do,” she said. “We help with the exploration process. Students may come to networking events, counseling sessions and events where they get to meet people. They usually come away from that knowing more about the world and more about themselves and finding some people to alter their aspirations of what they can do.”

The SLCD office, along with the career development departments at all seven public universities in Oregon, have moved to a new platform this year to assist students in accessing a wealth of knowledge and resource. It’s called Handshake, and it’s accessed through the WolfLink program in each student’s Portal.

With Handshake, many different aspects of career development services can be found in a single place, an improvement over the previous system WOU used. For example, students can find job postings, work study opportunities, SLCD events and workshops, alumni mentors seeking mentees and much more.

In addition to being more comprehensive, Handshake also has a better user interface for the many audiences who use it, including students. Plus, it’s mobile friendly.

“It’s very familiar to them. They get it,” Hansen said. “It’s a little more up their alley.” She said it also learns about users from their previous searches and can customize content based on their indicated interests.

“Everything students and employers need to do to engage with our office is now in one platform,” Plummer added.

The system upgrade, being used statewide, is also about transparency. Users need to understand the process clearly in order to take the best advantage of the diverse offerings Handshake includes.

“Since we have so many first-generation students, I think one of the best things you can do for those students, or really anybody, is being really transparent about the process,” Clark said. “If you want to find a place to work on campus, you should know where to look. And it should be clear how to apply.”

Funding from the Oregon Talent Council is supporting the use of Handshake in Oregon universities, and one of the panel’s main goals, Clark said, is to be able to track use and outcomes, something that has been difficult in the past with universities using a wide range of platforms for career development.

“(The OTC) wants to find out what is impacting students’ success,” Clark explained. “Where are they going? What are you guys doing to prepare them? Handshake gives us that information and allows us to compare to other universities to see where we’re at.”

Plummer, especially, is enthusiastic about the network of resources that Handshake brings together. She’s already seen a big uptick in the number of employers in the Handshake listings because all seven universities are feeding into that database. That gives the WOU SLCD program access to companies outside our area that she’s never had before as a possible employer or partner.

“I love that it brings together four different audiences: students, on-campus employers, employers as a whole and alumni, who may want to become mentors,” she said.

Later this week, SLCD will be participating in two workshops presented by Payroll to introduce employees to new policies and resources related to hiring student workers. One new policy is that every job must be listed in WolfLink will make things easier for everyone, including the payroll office, students and hiring managers, Clark said.

Outside of job-search assistance, SLCD is a great place for students to gain other valuable career development knowledge. One of the most common services the employees – or peer career counselors – offer is resume reviews. They look for gaps, missing elements, skills that should be listed and formatting. Career exploration and mock interviews so are popular services.

If these skills seem a little like small potatoes in the face of the big employment picture, Clark points out that it’s interrelated. She would like to see all WOU employees embrace the idea that it takes a campus to employ a student.

“Our goal this year is to do a lot of collaboration with different people on campus on experiential learning and high-impact practices for students, so they are learning through experience,” she said. “It all supports (WOU’s) strategic plan. We try to make employment on campus more of a learning experience instead of just a job. (WOU employees who hire students should ask themselves) What are the career-readiness outcomes for students as they work in our departments. How they are hired, trained and evaluated? How are they applying what they have learned in school on the job?”

SLCD also encourages students to get involved with school clubs, particularly those that offer leadership opportunities. Even if students just volunteer to run an event or serve as secretary of their student organization, taking the initiative to accept additional responsibility speaks volumes to future employers, and it translates well to a resume.

“One of our goals is, because students are getting a good education at WOU, is to help them recognize what skills they are learning and to help them articulate what that is,” Clark explained. “Whether it’s communication skills or critical thinking skills, they need to understand that they’ve developed skills that are very marketable. But it’s not always obvious to students.”

The women who run SLCD agree that in recent years, there seems to be a bit more urgency for students finding a job during their years at WOU. Clark speculated that it was due to increased tuition and other costs. Hansen said work study jobs, which are tied to financial aid, are particularly in high demand. Although students who receive work study funds are paid just like any other worker, the money for their wages comes mainly from the federal government.

“I tell students that if they are looking for a work study job, they need to jump on whatever is posted (on Handshake,” said Hansen, who oversees the off-campus work study program. “They go fast, and people really need them.” She clarifies that despite its name, work study does not mean the job will be in the student’s chosen field or earn them college credit for their worktime.

“I’ve got some great (work study) sites,” Hansen said. “I’m just trying to get students at those sites.” She has agreements with the Centrals School District, the Dallas School District and the Salem-Keizer Education Foundation. New contracts this year are with the Polk County Sheriff’s office and Polk County Family Outreach Services.

A major part of what SLCD does is about attracting employers to campus. There are five career fairs planned for the 2017-18 academic year, and many other events where students can meet working professionals.

“We are one few offices that face outward to the community,” Clark said. “A big part of what we do is to bring people in, then we try to get students out connecting them. People on campus see what we do here, and we stay involved with the community, serving on boards (of directors) and participating in (organizations such as) the chamber and SEDCOR.”

Students will have many opportunities to learn more about what SLCD has to offer during New Student Week next week. There are multiple events planned, and students who want to get an on-campus or off-campus job right away should be sure to attend. Clark, Plummer and Hansen are excited to meet a new class of students.

“Our office helps you with anything related to your career development, whether it’s figuring out what you want to do, learning skills to make that happen or actually getting opportunities,” Clark said. “We connect people to transformative experiences, whether it’s career-related, personal or civic-engagement-related.”

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