There’s a familiar saying that you’ve probably heard before: find something you love doing, and you’ll never have to work a day in your life. Of course, that’s easier said than done. Tracing a line from high school through college and on to a successful career isn’t as easy as a game of connect the dots. Ask a young person and they’re likely to tell you that their plans after college involve finding a job with a high annual salary and climbing the corporate ladder. But probe a little deeper, and you’ll find that the pathway from college to a successful career is ambiguous, fraught with uncertainty and indecision. Many young people attend college in the hopes of discovering what gets them excited, or what aptitudes they possess—college is a great place to discover those things. Unfortunately, figuring out what you love to do, or what you’re good at, takes time and a healthy dose of luck.
“This is a challenge that most people don’t consider. We are told to follow our passion, but what if we have multiple passions? How do we pick?” That’s Dr. Justin Edwards, Director of Career Exploration & Development at Youngstown State University. His team knows a thing or two about pointing young students in the right direction, and they make sure YSU freshmen hit the ground running. “One of the most-asked questions is, how can I still plan for four-year graduation if I start as an exploratory student?” Dr. Edwards says. “We strive to make sure exploratory students are never wasting their time, energy, or money on classes that do not count toward graduation. All majors at YSU require a selection of common general education classes that are a great place to start exploring interests.”
Still, deciding what path to get started on can be a stressful decision. With the help of career exploration advisors, students at YSU take the guesswork out of the equation, and make an ally out of luck. Students who show some initiative benefit most from individualized career and exploratory advising, and it starts with self-awareness. “As students explore academic pathways and careers, we believe in an approach that places students at the center of the process. Self-awareness is an essential first step in career and major decision-making,” says Dr. Edwards. “In order to help students build self-awareness, we are here to help you identify your VIPS. This stands for your Values, Interests, Personality, and Strengths. Once we build an understanding of who you are as an individual, we will help you gather important information about possible career paths. This includes learning about attributes needed to be successful in the job market, occupational outlook in the region and world, as well as gathering salary data and lifestyle strategies associated with your chosen field.”
Having a strategy, or a roadmap to the future, keeps YSU students one step ahead of the competition, and gives them some breathing room to explore. After all, what is a career really? Ideally, it’s more than just an occupation, or even a series of occupations. Students hope to pursue a career where they can expect to meet with success and a sense of fulfillment. In college, students engage in a process of growth and development. That process continues throughout their lives, as they grow and develop throughout their careers. To help identify the career path that represents their best chance for success and fulfillment, students at YSU enjoy a wide range of experiential learning opportunities, including internships, clinical and field work, student teaching, research for credit and more. By interacting directly with the sorts of companies that will hire them in the future, students embark on their careers the same way they started at YSU: with the advantage of a head start.
Olivia Johnson is a senior in the Williamson College of Business Administration at YSU. A marketing sales major, she’s currently finishing up her second internship as a data analyst for a manufacturing firm. She credits YSU career services for helping her determine what kind of job she wanted after graduation. “I learned what type of products/service I want to sell and I learned that sales is the perfect fit for me upon graduation.” Olivia says. “The career services at YSU have really helped me transform from a college student to someone who is ready for a full time job upon graduation.” In particular, Olivia said that her career advisor, Christina O’Connell, had her back during her entire time at YSU. “Christina went above and beyond to help me…from finding internships, doing resumes, cover letters, and finding a full time job upon graduation. My advice for students is to use the career services…and pay attention in the business professionalism class because it really will help you in the long run!”
Christina O’Connell is the Director at the Center for Career Management in the Business School. She says that her job is to make sure that students stay on the right track—from day one, when freshman begin exploring their options—all the way through their senior year. Christina advises students to make their career coordinators their “best friends,” especially during their last two years at YSU. From guidance and assistance with crafting resumes, to courses and seminars on networking and etiquette, and even just reminders to follow up with applications, students who utilize career services have an accessible advantage in a rapidly changing marketplace. “The most rewarding part for me is seeing the impact we have on students lives,” says Christina. “Watching the students grow and mature as they take on internships…we see them start as students, and leave as professionals.”
While students at YSU develop general skills in things like reading, writing, computing, and critical thinking, it’s the combination of those skills with experiential learning and effective career planning that gives them a leg up on the competition. Today, having an advantage is more important than ever. A recent study by employment site Monster.com indicates as many as 45 per cent of 2020 college graduates in the United States are still looking for a job in their field. With most employers preferring to hire candidates with experience, the internships and familiarity that YSU offers students is an enormous advantage for graduates of the school. This is especially true of STEM careers.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, careers in STEM, or Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, are growing at twice the rate of the national average, and competition for those jobs is fierce. Exploring opportunities in STEM careers, and making an informed decision about which one to pursue, is what the STEM Expo is all about.
Twice a year, YSU’s College of STEM—the only STEM-dedicated college in the state of Ohio—hosts their STEM Expo, where employers, alumni, and students meet. Sherri Hrusovski is the Director of STEM Professional Services at Youngstown State University’s College of STEM. She coordinates the STEM Expos each year. “Over 80 employers from private, non-profit, and government sectors attend,” Sherri says. “It’s a fun environment where employers recruit for internship and co-op positions, as well scout for full-time employees from the pool of recent graduates and alumni.” Students benefit from the relaxed atmosphere, getting a little practice at interacting with potential employers, as well as exposure to a wide range of local and national employment opportunities.
Jillian Penman is a graduate of the William Rayen School of Engineering at YSU College of STEM. She remembers her first internship fondly. “My summer internship in 2019 solidified my interest in Structural Engineering,” writes Jillian. “One of the very first projects I played a part in happened to be located in my hometown of Poland, Ohio. The plan was to rehabilitate the Mauthe bridge in the Poland Municipal Forest. In general, I enjoy having the opportunity to improve the day-to-day lives of communities as a Structural Engineer, but having the ability to make an impact on my hometown created an extra special place in my heart.”
Jillian also gives credit to Sherri for helping her embark on her career: “The day after the STEM Expo in Spring 2019, I had an on-campus interview. After my interview, an outside individual who learned I was studying Civil Engineering spoke very highly of another company—different from the one I had an on-campus interview with. This company happens to be my current employer, ms consultants. Once Sherri Hrusovski overheard my conversation with the individual, she offered to help me get in touch with ms consultants. Within a couple weeks, I was called in for an interview and I received an internship offer from ms consultants very soon after my interview!”
The STEM Expo, as well as YSU’s Career Fair and the Williamson College of Business Administration’s Meet the Employers Day, are all examples of how YSU facilitates the relationship between employers and students. YSU graduate Jordan Pennell writes, “Of course being exposed to career opportunities is valuable, but having the opportunity to interact with recruiters and test my elevator speech was equally important.” Students who attend the career fairs have the added benefit of seeing first-hand the link between their studies and their future goals, and what it takes to get there. Jordan sheds some more light on the experience: “First impressions are important, but this setting is a little more informal, so it was ok to make mistakes with your elevator speech, cover letter, resume etc…you are able to learn and recover for when it matters.”
Students aren’t the only ones who benefit from YSU’s relationship with employers from every sector. Businesses are enriching their workforce from a talented pool of new recruits. Jeanne Mosure is an associate at a local engineering and architecture firm. She writes, “Numerous employees have attended YSU undergraduate and graduate programs, including many [on] the senior management team. [Our] employees have also been adjunct professors within the Rayen School of Engineering.” Mosure sees YSU’s Stem Professional Services as an essential asset to the community, writing that her firm’s partnership with YSU is “…ongoing and critical, as infrastructure development and improvements are key to our local and national future. Civil engineers are, and will continue to be, in great demand.”
In addition to identifying future talent, employers that partner with YSU contribute to student learning outcomes by providing work experience, even for students who elect alternate paths. Department heads at local companies coordinate training as a part of the internship or “job shadowing” experience. “Shadowing is essential for students early in their career path,” says Dr. Edwards. “The ability for students to be in the proximity of professionals who are doing the work they want to do helps student clarify goals and build an aspirational future self.” For students who are still in exploration phase, the training is still valuable. “It is important because students evolve over the course of their time at the university,” writes Crystal Bannon, Senior Career Advisor. “As they evolve, so do their career aspirations. So it is important to remind them to keep developing in this area.”
For most students, the path from school to financial stability and fulfillment is not self-evident. Students tend to focus end result of their time in school, rather than the roadmap that leads to their desired future. With Youngstown State University’s Career Exploration and Development, students are encouraged to find out who they are, identify their relative strengths and what they are happy doing, and synthesize those characteristics in a blueprint for success. YSU students begin exploring the possibilities for their future in their first semester, while many graduates, from schools nationwide, have only limited exposure to the full range of careers available to them.
Take it from Dr. Edwards: “Simply put, employers are looking for evidence that students can do the job, and our office is here from the beginning to help students identify high quality part-time student employment. Not only will this help you learn about how you fit into the workforce, but when combined with scholarships and grants, student employment will be a vehicle to make a debt-free education within reach at YSU!”
Founded in 1908, Youngstown State University offers over 150 undergraduate and graduate degree programs. With more than 12,000 students, a 14:1 student to faculty ratio is maintained, with an average class size of 21. High-quality education at an affordable price has always been the goal at YSU. Scholarships are available, as well as additional financial assistance for those in need.With tuition at an all-time low for in and out-of-state students, Youngstown State University is making planning for your future easier than ever. Learn more at https://ysu.edu
Originally published by Pittsburgh Action News and written by StoryStudio.