Have you ever worked on something behind the scenes for months, or even years, and then brought it forward for the world to see? That sense of excitement, tinged with anticipation of potential questions and reactions, is hard to describe unless you’ve experienced it. It is the sense I have as I write this, my very first blog post on Edinboro TartanEdge – excitement and celebration, with just a touch of nervousness.
TartanEdge has been in the works for a long time, even before we began our partnership with uConnect earlier this year. For as long as I’ve worked in higher education, I’ve grappled with one primary conundrum: How do we get the audience that we know needs our services to actually know that they (and we) exist, use them, and benefit from them? Working in college career services is often like the old adage about a tree falling in the forest. We sometimes languish on the outskirts of the more exciting, shinier, more “here and now” of campus life. We know that we offer good resources, and many experts know it too. But for too long, many of us have struggled with the same challenge: How do we show our worth so we can do the most good?
One of the most pressing challenges in Career Services has been bringing services to scale. At Edinboro, we’ve made a lot of progress on this front. Since 2016, our online customized career and internship network, HirEU, has gone from a tiny, oft-ignored link to a recognizable brand with hundreds of new jobs and internships posted each month. We launched a research-based career assessment that provides clear, easy-to-understand personality and career information and scaled it to our entire campus community. We even found a way to bring interview preparation online with a full curriculum of on-demand video courses, complete with mock interviews tailored to specific industries. These tools have enabled us to provide services to thousands of students and alumni, a significant increase over years past.
We made the most progress in Fall 2018 when we brought two new professionals onto our team: Christina Moreschi and Peter Ostrander. Christina and Peter brought a wide range of skills and experience to Edinboro, including workforce development, liberal arts career development, communications and counseling expertise. More importantly, they brought dedication and commitment to our students and a love for their profession. They joined our talented and highly skilled graduate assistant, Lauren Parent, and our Career Peer Ambassador team, Lexi Schricker and Taylor Allison. In a few short years, the Career Center had a new name, a new location and office, a larger staff, and awesome online, scaled resources.
However, as any internet/app/smartphone/computer user (literally, everyone) knows, user experience is important to sustain progress. Although our resources were getting a lot of use and positive feedback, we struggled to communicate to all of our audiences the best way to access everything. Sure, we offer online appointment scheduling, you just have to login to your portal and open Starfish. You also have to know that we have dedicated career coaches on staff, ready to meet with you, so we will email you, post flyers and make some class announcements. Want to take the Traitify? No problem, here is a separate link for that – you can find it buried eight links into our website or call our office and we will email it to you. We can critique your mock interview, no problem! Just find the link to Big Interview, sign up for an account, email us a video link, and give us a few days. You get the idea. No one likes to search multiple sites, using multiple browsers, to find multiple resources. Further, most of us don’t know what we don’t know – myself included. So, I went looking for a solution.
Enter uConnect. When I attended the annual Eastern Association of Colleges and Employers (EACE) conference this spring, I knew that my top priority was attending Jeff Selingo’s talk on the future of higher education and career services. I made sure I arrived early for Jeff’s presentation to secure a front-row seat. Before Jeff was another presenter, David Kozhuk, Founder of uConnect. David shared the story that inspired him to develop uConnect: A successful tech entrepreneur, he was invited back to his alma mater to talk about his career. He expected a full house – it seemed every Millennial wanted a hot tech career in Silicon Valley, right? Instead, he experienced every career services professional’s most dreaded feeling – only a few students showed up. Upon talking with the career services staff, he learned that they used all marketing tools at their disposal to promote the event: Emails, flyers, announcements in the campus newsletter, etc. He realized that the Career Center was offering amazing resources, including the chance to network with successful alumni. Yet, the word wasn’t getting out, and staff was frustrated. From this experience, uConnect was born.
Listening to David speak, I remembered all of the career fairs, presentations, workshops, speakers and so on that I had scheduled over the years. I am intimately familiar with the sinking feeling that comes with low turnout for an event that you’ve planned for months, and the frustration of meeting an amazing student in the last two weeks of their senior year who is looking for the very opportunities you’ve been bringing to campus all year long. I thought about the declining utilization of our great online tools – tools that were designed to scale and fill the gaps that a small staff cannot fill alone. As Jeff Selingo presented us with data about the need for innovation in career services to create a campus culture centered around the whole student, I knew that something had to change if the Edinboro Career Center was truly going to modernize and innovate to serve our students.
I spent the next six months working with our internal team and the wonderful staff at uConnect to bring TartanEdge to life. It wasn’t easy at first – when you want to spend money on anything, you have to show the need and the value. Fortunately, I had a lot of data at my disposal to show that there was a need. I had the support of our Edinboro University campus leaders, all of whom are unwaveringly committed to student success. I wrote the proposal, crunched the numbers and our Provost and President approved the initiative. The name “TartanEdge” is credited to our communication wiz, Chris LaFuria, who came up with it during a long lunch at the Crossroads Dinor where we both spent more than a few minutes staring at the ceiling, trying to conjure a name that captured what we were trying to accomplish.
What is the TartanEdge? It is what we are trying to help our students gain. It’s the grit, the determination, the “something different” that makes our students strive. It’s what an Edinboro student gets when they are engaged in their own development. We are here to steward, to coach, to support, and to provide the tools, resources and information. But the students are here to make it all come together. Every single thing that we do is for them. TartanEdge is a way for us to not only bring all of our digital resources into one space, but it gives us room to expand, develop communities, bring in alumni, employers, faculty, staff and other experts all around one mission: Help Edinboro students strive.
I have a confession to make. I am an Edinboro alumna myself (English Literature, 2005/Master of Communication Studies, 2008). I was a transfer, first-generation student…and I never visited the Career Center. Looking back, I think a friend or two may have mentioned it to me, but I didn’t listen. I thought I could do it all on my own. Now I have had a great career, but had I sought career counseling, I may have saved myself some years working in jobs that were not a great fit for me. I would have done an internship. I probably would have studied abroad. This experience is one reason why for me, this is personal as well as professional.
My goal, and the goal and mission of the Center for Career Development and Experiential Learning, is to create a presence that is so integrated into the EU experience that no student leaves without realizing that we are here to help them thrive. We will continue to strive to help every student achieve his or her version of personal and professional success, and that is what TartanEdge is all about. It’s a tool to help us do the most good.
Thank you for reading – keep striving!
PS: (We are looking for guest bloggers! Alumni, faculty, staff, employers and industry experts are welcome. Please reach out to me if you are interested at firstname.lastname@example.org)