Podcast

3 Ways to Make Career Services Everybody’s Business

Christian Garcia of the University of Miami talks about his team’s motto, “Career services is everybody’s business,” and shares three specific ways they’re implementing it across campus.

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Christian Garcia, Associate Dean and Executive Director of the Toppel Career Center at the University of Miami, talks in this episode about his team’s motto: “Career services is everybody’s business.”

He also shares three specific ways his team is implementing this motto across campus:

  1. Faculty toolkit and webpage. The team created a PDF toolkit for faculty members to help them understand what the Toppel Career Center does, what resources they offer and where to find them, etc. The toolkit lives on Toppel’s Faculty and Staff Engagement Hub webpage and includes:
    1. An overview of the career center
    2. What career readiness means (along with definitions of the NACE competencies)
    3. A list of ways faculty can partner with the career center to support students’ career development
    4. An email template faculty can use to communicate with students about Toppel’s resources
    5. A list of ideas for incorporating career readiness into syllabi, including syllabus statement templates, example assignments and activities, and example resources. 
  1. Live job and internship RSS feeds on academic webpages. Christian and his team partnered with deans, faculty, staff, and other academic leaders on campus to integrate live job and internship RSS feeds from Handshake onto each academic department’s page. The feeds include only jobs relevant to each particular academic area. You can see examples on the College of Engineering’s page here and the College of Arts and Sciences’ page here
  1. Toppel Awards. This annual awards program recognizes students, student organizations, faculty, staff, alumni, recruiters, and employers who exemplify a commitment to career education and guidance. Christian says the number of nominations has grown every year. Over time, it’s become a great way to recognize partners, and it keeps Christian and his team up-to-date on what career readiness initiatives are going on across campus.

Resources from the episode:

Transcript

Meredith Metsker:

Hey everyone. Welcome back to the Career Everywhere Podcast. I’m your host Meredith Metsker, and today I am joined by Christian Garcia. He’s the associate Dean and executive director of the Toppel Career Center at the University of Miami. Thank you for being here, Christian.

Christian Garcia:

Thank you for having me. I’m so excited to be here.

Meredith Metsker:

Yeah, I’m glad to have you, and I’m excited to talk to you today about your Career Center’s motto, which is “Career services is everybody’s business.” I know there are a few specific things that you’ve launched in the last few years to really support that motto, and I’d love to dig into those as well, but first, for some context, for those of you listening, Christian has worked in career services at the University of Miami for 22 years and has spent the last 15 or so of those leading the Toppel Career Center. In that time, he’s done a lot of really innovative things in an effort to elevate the role of career services and empower as many people on campus as possible to have those career conversations with students. So I’m super excited to have Christian on the pod today to talk about what it means to make career services everybody’s business, and then how he’s making that concept a reality at the University of Miami. So before I get into my questions, Christian, is there anything else you’d like to add about yourself, your role at the University of Miami or your background?

Christian Garcia:

Sure. I guess I’ll start with, to be quite honest, I really never intended or wanted to work in career services. I always like to share that story because I was working kind of on the other side of the student lifecycle, working with incoming freshman with Eastern Orientation and those kinds of programs. I finally just woke up one day and decided I want to change, but I still want to stay in higher education, but career services was nowhere near on my list, let alone it’s top of the list. So I kind of fell into this as an associate director in employer relations, and here I am 22 years later, someone who gets bored pretty easily and pretty quickly, to be at one place for 22 years tells you that it has evolved and changed so much, and it has kept me motivated and excited to continue to try new things and be as dynamic as possible.

So I always like to share that because I think it’s important. This was not something I had intended to do necessarily. So there’s that. I would say the other thing is being a first generation college student, the first in my family to go to college, that really kind of informs the work that I do on a daily basis because I think back to when I was in college, I had no idea what career services was or did, and I’m like, wow, if I would’ve used it. Who knows? Who knows where my life, what trajectory it could have taken me. Although I’m happy, I’m glad that I landed where I am, but we’re always looking at it from many different lenses, but especially from those students who don’t have folks in their family or in their immediate family to help guide them along the process when it comes to college.

Hen the last thing I’ll say is that Toppel is, we are kind of a primarily centralized career center or university when it comes to career services. There are some offices throughout campus, little ones, but we do serve all the students, both undergraduate and graduate. So thought I’d just set that stage as well.

Meredith Metsker:

Okay. Well, thank you. That was some great context and it sounds like you’ve kind of found your groove in terms of your career path.

Christian Garcia:

Absolutely, and I think I always say it’s interesting because career services, you have one foot on campus and one foot off of campus because you have these two kind, we’ll have many audiences, but you have the internal and the external, and I think that’s really different. I think you’d be pressed to find an office that touches so many different audiences, both on and off campus. So I think that’s really unique that that’s one of the things that excites me. Then also, I had more balance in my life, to be quite honest. My summers aren’t shot anymore doing student orientation, I’m able to have ebbs and flows, but they’re spread out. So it’s really nice to have that. I always say we’re the best kept secret in higher education, career services, and I believe that.

Meredith Metsker:

Yeah, I can totally see that. It’s funny, I’ve heard a few people on this podcast mention that they love career services because it’s constantly changing, and your comment about being in two different worlds made me think of that because not only are the students and the way students consume career resources and all of that, that’s changing, but then just the world of work and the way people are hiring is changing.

Christian Garcia:

Absolutely. Yeah. So you can’t get bored. If you’re bored, there’s something wrong.

Meredith Metsker:

Well said. Let’s see. Before I get into my more specific questions about our topic today, Christian, I want to kick us off with the question I’ve been asking all of our guests, and that is, what does Career Everywhere mean to you?

Christian Garcia:

For me, it’s very similar to what our model is, “Career services is everybody’s business.” I truly 100% believe, and it’s something that I’m screaming from the rooftops constantly, is that our work can and must be shared. There’s no way that one office can or should be the sole deliverer of career support, guidance, education. It’s just not possible. So I believe that Career Everywhere is about that. It’s about also utilizing the tools, technological tools to help to be there for students when we’re asleep, when we’re on holiday. I think we cannot be there 24/7, but we can be there 24/7 when it comes to using a variety of the technologies that are available that will continue to develop and change and new ones will pop up. I think that’s another component of this Career Everywhere notion.

Meredith Metsker:

Okay. Yeah, I love that. I know you said there’s a lot of overlap between Career Everywhere and that your Toppel Career Center motto of career services is everybody’s business, but can you tell me a little bit more about that motto, specifically, kind of what it means to you, why it’s important to your team?

Christian Garcia:

So we kind of came up with this motto/mantra when we were putting together our last strategic plan, and it’s been a while now, but I think it was born out of really trying to wake people up on this campus that everybody has a part in this, everybody has a stake in it. It’s not about shirking our responsibilities or saying that we want other people to do our job or that we expect other people to become career co-chairs or counselors. No, it’s not about that. I always use the Counseling Center as an example. The Counseling Services, Counseling Center is everybody’s business. If I see a student in distress, I have a duty to this university, but also as a human being to step in and at least, the very least say, are you okay? Help make a referral, walk them to the counseling center if they’re in a significant distress.

I see Career Services very similar, but the stakes aren’t as high, fortunately. So it shouldn’t scare people as much, right? Because certainly when you see a student in distress, there’s some anxiety that comes with trying to help that student, making sure you don’t say the wrong thing or do the wrong thing. So with Career Services, we recognize that these conversations are happening all over campus, many times informally. A student with their faculty advisor, student with their academic advisor, student with their advisor or their student club organization, student to student, these things are happening. So we wanted to make sure that people understood that it’s okay, this is part of your business. Don’t shy away from it, but let’s help get information out there so that you’re able to provide support as much as possible while also still making the referral. So it’s about closing that loop.

So that’s how it all started. We wanted to make sure that folks understood that this needed to go beyond partnerships. We do a lot of collaborating. We have a lot of partnerships, but it’s about empowering people across campus to feel comfortable having these conversations with students. By the way, if you don’t know the answer, that’s okay. We don’t know all the answers. Sometimes students come to us with a very specific interest in a very specific field, a discipline that we’ve never heard of. Well, guess what? We’re not going to say, sorry, we don’t know. We can’t help you. What we’re going to say is, we don’t know, but we’re going to put you in contact with a person that does know, whether that’s an alum or a faculty member who has done research in this particular, very specific niche field. So I think once people hear that, they feel a little bit more at ease with, okay, this isn’t rocket science.

Also no one’s life is hanging in the balance when it comes to career, not at this stage. I mean, when you think about it, even though for some students this can be very anxiety inducing, and I respect that, when you think about what’s at stake, it’s okay to provide that support to students. So that’s where it was born out of our strategic plan and has since then, we throw that tagline on things, whether it’s an email or marketing, all the time, because we want people to feel empowered to support students in whatever way they can support them. So that’s what our Career Service is everybody’s business, and we continue to use it to this day.

Meredith Metsker:

Okay. So how does that motto guide your team’s work there at Toppel?

Christian Garcia:

Well, I mentioned the word collaboration. So we have a set of values at the Toppel Career Center that really inform our work and how to keep us moving forward, and collaboration is one of them. I understand that it’s an overused word. Everybody talks about collaboration. I actually like to use the word partnership as well. I think partnership is more of a solidified, kind of ongoing, collaborative effort, but I think that’s how career services is everybody’s business, that’s how it comes alive. So it’s not just about asking a department or a faculty member to collaborate with us on something, although we do that all the time, but it’s more about let’s solve a problem together. So it goes beyond just the one-off program. It is about, okay, we’re seeing this gap for students in this particular population. Can we work together, A, to first, let’s just have conversations about it.

Let’s just explore what this is about, what are the potential reasons for this? Let’s bring other people to the table that should be brought to the table, and then let’s work things or ideas to overcome those obstacles, in particular, to remove obstacles for students. That to me is a perfect example of how career services is everybody’s business comes to life, and how that value of collaboration and partnership really keeps us going because there’s no way we can do it alone. We don’t have enough staff. No Career Center has enough staff. Well I think I know a few that do. I’m jealous of them, but they’re not many.

We don’t have the expertise in every single field. It’s just impossible to do that. So we have to rely on other folks, and rightfully so. We should. I mean, these are folks who are working with other college students. Again, it’s not just faculty members. I always say whether you are a professor or a staff member or an administrator, you are in the business of educating students. I consider myself an educator through and through. I don’t do it in the classroom, but I certainly believe, and I strongly feel that I am an educator. So again, it’s about reminding people that, and you help them through that with collaboration, but also just sharing information and making them feel more confident.

Meredith Metsker:

I imagine having the more people that you have on campus that are assisting with these career conversations, the more diverse perspectives you get. It’s not just the five people on the career team or however many there are. It’s hundreds or thousands of people across campus who could potentially be talking to those students.

Christian Garcia:

Absolutely, because any Career Center will tell you, there’s always this idea, especially if you have a business school on your campus. Oh, Career Services is just for the business students. So really this helps to kind of break down that myth because it is a myth. It’s not the case. I get why people think that, because that’s how recruiting happens for business students, but having these folks all over campus that are outside of business and perhaps even our engineering, it provides a support to students that maybe they wouldn’t have gotten otherwise or maybe is in depth or maybe even thought to go to the Career Service.

So if you have these folks on campus who know this information, who are willing to serve as a point of contact or resource, they’re providing those kind of informal conversations while also then telling the students, “By the way, have you used Toppel yet? You know, should do this. I know that they have this thing called Handshake. I know that they do this,” those kinds of things. So again, it helps to your point, you have this little army all over campus that are supporting the work that you do.

Meredith Metsker:

I love that. On that note, so what are some of the ways that you and your team have implemented this career services is everybody’s business concept?

Christian Garcia:

Well, we have a lot, and we don’t have enough time unless you want this podcast to be a couple hours. I think I’ll focus on several that have happened, some more recent ones, and then one that’s been around for a good number of years. So one of the things that we have launched most recently is we’ve put together a faculty, what we call our Toppel Faculty Toolkit. This was born out the idea of how do we get information into the hands of faculty members that will help them understand what career services is all about? So that’s that one piece to it. Also, what are the different ways that faculty members can engage with the Career Center, with actual ideas, not just come and engage with the Career Center. No engagement is important. These are some actual tried and true examples of the ways you can connect with us and engage with us.

So that’s another piece. Another piece is an email template that they can send to students, urging them to utilize the resources at the Toppel Career Center, and that could be modified however they seat fit. As well as information on how to insert things into their curriculum and syllabi related to career. So for example, a professor has an assignment and if they look at one of the career readiness competencies that make sense, they can actually put a line in there that says, when you complete this assignment, you would have increased or you would have improved, or whatever the wording they would want, the career readiness competency of technology and communication, so on and so forth. So giving them those concrete examples. So that’s something newer that we did that we’ve launched, and we’re doing that with the nine different schools and colleges and trying to tailor the booklet, or sorry, the toolkit for each one.

So that’s one example. The other is really kind of centered around access. We want to make sure students recognize and know and are able to access live jobs and internships where they are. For some of them, they may be right on our website and on Handshake, and they’re great and they’re savvy and they’re using it all the time. For other students who maybe not that, let’s say, strategic about their career, we wanted to make sure that they saw this where they are, but we also wanted to make sure that faculty and staff and all the schools and colleges knew what these jobs were, but not just go to this job bank and you see all these millions of jobs. Instead, what we’ve done, we created live job and internship RSS feeds that are curated, that are directly taken out of from Handshake and placed on each of the respective school and college websites.

They’re curated by entering keywords based on the particular discipline or disciplines, as well as industry keywords that will then show students in column format, one for internships, one for jobs, the 20 most recent job and internship listings that would be very specific to what they’re studying or the industry’s related or adjacent to their major and/or what they’re studying and/or the industry. So what this has done is really allowed us to, it’s still Handshake, the information’s in Handshake, but it allows us to place them on each of the school and college websites with their aesthetic in terms of their color palette and how that website looks. So it doesn’t look like just add- on, it looks like it’s just part of the Arts and Sciences website or the School of Architecture website. So that’s another example of career services is everybody’s business, and this whole Career Everywhere movement, I’ll call it, it’s being where they are so that there’s no excuse.

You can’t say you haven’t seen these things. It also serves as a marketing tool, so, if I’m being honest, as students and parents, prospective students and parents are shopping around, we know that one of the of the biggest things that they’re looking at is, will I get a job when I graduate? How is this university going to set me up? So imagine you’re a prospective parent, the parent of prospective student, you’re doing your research and you see, oh wow, look at this. Either look at these live jobs that actually exist. It sends a message that the university’s already thinking about this for their students and helping them prepare for life after college. That’s an extra really important piece of that. So those two are certainly more of the newer initiatives. The one that’s one that’s been around, the example I’m going to give you is our Toppel Awards, which we launched.

We just actually had our eighth annual Toppel Awards ceremony, which launched, which was on Friday, last Friday, and at the time, I mean I had kicked around this idea for a couple years with some of my staff members at the time, and they thought I was crazy. I’m like, why are we giving out awards? We’re career center people. I had this idea, people like to be recognized and they should be recognized for the work that they’re doing across campus. There are a lot of awards ceremonies on college campuses. Why shouldn’t we recognize people that are providing support, for doing amazing programs? It also includes awards for employers and recruiters. We should recognize that. Did I know at that time that we were going to launch this career services as everybody’s business motto? No. I would love to say that I had this whole plan laid out and strategically all these years ahead. No, I’m going to actually lie and say that that was my goal the entire time.

When I think about it now, I’m like, wow, that kind of really set the stage for everything because when you look at the folks who nominate themselves or other people nominate them, when you see the caliber of work that’s happening on this campus when it comes to career education, career guidance, you’ll be blown away. I continue to be blown away. So that is a true representation of career services as a very [inaudible 00:18:46] business.

Of course, we also have a Career Champions program, which I think it’s important to mention. I know a lot of universities have the Career Champions program, and I wanted to mention that one because we’re utilizing, we took this idea from one of your podcasts, so shout out to you all and our friends at UConn, and we totally ripped this idea off. They have a whole faculty Career Champions portion of their uConnect site. I was like, that’s what we need to do. So we’re in the process of working with your folks to make this happen. We call our uConnect site custom career content, and so that’s going to be in there, and we’ll also add the faculty toolkits for that. So again, this idea of career services is everybody’s business just continues to grow and evolve as we move forward.

Meredith Metsker:

Oh, I love to hear that, you kind of got your ideas from UConn’s programming.

Christian Garcia:

People are listening.

Meredith Metsker:

It’s a really robust program.

Christian Garcia:

I was watching that. I was like, okay, I’m a little jealous, but that’s good. I love when I can see things that other folks are doing that I get inspired by. That’s what it’s about. We just steal from each other. We’re acquiring from each other, and you make it work for your particular institution. So I thought that, yeah, you’re right, they have a really great program that actually we’ve taking several ideas from them. So shout out to them.

Meredith Metsker:

I’ll have to let Nancy Bilmes know that she said that. Well, cool. So I would love to dig into the first three strategies that you mentioned. So that’s the faculty toolkit, the RSS job feeds, and the Toppel Awards. So why don’t we go ahead and start with the faculty toolkit, since that’s kind of the newest one and probably freshest on your mind. Can you just tell me a little bit more about it, what it is, why you decided to do it, what response has been and so on?

Christian Garcia:

Sure, absolutely. So this actually was born out of a meeting I had with our provost and we were just talking about how do we galvanize faculty members to be involved and to help be our champions. Whether they’re an official Champion or not, how do we get them to see their role in this? The provost is like, “Why don’t you start very basic? Why don’t you craft an email that they can send on your behalf, but that they could customize, encouraging them to use your services?” So I took that idea because I thought, okay, that’s pretty old school. Pretty basic, nothing really mind-blowing there, but Toppel being Toppel, we’re not going to just do that, right? I was like, okay, if we’re going to do this, we have to do it right and let’s throw more information but not overdo it either, right?

Faculty love data, they love information, but also they’re busy so you don’t want to overdo it. So we decided to start with the College of Arts and Sciences. It’s our largest school on campus, and let’s just get it out of the way. They’re the biggest one. So what I decided to do was I sent an email to the dean of the School of Arts and Sciences, who’s great by the way and in support of what we do, as well as to each of the department heads for that school. It also helps that my boss who’s the Dean of Undergraduate Affairs also is a faculty member in Arts and Sciences. So I got to brainstorming would be the best way to do this. That’s when we came up with the idea, the strategy of let’s email the deans and the department heads rather than us just going directly to the faculty, which they may not. Maybe they delete it, maybe they don’t get around to it.

So last summer, I sent that email to that group and basically talked a little bit about research and showing that students who receive support or information from their faculty members regarding career tend to do better in terms of their career plans and success after college. So we started with that and I said, “We’re currently working on this faculty toolkit, which will include some tools to help you, yes, email students and encourage them to use Toppel, more importantly, introduce you to what Toppel is, if you don’t know, on all the many things that we do, but also educate you on what career readiness is and so on and so forth. As soon as it’s done, we will be emailing the toolkits to you and we’re asking that you send it to the faculty in your respective department on our behalf. Of course we’ll be there every step of the way. If you prefer a different process, we’re happy to consider that.

So not everybody seemed on board with this. So we finished the packet, or sorry, I keep saying packet, the toolkit at the end of summer, and we decided to include an infographic about the Toppel Career Center. So basic information, who we serve, the different teams, the resources that are most highly used, information about Handshakes, so on and so forth. Then we included information about career readiness, what is career readiness? So we obviously list the different competencies in an infographic style. Then we go into the faculty engagement menu, and as I mentioned before, it wasn’t just about email us to engage with us. No. These are actual concrete examples that have worked and that continue to work on this campus with other faculty members. So these are some ideas. However, we’re also open to trying brand new things that you have a different idea.

Obviously the email template, which it’s from the voice of the faculty member, but again, we allow them and encourage them to alter it however they see fit, but it’s about encouraging the students to utilize the resources we have to offer. Then the last piece is ways to infuse and just basically either really infuse into their curriculum or just make a connection or just basic information in their syllabi related to career education. So that can mean, look for these events coming up this semester, which is pretty basic, or the faculty member can highlight the different competencies that students will achieve at the end of each assignment or paper or at the end of a class. So it’s about tying what they’re learning in the classroom to these competencies, and there’s many more. Not many, but there’s several other examples. So again, we kept it simple.

I think it’s maybe about eight to nine pages max. We decided to go the PDF route obviously with live links in it, because we wanted it to be as easy as possible. We didn’t want to have it on a website just yet. We wanted them to be able to download it. We certainly didn’t want to print it because we wanted to be able to make changes on the fly and just do that quickly, but for those faculty members who still like to print, they could certainly print [inaudible 00:25:26], they have it. So we emailed it out, as I said, and it was kind of a, didn’t hear anything? Not one thing, which sometimes with faculty, that’s not a bad thing, but then I started thinking, did it get lost? I mean, to not have one email? So I asked my boss, “What are your thoughts on this? How do you think we should?”

She’s like, “Let me do some reconnaissance.” So she started at talking to her colleagues and they all loved it. She said from her… Well, she heard from the different department heads, they all loved it from faculty members as well. They were really impressed by it. They loved the design. All of a sudden I started getting emails from different professors, “Thank you so much for this. This is beautiful. This is so helpful.” So it’s been received very well. So since then we’ve launched the other ones for each of the other schools and colleges. We’re not completely done, but we’re almost done because we want to tailor them and make the as curated as possible so that it’s not just one general one for everybody. Like I mentioned before, the next phase will be to host these on our uConnect I guess faculty site so that for those who do want to go to the website, they’re able to click on it and just find it easily.

The other thing I’ll mention is we have an office, it’s called Pedal. Maybe it’s pedagogy. Basically it’s all about excellence in teaching and learning. So it’s tools and resources to help professors become even better teachers, stronger teachers. So one of my staff members had a great idea. She’s like, “Well, what if we asked the person who runs that program, if they could list the faculty toolkit in their resources section?” I said, “That’s a great idea.” I asked, they said, yes, it was done within a week. I mean, it was a easy thing. Five years ago, well didn’t exist, but let’s say it did exist five years ago, it probably would’ve taken much longer time. So it just shows it’s how far we’ve come.

So again, it sounds pretty basic. It’s a PDF, but one thing I will say, and I know you’re asking me about the [inaudible 00:27:29]. I’ll make that transition for us if you want, but one of the things we learned really quickly that was very obvious when we started down the live internship feed journey or path, was that it wasn’t that faculty. Not that faculty don’t want to work with us or collaborate with us, it’s that they have no idea. I can’t tell you how many times we heard from faculty, “You do all of this?” Their eyes just like, I’m like, “Yeah, welcome to career services. We do it all.” They’re like, “We had no idea that you do this and you offer this then.”

I said, “Yeah.” Also, we heard several times, “Oh my God, we get all these job postings from this particular company or this association and I don’t know what to do with them, so I’ve just been hole punching them and putting them in a binder,” and I was like, “Oh my God. A binder in 2022. [inaudible 00:28:22] started the pod. So it was just a wake-up call, but it was nice to know that it isn’t that faculty don’t find value in what we do. They oftentimes don’t know what we do. I think there’s this myth, maybe it’s a myth, maybe a little bit reality that faculty find career services as kind of taboo. We are not here to help students find jobs. We are here to create better citizens and have people who are going to make an impact on the world, which I don’t disagree with, but talk to a parent, talk to legislators. They want to make sure that these students are getting jobs. So I think that that tide is starting to change, but we have what we found was that they just don’t know.

So again, the faculty toolkit is a tool for them to, A, educate themselves, but then also have things that they can easily use in their classroom. So with the live, I’m assuming you’re going to ask about the [inaudible 00:29:15] internship, right? We did not practice this, people. So what I will say is with the RSS feed, the idea was actually brought to me by Christine Cruzvergara at Handshake, who’s a really good friend of mine, and this was a while back, it was pre-COVID, and she had mentioned to me that James Madison University was on the cusp of launching theirs. It was something that was backed by their president. They tapped Christine obviously because she works for Handshake, but also it’s her alma mater. So she presented this idea to me, she’s like, “I think this would be great. I could see this really working at the University of Miami, and I know you’re trying to get faculty more engaged.”

So she’s like, “What do you think?” I said, “Absolutely, let’s get it done.” So then COVID hit, so that slowed things down and all that, but it was easy, but it was time-consuming. What I mean by easy is that Handshake makes it easy. So in terms of creating the feeds, it’s just keywords, from what my staff has told me, because to be fully transparent, I did not work on the actual feeds, but they said they were very easy to put together. After talking to the folks at James Madison, one of the things they said very clearly was, “You cannot do this alone. If you want buy-in from faculty and from the different departments in the schools and colleges, they have to be part of the process.” So what we did was we created the feeds.

Again, we started with College of Arts and Sciences. We did three phases of three schools each. So the first phase we did, College of Arts and Sciences, was one of them, and that’s a big one. So you’re dealing with criminology and you’re dealing with psychology and sociology and geography. So we put together a bunch of the feeds. We built them, we created them, but then we set up meetings painstakingly with faculty members and the IT people of those respective departments. Of course we lumped some of them together, like sociology, psychology, we brought those folks together, but rather than presenting this kind of nebulous abstract idea, we actually were able to show them, “Look, this is what this is about. Let’s pull it up.” We did them via Zoom, “This is what it would look like. What do you think about these?” They were blown away. They were like, well, you know what? I don’t see anything about grant writing in here. So what if we include…”

So that’s where the conversation started happening, when you start adding keywords and it makes the actual feeds much more robust and much more curated for those particular majors. That created so much goodwill among the faculty and staff because they really appreciated us bringing them to the table. There were zero faculty members throughout the entire one-year project who said, “This is dumb, I don’t like this. This is not necessary.” It was the complete opposite. So while it took a long time, mainly because of scheduling, to be honest, it was worth it because there’s just buy-in across the board. We did work with our IT, our university webmaster to make sure that it looked like the university in terms of the design that we were going to use, the accordion style dropdown and all that.

We also wanted it to fit with the website of each of the schools and colleges. So each school or college has a different color in terms of their, whatever you call, the banner., I don’t know, whatever you call it, I don’t know the terminology, but nursing, let’s say. Theirs is a deep purple, so theirs looked purple. So it looks like it’s integrated as opposed to this appendage just living on their website. We also included some content that they could include that they can add to that page, but we also recommended that they include other things related to career that they would see fit. So again, painstaking process in terms of time, but in terms of collaboration, it was fantastic. Like I said, it created a lot of goodwill between our areas.

Meredith Metsker:

I can see how collaboration really played a huge role in both of these projects, both with the faculty toolkit and then with the RSS feeds. So just to clarify, with the RSS feeds, are there curated feeds on both the college sites, so let’s say the College of Arts and Sciences, and then on individual school sites within that college?

Christian Garcia:

Yeah. College of Engineering, if you go to their career page, you’re going to see aerospace and you’re going to see mechanical. So if you click on one thing, you’re going to see the separate ones, but you’re going to just see it on their main website. Then it’ll just open up. Then you have Arts and Sciences, which have all these different departments. So each department will have their own RSS feeds. Now a lot of them there’s a lot of overlap because think about grant writing. That’s going to be applicable to geography, to psychology, to sociology, modern languages, so on and so forth. So jobs and internships in grant writing.

So there was a lot of overlap and that was okay, we loved that, but then there were also some very specific ones. So they do live in each of the schools and colleges. They also live on our website, our Toppel website, which is just basically a directory. Again, we put that in there just as a secondary in case they missed it, but we definitely wanted it on their website. We’ve also worked with the folks in admission to include it in their admission website, and that’s still in the works, but we’re going to put that somewhere so that, again, the prospective students and parents see it when they go to the admissions website or just information about being admitted to the university.

Meredith Metsker:

I bet the admissions team is probably plugging the fact that all of the college and department pages also have these job feeds.

Christian Garcia:

Absolutely. It’s great because now when we get questions, if it’s a faculty member or someone that asks about jobs, they’re like, “Oh yeah, you haven’t seen the feeds? They exist on the website, on this school website or that school website.” I will say one piece I forgot to mention, how do we get them to even know about, and when I say them, I mean the schools and colleges. How do I get them to even know about this project? Well, I worked with the provost and there’s a meeting of all the deans. It’s kind of like the Dean’s Council, so there’s that one, and then there’s what we call ADAC, which is our Assistant Dean and Vice Dean Academic Council. They’re two different ones. So I presented at both of those meetings or at one of their meetings to talk more big picture about how do we get more students to engage in internships?

How do we break down barriers? That kind of a thing, and just kind of comparing us with some of our peers and then launching into, these are some of the things that we’re doing to increase access, awareness, and then action. Those are the three A’s that we came up with because it’s great if you’re aware of them, but if there’s no action, what’s the point? So when I talked about the live internship feeds, I mean it was Zoom, but I could just see people writing in the chat how excited they were about the idea. As a matter of fact, Arts and Sciences, we had initially put them in phase three because they’re the largest. Immediately after that meeting, Dean Backus, who’s the Arts and Sciences, he sends me an email, he’s like, “I’m so excited about this. This is amazing, but my only criticism is we need to be in the first phase. We’re excited. You have my support. Anything you need, we’ll make it happen.”

I was like, “Done. Done.” So in hindsight, it was the best decision because start big, you figure out all the potential glitches, and then it kind informs as you go along. So it made School of Architecture, which is this big, a breeze. So there was just a lot of goodwill. Again, once you had the buy-in from the folks at the top, it helps people being part of it and wanted to be part of it. Yeah, it was great.

Meredith Metsker:

Okay. I have just another quick clarifying question about kind of how you curated these job and internship fees. So it was a combination of the tagging system from Handshake, or were you also inputting your own tagging system? Can you just tell me a little bit more about how you did that?

Christian Garcia:

So now we’re getting into a danger zone of [inaudible 00:37:23]. I’m just kidding. No, from what I have been told, and actually I do love technology, but I wasn’t involved in the details of this. It is all keyword based. So I think you’re putting in keywords, whether it’s grant writing or Python or whatever, the different things, what it’s going to do is going to bring those jobs and internships that match those keywords. It’s not always perfect. So that’s why you have to keep trying. So sometimes if you throw in a word like, I don’t know, urban planning, you may get jobs… We don’t put words on jobs, let’s say for Urban Outfitters, but let’s say if we did, it would maybe bring…

So you have to keep messing with it and playing with it to make sure they come out as close to what you want as possible. That’s where faculty were really critical. We also recognize that it’s never going to be perfect. Every once in a while you’ll get a job or internship that doesn’t really make sense for that particular area, but I would say 90% of the time they’re pretty solid. If there are no jobs that meet that criteria in that moment in time, it’ll just be empty, but we don’t see that often either. So that’s a nice one. That’s a nice outcome.

Meredith Metsker:

The nice thing about a live feed is you can always adjust it as you go.

Christian Garcia:

Right, and by the way, they also kind of babysit themselves. I mean, once a job expires, there’s no jobs just sitting there. So students aren’t applying to jobs that no longer exists, right? Because it is directly tied to Handshake. So when they click on the job, it’ll show them a preview of the job, and then if they want to apply, it takes them to Handshake. So then they have to log into Handshake. So for prospective students, obviously they can see all the information, they just can’t apply. So they still have to be a student here, but they do take care of themselves. Still, we do have a checks and balances system. So once a semester, each of the liaisons to their respective school or college is responsible for going in and just kind of checking the feeds to make sure that they look right and to make sure that they have not moved, which is something that has happened here or there.

Let’s say you have a new web person come in or a new program who doesn’t know about the live job and for whatever reason moves it, and now it’s under community or it’s under fundraising. They’re like, “What?” So that’s why I will step in and kind of reach out to the dean or the Vice Dean and say, “Hey, listen, I see that it’s changed. Remember the point of this is really to be visible and to provide access. So can we please move it back?” and they’ve all been very… This only happened twice and they’ve been gracious about it.

Meredith Metsker:

Okay. I just wanted to make a quick note for anyone who’s watching or listening, I will be sure to include links to that faculty toolkit. Christian was kind enough to send me that PDF, so we’ll make sure that’s available in the show notes, so you can check that out, and then we’ll share some links to some of those RSS feeds so you can kind of see what they’re doing and maybe rip off of their strategy.

Christian Garcia:

Exactly. It’s only fair. It’s only fair.

Meredith Metsker:

Okay. So Christian, now I would like to move on to the Toppel Awards. So it sounds like you’ve been doing this for a while, I think you said eight years. Can you just give me an overview of what the awards program is?

Christian Garcia:

Yeah, again, we just did celebrated our eighth year. So Toppel, if you’re wondering, that’s the family that we are named after. It’s a wonderful family. Patricia Toppel and her husband, they provided the gift for the first iteration of Toppel back in the mid-90s, I’ve been here a long time, but not that long, to convert what was then the bowling alley into the career center, and then fast-forward to 2012, when the current president at the time decided to move us out of where we were to put admission in our office. They moved us in, they showed me where we were going to be, and I was like, “Oh my God.” It was these two awful buildings, and how was that going? So the Toppel family, once again, they provided the lead gift and it was helpful, which was critical to make this building amazing.

So anyway, so we obviously wanted to call it the Toppel Awards. We called it Toppel. We put that name on everything because that’s what we’re named after, and we love them. They’ve been so supportive. So like I said at the beginning, really this was a chance for us to really recognize and to also uncover what’s going on this campus related to career, because we know, we know it’s out there. So maybe saying that that people are going to get an award will have people crawling out of their nooks and their caves, trying to say, “Listen, this is what I’m doing,” and it was kind of like a hypothesis that I was testing. It actually was true. It was very clear that students, both undergraduate and graduate, were doing amazing things for themselves, but also for other people, for their peers, but also faculty and staff.

So we have a bunch of different categories. We have Distinguished Faculty, Distinguished Administrator of the Year, we have Program of the year, Student of the Year, both undergraduate and graduate. We have what we call the Breakthrough Award, which is recognizing a program that breaks down barriers for other people or for themselves. That’s one of our newer awards. Then we have the Patricia Toppel Award, one that’s selected by me. It’s like an unsung hero award, and then Ali Rodriguez, who’s our employer engagement executive director, she picks a recruiter that really is also an unsung hero for that particular year. All the other folks, there’s a committee both for people within Toppel and outside of Toppel to review those applications or those nominations to choose the winners. Every year, the number of nominations grows, and every year the caliber grows, making it that much harder for that committee.

I don’t envy them. It was the altruistic reason to just say, “Hey, let’s recognize these people,” but then the selfish reason was, “Dell’s people will then tell other people, oh my gosh, I got this award.” They’re going to see all this stuff on Twitter. They’re going to see the article in The News At the U, which the university puts together, they’re going to see that. We’re a very much word of mouth campus, so that information will get out, so they will help us create this army. Sure enough, that is what it has done. I mean, we decided, when we first launched it was an in-person luncheon where we actually had a really nice sit down lunch and all of that, and then COVID happened and we didn’t not want do it. So we transitioned to Zoom.

Can I tell you one of the few things about Zoom that people actually really like, one of the few programs, it worked out so well, we’ve made it super fun. I co-hosted with Allie, so we kind of make it a Amy Puller and who’s the other person she always presents with? So we try to make it as comedy is possible, but we showcase the finalists for each award category. We announce the winner and each winner, we give them a few minutes to actually address the audience, and their words are so amazing and insightful. It’s a very special part of the program. I keep using the word access. Now it’s not just 100 people that can attend. It’s anybody who wants to attend because it’s via Zoom. So the feedback that we get each time, it just blows me away. It’s this really heartwarming kind of ceremony that’s also a lot of fun. Doesn’t take itself too seriously, but also recognizes the work that people are doing.

Something about the Toppel Career Center, I don’t know if you know about all the artwork that we have in our building, it’s commissioned by this company or this organization called Gapingvoid. So I thought, I don’t want to just give a plaque. Who wants another plaque? So what we decided from the very beginning was, why don’t we create one of a kind award that’s also an art piece that they can put, and so the messaging of the award kind of coincides with what that particular theme was for the award.

So we put a plaque behind it with their name and all of that to really make it special and different. So we actually give them an award, but actually during the ceremony, we have a deck, and it shows the digital version of that particular award. So it has really created a lot of excitement, a lot of appreciation on campus. I just got another email right before this meeting from someone just glowing about it and saying how great it was, and thank you, and so on and so forth. It gets harder every year to pick these winners.

Meredith Metsker:

That’s a good problem to have.

Christian Garcia:

Exactly.

Meredith Metsker:

I loved your point earlier too, about not only is it a way to recognize people, but it’s also a way for you and your team to understand what’s going on across campus in terms of increasing that career readiness in those career conversations.

Christian Garcia:

Absolutely.

Meredith Metsker:

That is a genius way to have all of the information come inbound to you, as opposed to you having to go out and try and find out what’s going on.

Christian Garcia:

I’ll give an example. So the winner for program of the year this year was the Miami Herbert Business School. They submitted their sophomore career class, which is something that they just launched recently, and they’ve done such an amazing job with it. The faculty member that we work with over there, we have such a strong relationship with them, but again, I’m not involved in any of the selection process. I didn’t even know they were nominated. When I saw that they won, I was so happy because I mean, they were all deserving, but they’re also using the Toppel Awards as a way to increase their visibility and to showcase to all the other schools and colleges, to showcase to families, prospective families, to showcase students, listen, we just won this award because of this amazing sophomore career class. So yes, while it’s there for oodwill, and we want people to be recognized, it’s also a way to market yourself and to show and to elevate the work that you’re doing, which should be elevated and it should be recognized.

Meredith Metsker:

Yeah, it’s just win-win all around.

Christian Garcia:

Absolutely. Some people thought I was crazy. I mean, let me be gfair, no one said to my face that I was crazy, but I saw the looks. Actually my boss at the time, he’s like, “What? An award ceremony? Why? What’s the point?” I’m like, “You need to trust me. I’m going to have you speak for five minutes. That’s all you have to do. Welcome everybody. Be nice, and you’ll see.” Once people saw it, I guess they trusted my vision, it worked out.

Meredith Metsker:

How did you convince them early on?

Christian Garcia:

I just did it. I didn’t convince anybody. I just did it. Luckily, I work at a place where while folks may kind of be like, “Well, that’s kind of weird, but okay, it’s Christian just being Christian,” they trust me to be able to know that I’m not going to bankrupt the school. I’m not going to bankrupt the department, that I do like to take risks and try new things. Fortunately, I have that support that I’m able to do that. Then in terms of getting people to the event, having them attend, it’s not really hard.

It’s not hard to get people to attend something where other people are going to be recognized. Then the other thing I’ll mention is now you have all these nominations, information about people through nominations, even the ones that didn’t win, that you didn’t know before. So now you know these faculty members, let me reach out to them. Let’s create a partnership with them. Let’s reach out and say, “Hey, thank you so much. Congratulations on being nominated. We see the work that you’re doing. Can I take you to coffee?” So now it just creates this, you have to jump on the momentum and say, let’s get the conversation going. How would we have known about those folks had we not had something like the Toppel Awards?

Meredith Metsker:

That’s so smart. Again, [inaudible 00:48:56].

Christian Garcia:

I would love to say I planned it out that way.

Meredith Metsker:

Well, hey, anyone who wants to rip off of your strategy, they can say they planned it out that way.

Christian Garcia:

Exactly. That’s okay. I won’t tell anybody. No, I think when you start really looking at all the different outcomes from something like a Toppel Award, what seemed like a way to just have a fancy lunch or whatever, really it proves that it’s not just about the lunch because we don’t provide lunch anymore. It’s about recognizing the people while also elevating the work that you’re doing by offering this platform to people, and a big marketing push for the work that you’re doing and that other people are doing.

Meredith Metsker:

Okay, I love that. This is such a good strategy. Okay, well, I want to kind of start wrapping this up here a little bit. So Christian, what advice do you have for other career services leaders who want to do things like what you’re doing and make career services everybody’s business?

Christian Garcia:

So I think the best way, or one of the best strategies, it’s a simple, one to share information. Share information, and share data widely. Don’t be afraid of it. I think sometimes we’re afraid of how people are going to interpret it, or even share data maybe that doesn’t show the university in the best light, but it’s factual data. It’s okay to do that. So remember the dean’s meeting that I told you where I was launching, I was going to kind of tease these different ideas? That started because we compared ourselves to our peers. The percentage of students who engaged in at least one internship, we were way off, lower than our peers. So I used that data to really galvanize people to support these kinds of programs because I was able to show, our hope is that by offering live feeds, it will result in more students clicking on these things, which will result in students applying to more jobs, which will result in students getting jobs or internships and so on and so forth.

That was only one of the many different tactics we’re going to take. So sharing data, yes, you want to brag, but you also have to show where there’s a gap, where there’s a problem and how you’re poised to solve that problem, but that you can’t solve that problem by yourself as a career center office or director. You have to use other people. So I would say definitely share the data, share the information, but then also asking how you can serve them. How can I help you? How can I make your job easier, the job of your faculty members easier or better when it comes to career or career adjacent? Sometimes we’re not doing anything related to career per se, but it all is. In one way or another, it definitely comes back to that. Then the last thing I’ll say is to just try something. Just try something new. Try something different.

You may think you don’t get a lot of return on investment at the beginning, but at least you’re moving forward. It doesn’t have to be something super flashy. Look at our faculty toolkit, it’s a PDF. There’s nothing really high-tech about it, but it provides just enough information and resources that it’s easily digestible by faculty members and it doesn’t overwhelm anybody. So I think sometimes small, could be innovative. It doesn’t have to be like, let’s create this new product, new app, new whatever. That’s certainly innovation, but innovation goes beyond that as well.

Meredith Metsker:

Yeah, that’s some great advice. It made me think of our Career Everywhere job board we have on the uConnect website. That started as a Google sheet. It was a Google Sheet run by me for seven months and now it’s this beautiful webpage, but to get started to have your minimum viable product, it was Google Sheet and it was effective.

Christian Garcia:

Exactly. Who knows what the faculty toolkit will look like in a year, two years? You just never know, but you have to start somewhere. It’s easy to be paralyzed by, well, faculty don’t have time. They don’t care. No, keep it moving. You have to try things. You can’t just hide behind that.

Meredith Metsker:

Yeah, because when you try something new, you’re going to learn from it and then you can adjust from there.

Christian Garcia:

Absolutely.

Meredith Metsker:

Okay. Well Christian, is there anything else about this topic that you would like to add or any questions that I didn’t ask but should have?

Christian Garcia:

No, I think we covered everything. I know I probably rambled probably more than what you wanted me to, but I’m trying to provide as much information as possible because I hope you can see that I love this. These kinds of things, conversations really excite me and motivate me. If anybody has any questions, of course they could reach out to me. They can find me on LinkedIn, I’m on Twitter. They could find my information on my website, but I would say one of those two social media platforms would be the best way to reach out to me.

Meredith Metsker:

Okay. I’ll make sure to include links to those in the show notes as well. So Christian, this is kind of the final question. So at the end of every interview, I like to do this, answer a question, leave a question thing where you’ll answer a question, our last guest left for you, and then you’ll leave one for the next guest. So our last guests were Jean Re and Jessica Best from the Lundquist College of Business at the University of Oregon, and they said they had a very important question for you. That is, is a hotdog a sandwich?

Christian Garcia:

Absolutely not. No it’s not. That’s easy. It’s not a sandwich. Although I know some people [inaudible 00:54:17] two pieces of with meat in the middle. I guess that’s sandwich, but no, it’s not. To me t’s different. The shape is different. It’s just different. So my absolutely not.

Meredith Metsker:

Good, strong answer.

Christian Garcia:

Did Gene know I was going to get this question?

Meredith Metsker:

No, he didn’t.

Christian Garcia:

Okay, okay. Okay. Just wondering.

Meredith Metsker:

That’s awesome. I posted a poll about this question. I said, is a hotdog a sandwich or a taco? It turned into a very heated debate on the uConnect Slack channel.

Christian Garcia:

I could see it [inaudible 00:54:48].

Meredith Metsker:

Overwhelmingly people thought it was a sandwich. I think it’s a taco.

Christian Garcia:

Interesting. I think it’s more of a taco than it is a sandwich, for sure.

Meredith Metsker:

These are the important questions.

Christian Garcia:

Absolutely. It’s going to keep me up tonight.

Meredith Metsker:

All right, well, what question would you like to leave for the next guest?

Christian Garcia:

So I will ask, because this is a question I have that gets thrown around here. We’re in Miami, it’s always warm, but is it still a faux pas to wear white after Labor Day? Is it still a fashion faux pas to wear white after Labor Day? That’s my question. Very important.

Meredith Metsker:

All right. Very important.

Christian Garcia:

I mean, so important that at the end of the movie Serial Mom, if you’ve never heard of that movie or seen it, it’s a John Waters film and it’s like a dark comedy. A person gets killed over this topic at the very end, but it’s a funny kind of movie. Anyway, so yeah, wearing white after Labor Day, very important. I’d like to know.

Meredith Metsker:

Yeah, I would too. Well thank you very much for being on the pod today, Christian.

Christian Garcia:

Thank you.

Meredith Metsker:

It was great to have you. This was awesome to learn about all these different strategies you and your team are trying and seeing a lot of success with. So I’ll be excited to see how they continue to grow and evolve in the future. Thank you very much again.

Christian Garcia:

Thank you so much, Meredith. This was great. Have a nice day.

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