Podcast

Best Practices for Supporting First-Generation Students

Yasi Mahallaty, the Senior Manager of Strategic Innovation at CareerSpring, talks about how career services can support first-generation students.

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Yasi Mahallaty, the Senior Manager of Strategic Innovation at CareerSpring, talks about how career services can support first-generation students.

CareerSpring is a free networking and job placement platform for first-generation/low-income students. CareerSpring is also a headline partner for uConnect’s Curation Kit focused on first-generation/low-income students. 

In the episode, Yasi talks about:

  • The unique experiences of first-generation students as part of the career exploration process, including being the first to navigate the college and career experience, financial constraints, and imposter syndrome
  • How career leaders can best support first-generation students in career development
  • How to consider adapting career advising, workshops, and resources to meet the unique needs and circumstances of first-generation students 
  • How to help first-gen students identify and highlight their skills and attributes in job interviews
  • How to help first-gen students evaluate potential employers for their commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB)
  • Immediate strategies that can be implemented to increase support for first-generation students
  • And more!

Resources from the episode:

Transcript

Ashley Safranski:

Welcome, everyone. Thanks to you all for carving out time on a Wednesday to join us. If you have joined a uConnect webinar before, you’ve definitely seen me and heard my spiel, but just in case you haven’t, my name’s Ashley Safranski. I lead marketing here at uConnect, and I’m super excited to partner up with my new friend from CareerSpring. We have Yasi with us. She’s going to dig into some of the best practices for career services teams who are looking to up their support for first-generation students. CareerSpring is one of our headline partners for our Curation Kit that’s focused on supporting first-gen, low-income students, and we’ll talk more about that here in a minute.

I’m going to have Yasi introduce herself in just a second, but I want to make sure that everyone knows we are recording the session, and I will send it out to everyone, all registrants, whether you’re here or not tomorrow, so you can get that in your inbox tomorrow sometime. Then we will carve out the last 15 to 20 minutes or so for audience Q&A. So feel free to use the Q&A box to submit your questions throughout the discussion. The chat is active, so you’re welcome to throw things in the chat as you’d like, and we’ll try to monitor that. I think those are my housekeeping notes. Yasi, I’m going to turn it over to you to tell us a bit about CareerSpring and to introduce yourself.

Yasi Mahallaty:

Awesome. Thank you, Ashley. Hello, everyone. Thanks to uConnect for inviting me and CareerSpring to join today for this important conversation. My name is Yasi Mahallaty. I’m the senior manager of strategic initiatives at CareerSpring, and I come to this work as a first-gen graduate myself. My professional background includes a lot of two and through work working with both first-gen high schoolers and first-gen college students. Right before CareerSpring I actually worked in higher education in a program for first-gen, low-income undergrads on campus. We were constantly figuring out the best ways to support our students’ career development and looking for resources that could benefit them. That’s what ultimately led me to this organization, CareerSpring. So a little bit about CareerSpring just so you all can hear about us.

We’re a nonprofit founded in 2020 with a vision that every first-gen, low-income student in the country will have access to and gain meaningful employment. So the easiest way that I like to categorize our work is into three buckets, so inform, advise and place. So that first piece, inform, is really about career exploration, sharing information so that students can really figure out what it is that they like to do, what they’re good at, what pathways they might have accessible to them. That second pillar of advise is about social capital. So we have an advisor forum with professionals all across the country that have volunteered to meet with students, one-on-one to provide career advice, but also as a way for students to grow that professional network really quickly.

They might not have access to a lot of professionals in their personal lives, and so this was built as a way for students to meet people in different industries that might be of interest to them. Then lastly, place, we partner with employers, again, across the country to post- internships, professional programs, entry-level roles, and we work with students through that application and interview process. I always forget to say this, but all of our resources are free and available to online for any first low-income student. Those resources are also free for our education partners. So if anyone on this call is looking to add another tool in their toolkit for their first-gen population on campus, we’d love to hear from you, and we’ll share how to connect at some point during this call. But thanks for having me, and I’m excited for the conversation.

Ashley Safranski:

Yeah, awesome. We are so excited to get to partner with CareerSpring. There’s a ton of really great resources that they’re making available to students and just appreciate their partnership. I want to just give, as always, just a bit of context for everyone. So at uConnect, one of our main goals is really to help our career partners consolidate the wide range of resources that they’re offering to students and then curate those resources so that they can really meet students where they’re at in the journey; so making sure that resources are accessible 24/7 and students have what they need regardless of interests, circumstance, background, academic pursuit, you name it. So I want to share just a couple of really quick examples because I think it’s helpful just to visualize.

So a few of the ways that we partner with related to supporting first-gen students and just things that can be uniquely helpful, this is a great example from the University of Miami, leveraging the mentor module, so mentors can be hugely impactful to first-generation students. Videos, really similarly, Dartmouth leveraging the Turnkey Career Plus video module, lots of career advice, industry experience and whatnot. Experiences, so we partner with Forage also. So UNLV is doing a great job of really leveraging our experiences module to make these short-term non-internship, so short-term experiences available to first-gen students. Then Curation Kits, which is where CareerSpring is really coming into play,

So Tulane University leveraging the Curation Kit for first-gen students. These are turnkey content kits, if you will, blogs, resources. So here’s something from CareerSpring, skill-building courses, mentors, all of these coming from CareerSpring, associations and more content from CareerSpring. So I just think it’s helpful to see when we’re talking about how is CareerSpring partnering with uConnect, that is how. So I wanted to just show those visuals. So now we can get into the really great stuff, which is the questions that we have prepared. Again, just want to reiterate, please feel free to ask questions throughout and we’ll get to all of that. So, Yasi, a good place to start I think might be really just talking about some of the unique experiences first-generation students have as it relates to pursuing post-secondary education broadly. So not even specifically yet about career development, but really just broadly, can you set the stage for us?

Yasi Mahallaty:

Sure. This is a great question, and when I was reflecting on this, I think the first thing that I want to highlight is just that first-gen students aren’t a monolith. They come in all races, all ages, very different types of communities, urban, rural, everything in between. But there are definitely themes to the first-gen experience that I see in my work with students. I’m sure you all see, but I’m also a big research person, and so the research validates a lot of this as well. I think doing something as the first person in your family or the first person in community can be daunting no matter what. So first-gen students, of course, may not have someone in their orbit who understands, we can even go as far back as the college application process, the financial aid process, which, of course, this year has been even more of a mess than usual, much less what it’s like to step foot onto campus and have that experience as a college student.

So they might have competing priorities including having to work to support the family. They might be a caretaker for younger family members. They might have to do administrative tasks for the family, like paperwork or translation. So that is work that they might have been doing growing up and so, of course, trickles into their college experience even though they’re starting maybe a new journey on campus. Then there can be a lot of isolation and real difficulty that comes when you step foot onto campus because it might be the first time that students are A, challenged academically. I saw that a lot with my students. They did everything right in high school. They got the scholarship. They got the acceptance letter to college, and then they get to campus, and they feel like, “Oh, I’m not at the top of the class anymore. My peers may have had access to tutors, AP and IB classes that I didn’t have access to.”

So I think that is an experience that many first-gen students have. Then tied to that, it might be the first time that they’re in classrooms with peers that don’t have the same maybe economic or family background as them. So that can, of course, affect students’ sense of belonging. They can experience imposter phenomenon, and they, I think, also might enter campus with this sense that they can’t or should not ask for help when they’re starting to experience maybe these sorts of feelings of imposter phenomenon or isolation. Many of them come from families, backgrounds, communities that really value hard work, putting your head down, getting the work done and being rewarded for that. That’s actually oftentimes the opposite of what we want students to do on campus in order to thrive and flourish. We want them to go to their professors when they need help or need help finding a tutor.

We want them to get involved on campus and do things outside of academics to then build that network and participate in things that they might be passionate about or that bring them joy. Then lastly, of course, tying it to the career center, they might not know the value of stepping foot into those resource centers. It might be something that their family or community ingrained in them that you shouldn’t ask for help. That’s going to make you seem less than or unworthy, and so I think that those are high-level thoughts of what students might experience. But, of course, like I said, not a monolith. I think these are just themes that I’ve seen on the ground with students and that comes up a lot in the research is really this sense of building community and finding belonging on campus, that can be really difficult.

Ashley Safranski:

Absolutely. When it comes to career exploration specifically, obviously first-gen students are going to be among the first in their family to make that transition from college to career. Can you share some of the other factors that might come into play for this student population?

Yasi Mahallaty:

Yeah, so the research and also my experience and I think the experience of many that work with students focus on really three areas that affect students’ career development or that transition from campus to career. The first, I think I mentioned right just before this, is that those external influences, those family influences, and this is something that I experienced myself as daughter of immigrants, first in my family to pursue higher education, there are three careers that you can have: that’s doctor, lawyer, engineer, maybe teacher, because I had teachers. So that’s what you need to do in order to be successful. So I think a lot of ideas and assumptions that students come with on campus not understanding what even opportunities are out there. I always give the example of project manager. It’s like, what does that person do? Yet, every company has tons of project managers. I think another external influence is that lack of a professional or career network that their peers might have through their parents, family members.

That, of course, is huge in life and in career is really building out a network that can help you pursue your goals. So of course, students might come with, Dr. Terry also has this great work that’s I think 20 years old now, but it’s around community and cultural wealth that students bring to campus with them. They might come with a network, but it might not be folks who can help them reach the particular path that they’re wanting to go down. So I think, of course, they might not have those folks in their corner, but really helping them understand people are out there that are willing to help you even if you don’t have a personal connection with them already. We all know, I’ve seen stats as high as 85% of jobs are found through connections. I know many of my roles in the past were found through someone who knew someone who set me up with a particular organization or school.

I think another part of that is perhaps this feeling of marginalization that happens when students step onto campus, they worry that that might continue into career, that they’ll be considered a diversity hire and that certain companies might not be interested in hiring them or in training them for particular roles because they’re under-qualified or something like that; looking at a job description and not understanding that, yes, these are what they’re looking for in a candidate, but it’s okay if you don’t check every single box perfectly. But I think that there are also some positive aspects that come into play when thinking about first-gen students’ career development. When you ask students, I think this often comes up just around their own self-concept, how they see themselves. It’s a lot of what I would want in an employee, what a lot of employers would look for in an employee.

They’re motivated. They see themselves as persistent. They’re not entitled. Although I always joke, I want my students to be more entitled. I want them to go out and feel like they deserve all the resources that are being given to them. They see themselves as responsible, self-reliant and adaptable. Of course, that often comes with the upbringing, but then also, of course, serving as a role model for younger family members being the first person to pursue higher education can come with that responsibility as well. So I think these are all, like I said, things that employers really value and that if I were a hiring manager, I would want someone who was adaptable, someone who’s hardworking, someone who isn’t entitled in a bad way.

The only other thing I’ll add here is that I find it really interesting to look, NASPA has some great stats on this on first-gen career outcomes, and they just published a new set of research that shows that first-gen students are actually just as likely as their continuing-generation peers to have a job within six months of college graduation. Exciting. But they’re more likely to be at a role that doesn’t require a college degree. They’re more likely to be at a non-profit. They’re more likely to be at a government-related position. What we don’t know is whether or not students were aspiring for those roles or if those are those types of roles that they fell into, if you will. But I always like to look at that just to see what are the trends in first-gen students despite having that same education and same set of resources on campus as they’re continuing education peers.

Ashley Safranski:

Yeah. That’s super interesting and just a lot of great insight into, it’s so wide-ranging the considerations that I think career teams can really just take into consideration when working with first-gen students. I know, Yasi, that I said we were going to save questions until the end, but there’s one that is aligned to something that you shared just a second ago around family expectations of what careers students should pursue. Can you give any advice or guidance or maybe just how you would consider working with a first-generation student who comes to college expecting to study, let’s say, nursing or engineering, for example, and cannot handle the classes or they don’t want to focus on those majors, but again, there’s maybe some family pressure coming into play?

Yasi Mahallaty:

Yeah, that’s a great question and definitely feels like something that when I was working on campus that was really something that came up daily. Students would come in pre-med, for example, and it’s like, “Oh, why do you want to be pre-med?” “Oh, my parents want me to,” or, “I like helping people, but I hate bio. I hate chemistry.” It’s like, “Okay, well, it’s going to be a lot of bio and chemistry for a very long time before you become a doctor.” I think the question that I would often have students reflect on around these conversations is really the why, obviously, like I said, but also, “What do you like to do? What does a nurse do that is of interest to you?” Oftentimes, what would come up is, helping folks, working one-on-one with families or communities. A lot of students are interested in public health or in health justice work.

So I think that’s where the explore and the informed piece is really important. Sharing with students that there are tons of careers in healthcare or in the helping profession that they can pursue that isn’t nurse or doesn’t require them to go to medical school, and really honing in on, “What is it about that career that is of interest to you?” “Okay, great. Let’s open the door on all these other opportunities that are similar but might not require maybe the coursework that you’re not interested in.” I think another part of it too is, I always think of the student that came in pre-med and had a really difficult time in the science classes, decided to drop pre-med, drop bio and pursue psychology instead.

She was still interested in those helping professions, and then upon graduation at that point was really ready to commit, sit down and put a lot of energy into applying to medical school. I don’t think she was ready during her first year of college. I think there was too much going on. The transition can be really difficult, obviously, so the bio classes and the CHEM 101s weren’t really helping her in that pursuit. So she decided she did all those pre-reqs after, went on to medical school, is now in residency. So sometimes it just takes a little bit longer. Those traditional pathways that we all know might not be the way for students. So I think two things: adjusting the timeline or adjusting what opportunities that they might be aware of could be helpful here. I hope that answers the question.

Ashley Safranski:

Yeah, I love that. I love the idea of adjusting the timeline. Yeah, definitely different for everyone.

Yasi Mahallaty:

Yeah.

Ashley Safranski:

How can career services teams tailor their programming and resources to better meet the needs of first-gen students specifically?

Yasi Mahallaty:

Yeah, this is a great one. I first want to shout out the career services teams because I know when I was working on campus, you have so many students with so many aspirations to juggle, and so I want to give credit to that hard work. So I think first is understanding, again, that belonging piece is just a huge contributing factor to students’ engagement. So a lot of that comes with building relationships and, of course, many career services teams are understaffed. Many different departments on campuses are understaffed. So I think really leveraging campus partners can be huge here because I think the folks that work with students on the ground maybe in those first-gen offices and that scholarship office, the folks that students already trust can be career service teams’ best allies in getting students to show up and take advantage of resources.

So if you have someone that you know or are aware of on campus that knows students and could be willing to partner with you on programming, I think that could be really beneficial. That’s something that we started doing on campus pre-pandemic, and I think it’s coming back now, is partnering to do a career exploration workshop, partnering to do resume review. Then another piece that these folks could be helpful with or not is finding first-gen alumni. Those staff might know alumni or you, or your career services teams might know alumni, and those are often the best source of advice for students.

Even recent graduates that students knew maybe when they were underclassmen that have now graduated could be a huge draw for students to come learn more about career center programming, reconnect with their older peers, and again, bring them, invite them to the space that they understand that this is a place where they can get help and support in their career journey. Oftentimes, students find that one person on campus that’s their go-to for everything. I was just telling Ashley before we got on the call that in my training, I was not trained as a career services professional. So students would ask, can you look over my resume? I was like, “Well, I can do a spell check, but that’s not really my area of expertise, so let’s do a warm handoff to someone over in career services that I know will take good care of you.” So I think partnering and really leveraging those alumni can be huge helpful resources in getting students to utilize career services.

Ashley Safranski:

Yeah. I know it’s just something that we’ve talked a lot about, anyone who’s followed the Career Everywhere movement or philosophy is just making sure that other people on campus are equipped to A, know what you do, which is oftentimes half the battle is just what does the career office do? And that they’re also equipped to have those career conversations, especially when students feel like they have their person that they’re just going to go to over and over. I know you touched on this, but I just want to ask this question in a different way. How can career teams think about collaboration with other cross-campus stakeholders like academic advisors or student support services? I know many institutions have offices or individuals responsible for first-gen initiatives, but any guidance or thoughts around creating those partnerships to provide that holistic support for first-gen students?

Yasi Mahallaty:

Yeah, I think the first thing that comes to mind for me is really talking to students and maybe that the partners are talking to students or these career services teams are talking to their first-gen students to determine what are you hearing about from maybe peers or from communities or professors that you feel like you’d like to know more about? Of course, they don’t know what they don’t know. We all don’t know what we don’t know, but oftentimes students do have a list of things that they would love for campus to offer. Sometimes campuses do offer that, but the students aren’t aware of it because their inbox is 100 emails long, and so they’re unable to take advantage of all the resources ’cause they aren’t reading their email or they don’t even know what’s happening on campus. It’s a totally different issue.

But I think partnering with the students themselves to determine what it is that they’re looking for, and even including them in that planning process can be huge. I know on my campus where I was, we had a student board of upper class students who wanted to help with programming, wanted to help underclass students get more involved, get them adjusted to campus. So I think working with those students can be huge in building out programming. Of course, they’re your best marketing strategy, that word of mouth and letting students know, “I’ll be there, we’re going to have food, come through.” That can be huge. Then I think too, to your point about the different resource offices,

There might be a first-gen office, but maybe the academic advisors or the folks that you want to partner with, student support. I think athletic teams oftentimes, and this was true on many campuses that I visited, the folks who are athletes are really siloed to their team, their practice schedule of course can be wild. Their game schedule can be wild, and so finding a time where you can go to them and meet with them is important. Then just I think another note on that, on space, I think oftentimes our career services team struggle to get students in the door into their career office. So going to where students are, it sounds trite, but we saw a huge bump in that when we went to where students were hanging out, where they were finding community was really helpful in programming.

Ashley Safranski:

That’s fantastic. This was a question that came through the Q&A, which I think is really relevant right now. “What topics beyond the typical resume, networking, etc., programming have you done with first-gen students? Are there alternative topics that maybe from your perspective really speak to the first-gen students that will help them gain more insight into the wisdom of the workplace that they will be going into?”

Yasi Mahallaty:

Yeah, this is a good question. I think just off the top of my head, I think pairing the typical resume, cover letter, networking elevator pitch with something else that might be more colloquial, if you will, can be really helpful. Maybe we can send this in the follow-up. We did some programming on campus where it was really around these career assessments or personality tests or astrology, things that students were already talking about and tying that into career exploration. Again, that, “Who are you? What do you like to do? What are you passionate about? What are you good at?” And then tying that into that career exploration piece.

Then maybe that next piece of it can be, “Okay, great, based on this self-concept exploration that we’re doing, let’s work on an elevator pitch that can be helpful in an interview that can be helpful in a networking setting.” I think that would be a great way to get students there in the room engaging, ’cause I think oftentimes resume review it’s so important, but it sounds like, “Eh,” so matching it with something that might be of more interest like that exploration piece, that really finding your passion piece can be cool.

Ashley Safranski:

Yeah. Yeah. I love that. You touched on this earlier, but I want to dig into it a bit. You highlighted that oftentimes first-gen students have really fantastic skills or attributes that employers would find incredibly desirable. Can you maybe share examples of some more or just elaborate on the specific skills or competencies that first-gen students might have and how can career services help them identify that and pull it out and translate those skills or attributes into a resume or adding that into a cover letter in a way that is accretive to their goals?

Yasi Mahallaty:

Yeah, I think for this, what I often found was that students didn’t consider a lot of their work paid or not on campus as something relevant to a resume. So we had students who were, once they got involved on campus, which was great, and which we encouraged, they didn’t consider those leadership positions relevant to the positions to which they were applying. So I often talk about my experience in student government as something that I fell into on campus and ended up being a huge part of my experience and also ended up really preparing me for the workforce in a way that I wouldn’t have known in the moment, but now understand 10+ years out of undergrad.

So really talking to students about the day-to-day tasks or the day-to-day engagement strategy that they’re doing in the classroom, outside of the classroom on campus that would translate to the workplace. They could be co-chair of their dance club, and that involves more than just choreographic dances or holding auditions, which of course, is also a lot of logistics and could be great for a resume. So I think really getting students to understand you are already doing a lot that an employer would be impressed with. Let’s figure out a way to frame it on your resume to show that you do have these particular skills, even if it wasn’t at this unpaid internship, that maybe your peers have the privilege of having.

Ashley Safranski:

Right. I think to what you mentioned earlier, these things like overcoming adversity and just being a really hard worker and the first to do something, I think those are things that students can just not shy away from and lead.

Yasi Mahallaty:

Right. Right.

Ashley Safranski:

Right? I think anyone who’s hired people, those are all attributes that I know, ’cause I try to build out my team. Those are things that I love to see, right? Someone who’s-

Yasi Mahallaty:

Yeah.

Ashley Safranski:

… competitive and just has a will and a desire to overcome challenges is huge.

Yasi Mahallaty:

Definitely. I think too, we did a whole initiative around Proud to be First-Gen, not shy away from sharing that identity, which oftentimes can be a hidden identity for students. Their peers might not know that they’re the first ones to do this. They might think that we’re all the same in our experiences and privileges. So really, being willing to share that in an interview, in an application process, “I’m a first-generation college student, here’s how that has affected me personally, professionally,” and exactly what you said, “how these experiences will make me a good employee for you now that I’ve gone through this experience as the first in my family or first in my community.”

Ashley Safranski:

Yeah, absolutely. Owning that is huge. Other side of the token I guess you could say, are there specific skills or competencies that maybe you’ve seen or found first-gen students may need additional support in developing as it relates to career success? If so, how can career professionals support that?

Yasi Mahallaty:

So this goes along with what we were just saying. I think supporting students and understanding that developing an elevator pitch about themselves or talking about themselves can be not braggy. So when I would work with students and we were preparing for an interview or something like that, they’re like, “Well, Miss, that sounds like I’m bragging about myself or that I really think really highly of myself.” I think, of course, there’s an extreme to which you can take that, but really I think the first step is supporting them in that understanding of when you’re walking into an interview or you’re walking into an application process, that’s part of it is selling yourself and your ability, and that’s okay. You deserve to do that, this idea that you should feel entitled to this opportunity. You are a fit for this opportunity. Let’s talk about how we can leverage your skills and your personality to ensure that the employer understands that too. So I think that’s part of it. I think the networking piece is huge because students oftentimes they hear that word a lot, “Go out and network, go out and network. Go find a mentor.”

It can be really difficult to do that if they aren’t given a clear pathway on how that can happen for them. Sometimes that is cold messaging professionals on LinkedIn, and oftentimes, from my alma mater, I’ll have undergrads reach out because they’re interested in the grad school I went to or something. So I think getting students to understand the possibilities that are out there when they’re willing to put themselves out there and network, and sometimes that involves putting programming together so that they’re able to meet professionals who have already said, “I’m willing to meet with students,” so creating that environment for them as opposed to sending them off to LinkedIn to find someone. We did a speed networking event a few months ago that was really successful where we brought professionals who were willing to meet with students, and so having students chat with each professional, I think it was under five minutes, we had different groups. They were able to meet people from a lot of different industries, really just make that connection, practice sharing and practice that skill in networking and building that muscle.

Ashley Safranski:

Yeah, I love that. I think, not to be too on the nose here from the uConnect perspective, but I want to highlight that’s a lot of the impetus for us partnering with groups like CareerSpring is so that we can take a lot of the, they have these mentors, first-generation student mentors and making that available on your website, your virtual career center, so that students can go, they don’t have to necessarily walk into the career office. They can go to the website. They can find content that’s relevant for them. They identify as a first-generation student, so now they have access to mentors and videos and articles about how to create a cover letter or resume review or whatever. So I want to surface that just to bring it back full circle in that way. I think there’s so many different types of resources that can really benefit students, and it’s not all on those one-to-one conversations, right? But obviously that makes-

Yasi Mahallaty:

Yep, right.

Ashley Safranski:

… a big difference. I want to call out just the great conversation that’s happening in the chat. There’s just a lot of great points that folks are making, so I appreciate everyone contributing to the conversation. We’re getting close to digging in more into the questions. I think you’ve highlighted a lot of different things that career teams can take into consideration. What are some effective strategies or approaches career services teams can leverage to engage and support first-gen students? So there’s that, you want to engage them, so I think that’s half the battle, getting them to acknowledge that you exist and that they are using you and your resources and your team and then making sure that you’re supporting them appropriately in the ways that they really need.

Yasi Mahallaty:

Yeah. Going to where the students are I think is huge, like I said. This is true of career services, but also a lot of other resource centers on campus, the writing center, maybe the math center, students might be intimidated to walk through the doors even if they don’t know anyone in that particular office already. So I think going to them is huge. I know someone in the chat mentioned the faculty advisors that can be of help and maybe, of course, they are really busy with their courses and potentially research as well that they’re doing. But I know at least on my campus, there were a few that really, really cared about developing relationships with students and supporting them on their career exploration, whether that was to go into academia or not. Of course, those faculty know people who know people who know people that can support students in their career development and that networking piece as well.

I wonder too, if there could be a way, and this was true of many of my students, they worked on campus, they have work study, and so potentially working with those folks who are supervising students to incorporate career exploration, career development in their day-to-day. I had an administrative job on campus when I was a student, and of course, that was on my resume, but the folks that I met in that office were really intentional about asking me questions around what I wanted to do after graduation, how they could help. So that wasn’t necessarily something that the career… partner with them to do. Maybe it was and I just wasn’t aware of it. But I wonder if there’s some connection there that can be made because students are working all over campus probably-

Ashley Safranski:

Yeah. Yes.

Yasi Mahallaty:

… so maybe partnering with those folks who are already supervising them.

Ashley Safranski:

Yeah. That’s come up in some previous conversations that we’ve had where you’re trying to find who are your career champions when it comes to faculty, staff, support services, other students, etc. I really think those who employ students are such a great group to go after. I know that when I was working on campus, I supervised the student ambassadors, so the tour guides, and every year there was 100 students that I was managing, and I loved that. I think having some more formal training for me that I would’ve been glad to have taken, I probably could have been even more helpful in some ways. But I think that’s a really great call out. We are going to dig into some of the questions, so now is a great time to submit any. If I missed any in the chat, I’ll go through and look, but you can also submit using the Q&A box.

As we transition, I want to take a moment to make sure we take note of anyone who’s interested in continuing the conversation around increasing support of first-gen students and related to some of the examples that I shared at the beginning, which does include Curation Kits, which is where CareerSpring is a headline partner. Let’s see, is it up? I’m not sure. No, it’s not up. I’m going to launch a poll right here. If you and your team already have and are using the virtual career center and you’re interested in leveraging additional resources, let us know. If you’re not currently using the virtual career center and are interested in just learning more about how we can support your work in supporting first-gen and other student populations, also be sure to let us know so we can follow up. So I’m going to leave this up just for a moment, and I’m just going to dig into the question. These are rapid fire, Yasi, so we’re going to keep you on your toes here.

Yasi Mahallaty:

Okay, here we go.

Ashley Safranski:

So what are ways you think advisors can encourage students to interview from an asset-based approach? This ties into how to mention about students can highlight skills to align with the job they’re interviewing for. What are ways you think advisors can encourage students to interview from an asset-based approach? So maybe highlighting the skills that they have to align with the job that they’re interviewing for. So I think it’s skill identification and then aligning those to the role.

Yasi Mahallaty:

I hope I’m answering this question properly, but I think that, of course, there’s the traditional diving into the job description and having the student really figure out examples for each maybe piece of the JD that the company has put out there. I think so much of that is actually encouraging the student to practice, to practice sharing their assets, to practice telling stories that relate to part of the job description. Again, not to be braggy of course, but to really just share why they might be a good fit for the job. Oftentimes, it’s not fun. I get pushback from students sometimes around practicing and being maybe a bit too embarrassed or shy or uncomfortable or awkward in that endeavor. But I think practicing that skill, it’s a fake it till you make it type of thing potentially for students to really practice what it’s like to talk about yourself and to share stories about yourself that align with the job description or otherwise in an elevator pitch context as well. So I think that could be beneficial.

Ashley Safranski:

Yeah. I love this next question, “What are some of the biggest ways in which, well-intentioned career services staff drop the ball for their first-gen students?”

Yasi Mahallaty:

Thank you for putting well-intentioned in there because I do think that we all come to this work with good intentions. I think something that came up a lot when I was on campus is that students, those that did take the leap to go to the career center found that the folks in that office didn’t understand their experience as a first-gen student. What that can look like is encouraging taking an unpaid internship so that you get that experience on your resume. Of course, students might have to work part-time or full-time in the summer during the semester to support themselves and their families and so they’re unable to take the unpaid internship, or encouraging them to think about their professional network, which again, I think could exist, but oftentimes doesn’t.

This was true of my experience on campus as a first-gen student, I watched friend after friend, classmate after classmate find internships and jobs through their parents, through the country club, through even their high schools that were really well resourced. I often found that I maybe had some folks in that realm but wasn’t as comfortable reaching out for help, asking if they know of any internships, “Are you willing to hire me?” So I think really just understanding the student experience is huge, and I think that comes with potentially professional development, potentially other educational opportunities out there where you can really hear from students and graduates about their experience to really feel what it’s like to be first-gen on a campus of higher education.

Ashley Safranski:

Yeah, good stuff. You mentioned the concerns of first-gen students might have with being maybe a diversity hire. Do you have suggestions for how to coach first-gen students on identifying and maybe evaluating potential employers on how well they truly do with DEIB?

Yasi Mahallaty:

Yeah, so there are actually a lot of tools out there that I’m just starting to explore around employers that have built out the DEIB initiatives in their company, even in the last five, 10 years. Many companies have been doing it for longer than that, but I think it’s really become a more pressing issue for companies as of late. So again, happy to share this after, but there’s even a toolkit or it’s like an assessment where you can go in and filter by industry or filter by location and find the grades that different companies have gotten based on their DEIB work initiatives and resources. So there is stuff out there that you can use and that students can use to identify companies that might be most aligned with either their personal identity or the type of place that they’re trying to work post-grad.

Ashley Safranski:

I love this question, too. You mentioned that you were a first-generation student. What was your biggest challenge as a first-generation college student, and how did you overcome it?

Yasi Mahallaty:

Wow, great question. I think, and there were many, there were many challenges, I think the overarching one that I reflect on a lot now in hindsight is that I desperately wanted to fit in. I didn’t want my peers, faculty, staff that were supporting me either in my on-campus role or in my student government or extracurriculars, I really wanted to conceal that I was different than my peers, that I was working full-time. In addition to being a student and having different leadership positions on campus, I wanted to do it all and I wanted to do it on my own, and I had a really hard time asking for help. It was like I had to get to the brink of something before I mentioned that I had an outstanding balance on my student account or that I was really struggling to afford groceries and things like that.

So I think if I could go back, I would definitely be more resourceful and also to maybe take a little bit more pride in my identity as a first-gen, low-income student. At the time, I just wanted to be like everyone else, and I wanted people to think that I was rich and my family was rich and that I had access to all the things that everyone else had access to. So that was something that took a while to overcome. I’m just now in my middle of my career coming to terms with that’s a matter of fact. There’s no value judgment on that. It’s not a good or bad thing, it’s just the experience and actually made me who I am today. So I try to encourage students to think about that too, right? There’s no good or bad, it’s just the circumstances and you can actually capitalize on that to be successful.

Ashley Safranski:

Thank you for sharing that. I think there’s some comments about how relatable that answer is. Yasi, there’s a question. So when I showed that Curation Kit and there’s a lot of CareerSpring content on there, can you share a little bit, if you’re familiar, I understand that you may not be involved in every aspect of the CareerSpring org, but with the mentors specifically, can you share a little bit how they’re sourced and how much time is allocated to meeting with students? How did you meet them or source them, or can you dig into that a little bit?

Yasi Mahallaty:

Yeah, great question. So I’ll start with the sourcing and life cycle of an advisor or a mentor, if you will. So we recruit advisors through our employer partners, so it’s a volunteer opportunity for the companies that partner with us to post jobs and internships. They also, of course, are invited to serve as advisors, and we try to get a diversity. We have a goal of having tons of different advisors in various industries so that when a student logs on and tries to find someone really specific, they’re able to find that person. So first of all, our employer partners. Secondly, we have regional boards in nine cities across the country. Then we also have a national board where we have folks from all over that convene. Of course, all of those folks are signed up as advisors, but their networks, part of their work is to build the CareerSpring network.

So getting us connected with employer partners, with education partners, but then with professionals who might be interested in serving as advisors, and so that spreads in a word of mouth way to get folks on the platform. Once they express interest, they’re invited to an advisor training to learn a little bit more about the first-gen experience, what the conversations might be like, the different types of conversations they can have on their profile, how to create their profile to include their information from LinkedIn. Part of that is also setting up their availability, and so advisors are able to set a maximum number of consultations that they’re willing to have a month. They’re able to go in and put in their calendar availability. So oftentimes what will happen is a student will find someone and say they really want to talk to Ashley. There will be a dropdown for times and dates.

The student will click that time or date, they can offer a second option. They can send a message to Ashley. We have a little template they can use if they’d like. They can attach a resume or cover letter if they want to share that with Ashley. Then they go into the advisor’s inbox. So the advisor can either accept that time. They can message back and forth and find a different time and then they meet on the platform via video. So that’s how the process works. Again, if you’d like to see how that works in real time, we can find some time after this call, we can share a little bit more about how to partner with us, but that’s the advisor lifecycle. Of course, I always say to folks who are in sessions like these, if you would like to serve as an advisor, we would love to have you as well. Of course, students might be interested in going into higher education or support programs like yours.

Ashley Safranski:

Yeah, absolutely. That’s actually a great lead in to a few questions about CareerSpring. So does CareerSpring work directly with first-gen offices at individual universities? I do want to highlight that anything that Yasi shares, we will provide as part of the follow-up email with the recording tomorrow too.

Yasi Mahallaty:

So the answer is yes, we partner with different offices on campus depending on who we are introduced to. So oftentimes it’s the first-gen office. Oftentimes, it’s the career services office, support programs, office student support programs office. So really depending on who wants to partner, we’re willing to. Sometimes we get connected to career services, we partner with them, but then they introduce us to the first-gen office and we do a Trio situation. So we’re really flexible and happy to connect with whoever is able to get us in the hands of students.

Ashley Safranski:

Cool. Yeah, and we’ll provide that information in the follow-up.

Yasi Mahallaty:

Definitely.

Ashley Safranski:

Unless I missed anything that got buried. But I think those are most all of our questions and four minutes to spare, which is pretty good. So Yasi, I just want to say thank you so much for joining us and sharing your experience and your expertise. I love the work that you guys are doing at CareerSpring. Super grateful for our partnership, and yeah, thanks again.

Yasi Mahallaty:

Thank you. Thanks, everyone, for joining.

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