Josh Domitrovich, Executive Director of the Center for Career and Professional Development at PennWest, talks about two Career Everywhere initiatives he recently launched:
- A Career Champion program for faculty and staff
- A five-week Professional Advantage Academy for students that simulates the job application process.
Josh is in the unique position of leading career services for a brand-new institution. PennWest was established in July 2022 as a result of the merger of California University of Pennsylvania, Clarion University of Pennsylvania, and Edinboro University of Pennsylvania.
He shares actionable advice, best practices, and detailed breakdowns of how he built the Career Champion program and Professional Advantage Academy—and how he got buy-in from top to bottom.
Resources from the episode:
Meredith Metsker: Hey everyone. Welcome to the Career Everywhere podcast. I’m your host Meredith Metsker, and today I am joined by Dr. Josh Domitrovich. He’s the executive director of the Center for Career and Professional Development at Pennsylvania Western University. Josh, thank you for being here.
Josh Domitrovich: Thank you for having me, Meredith. I’m looking forward to it and I’m excited.
Meredith Metsker: Yeah, we’re glad to have you.
So Josh, you’ve had a really interesting career path so far. I saw that you began in the military working in security forces for the Pennsylvania Air National Guard. And then for the last 10 years or so, you’ve worked in higher education, largely in career services at Clarion University of Pennsylvania, and now you’re leading career services for PennWest.
Now for context for those of you watching or listening who don’t know, PennWest is actually the result of the integration of three different Pennsylvania universities, Clarion, California and Edinboro Universities of Pennsylvania. So those three schools were officially combined this summer.
And Josh now has the unique opportunity to be the first ever executive director of the Center for Career and Professional Development for PennWest. And in that role, Josh has focused a lot on elevating the role of career services and really bringing the Career Everywhere concept to life.
So before I get into the questions, Josh, is there anything else you’d like to add about your background, that integration, or your role at PennWest?
Josh Domitrovich: No, I mean, I think that was a really nice overview and gives the listeners a good perspective. I’d say my only additions would be I am a first generation college student, so I even bring that unique background in terms of first gen, veteran status, having a bachelor’s degree in HR, then an MBA, then finishing my doctorate of education recently, last year.
So definitely unique to the space and have a wonderful opportunity to do something very few people can say they’ve done in leading a newly integrated university. So with all those challenges also come extreme opportunities that I’m excited to talk about today.
Meredith Metsker: Yeah, I’m excited to get into it. That is definitely a unique perspective and a unique role to be in for sure.
So my first question is what I’m going to ask all of our guests on this podcast just to get us in the right headspace for this discussion. So Josh, what does Career Everywhere mean to you?
Josh Domitrovich: I mean, the first time I ever heard of the concept of Career Everywhere, I mean, simplicity was so beautiful in the statement. For me, it screams everything that we want career development to be. So when I reflect on that term, it takes me back to conversations colleagues were having years ago where they were trying to transition the term career services to career development, where this … Andy Chan talks about career services must die.
And when you dig into that, that is very much, I think at the heart of Career Everywhere, where it’s not just having career being a service or a transactional type of operation, that it is truly developmental, that we are facilitators, that career needs to be everywhere inside the fabric of higher education.
And for us, it’s trying to figure out with administrators, faculty, staff, everyone at the university, having them see they have a role in a student’s career trajectory is really important because that is the number one reason students are coming to college. It’s their main motivation. So somehow for an optional service like career development at PennWest, we have to infuse Career Everywhere. So that is essentially what the term means to me.
Meredith Metsker: Okay. Wow, that was a great answer. So now let’s talk about how you are implementing Career Everywhere there at PennWest, because I know that’s been a major focus for you in your role so far. Can you just give me an overview of what you and your team are doing?
Josh Domitrovich: I will. I think context is really important here because when people hear this, they’re probably going to think, well, how in the world could I do that in my certain circumstance or my context or culture?
So for people to understand, as you very nicely introduced, PennWest is an integration of three standalone historical legacy universities, which means that we have to support students across all three of those physical geographic locations still, while we also support our global online students, which is technically the fourth leg of our university now.
So when we were rethinking and visioning what the future of career development could be for PennWest, we essentially had to throw everything out the window that we knew because what we needed were to ensure that our programs, our services, our staff, were equitable to the students, accessible to our students, and ultimately sustainable.
So what we knew before, the model of the student just stopping in or us assisting a particular college, now the colleges are on all three campuses, a business major is at all three campuses and global online. So how do you reasonably support those individuals across really the geographic locations that we cover?
So what we really had to do was go back to the basics and figure out a way, how could we build a model that was equitable, sustainable, and accessible for the students and our staff of course.
So looking at that, the first thing we implemented was a continuation of our liaison model where our career coaches are aligned with particular colleges at PennWest. So there’s six colleges, we have five career coaches, so if you do the math, everybody but one has one particular liaison, area or college, there is one individual that has multiple.
So that was the first step, but then we had to think about how do we offer services and programs within these academic colleges, as I mentioned, to support students everywhere. So what we did is we led to two major initiatives. One of them is student-focused, the other is faculty and staff-focused. I’ll briefly talk about the faculty and staff before I dig into the student program.
So the faculty and staff program is something that we’re calling Career Champions, which is not a new term that others in the field have heard. There are many great examples of universities across the country who have facilitated or launched these type of Career Champion movements.
But essentially in short, what we’re looking to do is build a 30-minute asynchronous and or synchronous workshop that we allow faculty and staff to participate in to become really Career Champions or career advocates where they’re learning about the NACE competencies, they’re learning who the career center is, how we can help them, who are their career coaches or career coach, depending on what they oversee.
And then ultimately, how can they further infuse the NACE competencies into the work they’re already doing. So, whether that’s turning their syllabus into a skillabi or they’re reflecting on their, maybe it’s assessment materials to really elevate the career readiness competencies inside their work.
And in that program, one of the things that the faculty and staff are learning about is the student program called the Professional Advantage Academy. So if we swing the pendulum to the student side, really what’s happening on the student program, again which is called the Professional Advantage Academy, it’s us creating or replicating what could happen in a 30 to 60-minute student appointment into an asynchronous program inside of the learning management system that we have here at PennWest.
So in short, what happens is that we facilitate a cohort of students through this academy. It is a five-week academy. And week one is focused on career exploration and self exploration. They’re assessing themselves on the NACE competencies early, and then they’ll hear about the competencies throughout the remainder of the weeks.
And week two is all focused on resumes. In week three, it’s everything about interviewing. In week four, they’re polishing themselves up and they’re making sure that their resume and their interview skills are ready to go, because in week five we put them to the ultimate test where their really portfolio is their resume and interview recording that they submit to a mock, either job internship or grad school.
Whatever their choice is, whatever their goal is after college, we let them choose what they actually want to do. And then we as practitioners will evaluate them on their materials and application, and then we would ultimately select if they would move on to an interview like an organization would. And the beauty of that is we’re bringing in alumni and employers to be able to also facilitate those assessments.
And then last but not least, the culminating event is that they would also take that assessment, the NACE Career Readiness Assessment post-test. And then we would hopefully be able to track any type of gain in the skills so that they’re learning how to understand, identify, and then articulate what those competencies are.
Because through our work, what we’ve identified is we know a resume and an interview are required for any job or grad school. And on the flip side, faculty were telling us that students weren’t able to articulate the skills that they were learning in the classroom, which is the same thing employers are telling us.
So we’re all doing this work, and it comes back to the initial initiative that we are launching at PennWest, which is called Career Everywhere. So by us bringing it full circle, we have something for everyone at the university. Now we have the challenge of how do you infuse that from the top down and the grassroots efforts at the same time.
Meredith Metsker: That was a great overview and I can definitely see how you’re getting everyone involved with Career Everywhere, from your faculty, your staff, your alumni, employers. That’s incredible.
I would love to dig a little deeper into both the Career Champion program and the Professional Advantage Academy. So why don’t we start with the Career Champion program. Can you just tell me a little bit more about what that entails, how you built it, where it’s at right now?
Josh Domitrovich: Yeah, that’s a great question. So the Career Champions program is currently in development and we’ll be piloting it with select faculty and staff in the spring. What we’ve learned through anything at PennWest is things go a little bit slower, as you would imagine, with integrating new processes and procedures.
And we want to make sure we get this right because change is really, really difficult for people. And this is what we would suggest as a monumental change, really trying to rethink or redevelop a culture into something that is truly career focused.
What I will say is, the good news is PennWest has selected as one of their eight pillars, career readiness being one of them. So we are at the vision of strategic planning, we’re there, we just now have to prove it, that we can do it.
So we’re currently under development, and what we’re doing is we’re building Career Champions inside of our learning management system. So our institution utilizes Desire2Learn or D2L, some individuals will call it that for the abbreviation.
And what we’re doing is we’re making sure it is, again, asynchronous, where we’re doing very intentional, recorded short videos that are of high quality, even planning to go into the communication recording studio and using the green screen to really make sure that these are very high quality, that they have animations that are controlled to really help the learner and adjust to learning styles. So whatever is actually a video, there’s audio, and then there’s written context as well.
And just making sure that everything that we possibly can is between that three to five, five to seven-minute mark to make sure that it’s digestible and that there’s opportunities for questions along the way.
So as we work through three really high-level modules, the first one being an introduction to the NACE competencies and sharing research in how NACE validated those competencies, and why it’s really important, kind of setting that stage. And then having them go through an introduction, like I said, of who we are and having them explore our website, meet their career coach, ask particular questions.
It’s all very intentional in ways that we’re trying to, we call it edutain people, educate and entertain them at the same time. We know some of the things that we do aren’t always the most exciting when you talk about it, but we have to figure out a way to make it exciting. So this is our way to try to put a really cool spin on it.
And then ultimately we want them to do some self and personal reflection. And that’s where we’ll also be partnering with our Centers for Teaching Excellences. Really at each campus, there’s one of them. So we’ll be partnering with them to be able to hold additional workshops for any of our Career Champions.
And we’re trying to figure out ways that we can incentivize these opportunities to become a champion in unique ways, because it’s just one more thing somebody has to do. But what we’re trying to show them is you’re already doing this work. So whether that is offering a T-shirt, it’s offering a certificate of completion, monthly workshops, a newsletter.
And also we’re going to be offering a student scholarship. So if a certain percentage of faculty participate and become Career Champions, we want to offer a scholarship to give back. So by us saying, thank you faculty, our faculty participating with us, our way to say thank you to them is say, we’re going to give back to the students in a one time scholarship.
So a lot of different techniques. We’re trying all in one, and we’re really excited to roll it out, get feedback, and do constant iterations of the process.
Meredith Metsker: Wow. That sounds awesome. When are you planning to roll it out and start getting that feedback?
Josh Domitrovich: Sure. So we have one faculty member we’re working closely with now who is a part of the Center for Teaching Excellence, just guidance, maybe layout, ideas, design. It’ll all be designed through the break and then through the spring. We’ll end the spring with a cohort of select faculty and staff to run through it to give us ideas, continue to clean it up throughout the spring, and then do our major initiative rollout right before the fall semester.
So as faculty are starting to come back, I will be laying the groundwork communicating with deans and department chairs to see if we’re able to work with them to do this prior to the semester, starting to really get momentum throughout the fall semester. And then it’ll be a reoccurring relationship building, fostering everything that we can do to continue to get advocates and champions on our side.
Meredith Metsker: Okay. Yeah, that makes sense. I’m curious, being an audio, video dork myself, when you were talking about making these three to seven-minute videos entertaining, I’m curious how … if you can share how you’re doing that.
Josh Domitrovich: So a staff member in our office, her name is Dr. Erin Lewis, just recently finished her doctorate degree in communication related areas. And she went through a variety of different trainings throughout that program to make sure that we’re adding appropriate visual demonstrations, whether it’s B-roll or its particular audio functions or transitions or definitely utilizing green screen to lay over text.
There’s one example that I’ll visually try to walk you through as part of our Professional Advantage Academy. Erin is down in the communications studio with the green screen. So very much like you would see a news anchor and the weather forecast behind them, Erin is walking around the studio, but there’s imagery and texts popping up that she’s referencing and talking with and pointing to. And then images will go in and out based off conversation and flow that she’s navigating.
So it’s those little things that we’re trying to replicate that we know is attractive to us as social media users or movie goers and watchers. We’re just trying to keep things simple but engaging and exciting at the same time. So it’s the strategies that Erin is bringing forward that we’re learning and testing, really trying to set ourselves apart in making something people will want to engage with and watch.
Meredith Metsker: Okay. I love that. It’s taken me back to my broadcast news days back in college.
Josh Domitrovich: There you go. Exactly.
Meredith Metsker: I had lots of experience with that green screen.
So now I’d like to transition to talking more about the Professional Advantage Academy for students. So you gave us a really nice overview earlier about the five-week process and what each week focuses on, but could you dig a little deeper on more of what that program entails again, how you built it, where it’s at right now?
Josh Domitrovich: Sure. So taking you back to the legacy campuses, what we learned were each campus was doing something very specific to meet their reality at that time. So what we attempted to do was take the best components of each of those legacy programs and turn it into a brand-new program, which we are calling the Professional Advantage Academy.
And when we started this conversation, we wanted to ensure that every decision that we made and every program or service we provided had the NACE competencies in mind and were really infused and built off of them since our number one goal for PennWest is enhancing students’ career readiness. That’s how we want to be seen as an office and staff in this environment. So we knew leading with that was going to be very important.
During that conversation with the staff, I’ll never forget it, the big thing that they really brought forward when we were going through this planning phase was we have to build something that is ultimately sustainable because we’re in a very financially turbulent time where enrollment is declining in our state, where we’re not getting the support from the state as much as we would like to see.
So whether it’s somebody leaving the office or there’s a retirement, the likelihood of somebody being replaced in our current environment is pretty slim. So we have to be thinking about as we grow and move forward, how do we go from institutions that were an office of four, four and one, to now we’re an office of nine, and now we have to oversee and support 13,000 students, almost 14,000 students.
Meredith Metsker: Wow.
Josh Domitrovich: So doing the traditional one-on-one engagement is not going to work anymore because of the challenges I shared earlier about having to support all the physical and online students.
So with these conversations in mind, I remember drawing on our whiteboard, a supply and demand curve to the team and the traditional supply and demand business nerds will know with me, because I’m going to geek out a little bit, there’s this equilibrium that you’re trying to hit where things match up perfectly, where what you’re supplying is in ultimate demand.
But what we know is we were so dependent on faculty that our relationships and engagement with students hinge so much on whether or not faculty supported us or not. And that’s wonderful, but it’s a nightmare and it’s super scary whenever that faculty member changes the class the next year, they get moved to a different assignment or they just ultimately say, you know what? Can’t do it this year, other competing priorities. We have to cut that from the syllabus. Then there goes our engagement.
To put that into perspective, my very first year as a career coach, when I started at the university, I met with 73 students. Three years later when we infused ourselves as liaisons, I met with over 700 students every year. So that growth in three years really shows you the intentional collaboration can work, but that also burnt me out so it wasn’t sustainable, and trying to have staff do that now is a near impossible feat.
So when we were looking at all this data and all this information that supply and demand curve, it wouldn’t work. So what we did was we tried to flip it on its head and say, what if we created the supply and we just carried out the demand where it was manageable for us?
So we turned ourselves very much thinking like a class. Classes across our university can cap the number of students in a particular program all the time. What if we figured out what that cap was for our program, meaning the Professional Advantage Academy where we would attract, I’m just randomly going to pick a random number, 30 students, and we say, is this manageable?
And maybe that’s manageable for a business program, maybe it’s not manageable for an education program. Our liaisons will figure that model out because each of them will theoretically be running their own cohort for a particular college.
Because the end goal is there is this academy and we are building, we joke, a Toyota Camry, which is a very basic, standard, really good car, but then we want each coach to be able to tailor it, adapt it, and enhance it by working with faculty in that particular college to make it their own so they feel like it was made for them.
So as we’re building these programs, the idea is that we could run three cohorts per college each semester, three in the fall, three in the spring. And the way that could work would be give the beginning of the semester a little bit of a break to recruit, but it would be for example, September, October, November, and then we would get all the data ready December, distribute that back out to the faculty and the colleges. We would start back up in the spring.
So theoretically, if that all worked, there would be three per college each, three for a singular college each semester times that by six. So you’re running 18 cohorts in our office, and if each of them have 30, you do that math, that’s a significant level of population that we’re reaching in the students, but that’s sustainable from our standpoint because we control that.
Now, that’s not to say we push over and we get rid of still doing resume reviews or doing mock interviews or anything like that, but we’re also building our own Career Champion army of student workers who are able to do those types of engagements too, whether that’s undergraduate, graduate, or practicum or interns.
We’re really trying to be smart with leveraging student staff to their greatest potential while also leveraging our professional staff to the greatest potential and not having them sit in on a 30-minute resume review where the student didn’t even listen to the advice that we gave them to get to the appointment. That’s not a great use of their initial time.
So all those things that I mentioned were part of the conversation in developing the academy in a way that we could replicate what we were doing in person in an asynchronous format because that was sustainable and it was accessible and equitable to all of our students across PennWest, and to us that really, really mattered.
So I’ll pause there in case you have any questions and then I can go deeper into any of the actual weeks if you would like.
Meredith Metsker: Cool. Yeah, I would love to dig deeper into the week-by-week strategy there. But yeah, that was a great overview. It definitely makes a ton of sense on making it sustainable, having a little more control. And as you were describing this, I just wish that I had had something like that when I was a college student, something that really simulated that job application process because it’s scary-
Josh Domitrovich: It is. It’s intimidating.
Meredith Metsker: … the first time you do it. You’re not sure if you’re doing it right. And yeah, it’s very intimidating.
Josh Domitrovich: Yes, yes, absolutely. And we hear that from students and alumni all the time, and I think the greatest bit of feedback we get from alumni is, I wish I would’ve engaged more. So that tells us we have a cultural problem when they’re here then that we’re not getting to the students or the students have too many what we call competing priorities where we have to become an important part of that journey for them during their time in college. So we definitely have a lot of work to do, but we’re excited with it.
Meredith Metsker: Yeah, it sounds like-
Josh Domitrovich: Do you want me to dig into the week-by-week breakdown?
Meredith Metsker: Yes, let’s do it.
Josh Domitrovich: Okay. Again, a five-week program, as I indicated. In week one, the really main objective is exploration there. So we’ll be having the students take a self-assessment related to the NACE competencies to create the baseline, and then we’ll be working them through both personal and professional types of career exploration.
So from the personal side, there are a variety of different things the institution does independently, but we can introduce them to things like enneagrams or different assessments where they can work through and truly figure out who they are and what their strengths are.
Because that is a significant piece that I think we as an institution lacked historically that you bring such a unique skill set already to the table as an individual and that makes you a unique potential candidate for an employer if you know how to leverage them the right way. So we do some personal investigation inside of that.
And then the professional investigation and exploration is largely on, it depends on where the student’s at, but are they unsure of a major? Are they unsure of a career? Are they unsure of how major equals career? Or does major ever equal a career? We go through that whole piece of, developmentally, how a career is a journey and you can work through a variety of different things to get to the end destination.
Some programs are very prescriptive, majors, this major lock step into an ultimate career, but for many of our students, that is not always the case. We have students transitioning to a variety of different industries and it’s important that they know that that is possible. But so much of it depends on the co-curricular experiences that they develop and the internship experiential learning experiences that they’re getting throughout their time at the university.
So that in a nutshell is week one. Again, about 30 minutes of work, of videos that they would watch, and then about 30 minutes of independent work that they could go through.
And at the end of week one, what we do is we hold a subject-matter expert conversation. It is optional for students, but we’ll highly encourage them to participate where we bring in an alum or an employer, preferably an alum who is an employer, and they come in and talk about career exploration on their own and what it meant to them and why it matters right now to have that conversation.
So that way there’s a little bit more that we’re offering other than just these videos and this self-guided work that they’re doing on their own, and the career coaches can have little touchpoints along the way.
So I’ll pause here for week one in case you have any questions that you want me to dig into.
Meredith Metsker: I think you covered it.
Josh Domitrovich: Okay, perfect. So week two is largely focused on resumes. So who probably the very first thing that we did as a PennWest team was revisit our resume guide and checklist to ensure that we put forward one resume sample. We got rid of the 20, 30, 40 different examples that we had out there where we created one example, one guide, one video, and one checklist. So that way when you go on our website, it’s the only thing students see. It gives them everything that they need to really knock out the basics of resume writing.
So we break our resumes really into three chunks. We talk about formatting, content and tailoring. So the hope is that when they’re working through this checklist and video, that is essentially a mirror image, depending on the learning style, is that they’re knocking out formatting and content. So visually, is it what it needs to be? Is the content where it needs to go? Am I writing it the right way?
That front-end work alleviates the professional staff for having to explain all those things multiple times when they can just refer to a video, stop the video. We literally start with a blank Word document and build it. But it’s in a way that I was explaining that Erin makes the videos unique and engaging along the way.
And then that way, that whenever the student does want to meet with a career coach, they’re focused on that tailoring piece, which is so critical in the actual application process. So resumes in week two, largely focus on really those areas.
Now, what’s also unique about the academy is there are these required pieces in order to move forward, like I said, a resume and interviewing, but we’ll provide a bunch of optional resources in case it is helpful to that particular learner.
So for example, in this particular module, we’ll also expand it to cover letters. So if an individual needs more support on cover letters, we have a guide, we have a sample they can work through to be able to help them develop that information too. But it’s not a requirement because it’s not a requirement of every job out there.
So we’re trying to really mimic what they would see in the real world as options, but the support is there if they ultimately need it in terms of educating them in building the right information.
Meredith Metsker: Okay.
Josh Domitrovich: Any questions on resume?
Meredith Metsker: I don’t think so. Let’s move on to week three.
Josh Domitrovich: All right. Week three is interviewing. So we utilize a AI technology interviewing software where students can log in, record themselves based off of asking basic, intermediate or advanced questions or questions that we ultimately create for the academy that we want them to go through.
And then what’s really great about this is we also show them an assessment that we created, a rubric that is based off the NACE competencies. So if you will, visually, there are eight career readiness competencies and we’ve developed questions that address each of those competencies. And then our rubric is scaled to have the evaluator assess if the student can understand the competency, identify an experience about that competency, and then articulate that competency.
Because articulation is the piece that we ultimately want to get them to, but we know students struggle along those three areas. Some of them don’t even know what that particular term might mean, or they really struggle to say, I don’t think I’ve ever had an experience where I did critical thinking, for example. That’s a conversation that we know as coaches we can go in and try to extract that from them and elevate it to the surface so that way we can help them articulate it.
So week three is really largely focused on that, helping them understand, explore experiences and then ultimately really put it to the test and try to articulate it through that AI technology.
Then from there we transition to week four as I indicated, which is very much giving them another week just to continue to practice. Maybe they got resume feedback from their coaches, they can implement it, polish up on the interviewing that they would want to do for week five, where they go into our system inside of Handshake where we’ve posted a fake opportunity.
They select the trajectory they want to go, meaning grad school, internship or full-time job. And then they apply to that particular position with the resume they’ve developed, with the interview recording that they have. And then ultimately we will record that information based off of the assessment and rubric materials that they all know, that we have been sharing with them along the way so it becomes no surprise.
And the hope is that employers and alumni come back with us and be the ultimate evaluators of this portfolio that the students are submitting.
Meredith Metsker: Okay, and then from there, it sounds like you decide who moves on. So what does the moving-on process look like?
Josh Domitrovich: It’s a good question. So this is the part that we can get pretty unique with that we’re still continuing to explore. So I’ll tell you what the current plan is and then what the ultimate vision is. So the staff laughed at me when I said this, so hopefully it gives a few people chuckles whenever they hear it.
So the initial plan is when students complete the official portfolio, that last assignment in week five, they will be graded, they will be evaluated, they’ll be given their assessment materials back. And ultimately the hope is that there will be one student who is ultimately selected as that person for the particular cohort.
What we’re trying to figure out is, is it equitable to say there’s one person for the cohort, even though there’s a grad school, an internship and a job avenue inside of them? So are there three people, one for each area? We’re working through that.
But ultimately, regardless of who’s selected, everybody who graduates from the academy gets an honor cord. So we’ll have an honor cord that we got approved by the university so that they can wear them at graduation and it quickly identifies who they are.
We also implemented digital badging, so using gamification techniques throughout to try to continue to motivate them throughout the process of finishing the academy. They’ll get that stamp of approval that they can post on LinkedIn or utilize in a variety of different capacities.
And then ultimately, so this is where the staff laughs at me, the hope is that if we are able to identify in some way the top students in a cohort, what we would want to do sometime in the year, perhaps the end of the year, is have a culminating event, something along the lines of hired or fired where we would bring forward representatives from each of the academic colleges.
So we have six colleges, just for simplicity, let’s just say there are one person is elevated or nominated to be the representative from a college. All six of those individuals would go through a program where they would go through an interview, a resume review by employers, an interview of employer that would be up on stage in front of a crowd. They would be evaluated through everything. And then ultimately there would be a first, second, and third winner. They could get a cash prize.
But most importantly, to build competition amongst the colleges, we would have a Career Everywhere trophy where that student’s name would be engraved for that year and then that college, they would’ve the bragging rights and hold that trophy until the next individual was awarded.
So inspiration from a little bit of Harry Potter Goblet of Fire, if you will, but it’s just trying to do something different that makes Career Everywhere, career readiness exciting, people feel like they have a say in it, they see that it’s making an impact, that they’re doing something for the students. That’s what we’re trying to do is have fun with it.
Meredith Metsker: I love that so much. As a Harry Potter nerd, I appreciate the Goblet of Fire reference.
Josh Domitrovich: Thank you.
Meredith Metsker: And I appreciate your passion and interest in the digital badging idea too. If I recall correctly, that was the subject of your thesis or your dissertation, right?
Josh Domitrovich: That is right, yeah. So what I did for my dissertation was I focused on trying to understand the impact of gamification on students’ perceptions on whether or not if we use something like digital badging, would it have any motivational influence on whether they chose to engage in career services? So it was very specific to career services to see if students would engage if a badge was present, but I also opened it to other co-curricular context.
And in short, the cliff notes are that yes, students did perceive badging would be motivational about a 70% clip. So 70% of the students said, “Yeah, if you had this, it would be motivating to me.” And it was even higher for other co-curricular experiences. It was like 73, 74, 75, but on average, about 70% of the students said yes.
And what was most interesting about that is the research told me that extrinsically motivated students would be more motivated than intrinsically motivated students to obtain that badge to ultimately engage. But what my research showed was there was no statistically significant difference across any type of motivated individual. So whether you were intrinsically motivated or extrinsically motivated that you felt equally that the badge would motivate you to continue to participate.
And from a practitioner that probably would make sense. You’re getting an extrinsically motivated individual, you’re dangling a carrot in front of them to say, hey, here’s this badge. That gets them to go and do something that you’re hoping that they would do. The intrinsically motivated student doesn’t need the carrot because they know why they’re there, but they’ll take the carrot along the way as well.
So it made a lot of sense when I reflected back on the research and what my findings were, but that was very much a really neat lens and avenue to explore for three and a half years. So I was glad that I could use a lot of what I learned in forms of badging and what best practices were to actually implementing them so we can make it more successful at PennWest.
Meredith Metsker: Yeah, I’m excited to see how you continue to apply that there at PennWest. Really quick before I continue, do you have a hard stop?
Josh Domitrovich: I do not.
Meredith Metsker: Okay, cool. Since we got a little bit of a late start, I have a few more questions for you. So now that we’ve talked about what you’re doing, how you built it, I would love to talk about how you got buy-in. So buy-in from senior leadership, buy-in from your team, just how you got people on board with these Career Everywhere initiatives.
Josh Domitrovich: Meredith, this is probably the most important question to be quite honest with you, because without buy-in, it’s really, really hard to accomplish tasks outside of your office. We can control a lot of things inside, but these monumental types of engagements with students rely so heavily on so many other people at the university that we really don’t have a say often in what we can and can’t do with students, which is sad when I say it out loud, but it also goes to show why this question is so important.
So what I’ll share is probably the most impactful thing that we learned that we could do to try to help elevate the career center into the status that it is now. So a couple of different things. I think there was a perfect storm entering PennWest where we quickly identified that career readiness was a strategic pillar. So I wanted to latch onto that.
So whenever we were working through that strategic planning process, which we still currently are doing, I wanted to make sure that our mission and vision and values aligned with that. So we changed our main goal to enhance students’ career readiness.
So that way when people thought career readiness as a pillar, they think of the career center because we’re here to enhance it. So we enhance it, but we used terminology that really allowed us to infuse ourselves everywhere, hence the Career Everywhere initiative.
So starting at the top, making sure that you’re aligned with strategic purpose and then that your individual department mission aligns with that is really, really important because it helps me when I go to the table and tables I’m not supposed to be at to try to advocate. So simultaneously, let me flip to the bottom.
So the most important area are our career coaches where they are doing a grassroots effort in their liaison roles, trying to win people over and educate them. Simultaneously though, I go and conduct what I call listening tours. So what I do is I reach out to a variety of different stakeholders. I usually start with the provost.
This is how I did it before, started with the provost, went to the provost and said, “I want to conduct a listening tour with a variety of different academic constituents. I want to start with the deans, go to the department chairs, go to the faculty and I’ll meet with anybody and everybody that they allow me to get to.”
So the provost said, “Well, what do you want to ask them?” And I remember the first conversation I had with the provost, I said, “I want to ask them why in the world do some faculty in this college engage with us and others don’t even from the same department?” We chuckled. We knew that I couldn’t ask that question, but it allowed me then to openly share what we were after.
And one of the best bits of feedback I received from the provost that was reciprocated, and I heard it again through the deans was, you need to ask them a question that hopefully identifies a solution that you can accomplish for them. So I said, “Okay, how can I switch that question then?”
So what we did through the help of the provost who got me to the dean’s council. In that meeting, I brought forward the same question and said, “The end goal is I want faculty to understand we are an ally to them, that we are here to support them. We’re all trying to do the same thing, which is enhance students’ career readiness because that’s why the student’s here. How can I get more faculty on board?”
And one dean, I’ll never forget her, she said, “Then you need to ask them what they don’t like right now about their students. If you could change anything about them, what would it be that you could change about them?” So through a little bit of work of that, what we ultimately landed on, the question was that I asked everybody I went to, what is a current deficiency of a current or recent graduate that you would like to see changed, that you would like to see improved?
And unanimously, when I went to … The deans brought me to the department chairs meeting, the department chairs brought me to their faculty meetings, individual faculty I met with. I probably met with anywhere between 30 and 40 total faculty across the spectrum of colleges.
And at the end of that, looking at the data, it was very clear. Unanimously they said, “Our students don’t know how to articulate the skills that we’re teaching them.” Which takes you back to the employers are saying the same thing, which was career readiness competencies.
Somebody needs to take the bull by the horns and say, we’re here to help students learn how to understand, gain the experiences and articulate them, which is where insert us to say, hey, that’s what we’re supposed to do. NACE tells us that’s who we are. So how do we work together to do that?
And then what it allowed us to do was naturally then turn, we made a subcommittee of a group of passionate individuals from this listening tour where we created example of syllabi, where we help faculty understand how you turn that syllabus into a skillabi, really infusing the competencies, seeing where they’re naturally at or what they’re already doing.
So we helped create that. We helped update our resume checklist, our interviewing rubric. All the things I mentioned that are in the academy now came from these listening tours by us meeting the faculty where they were and saying, here’s where we’re struggling, well, here’s where our expertise is, let us try to solve that problem for you. And then it’s implementing that in particular areas.
So simultaneously I am working at the administrative level to showcase our importance. Well, then our staff are doing the same thing at the faculty level, trying to infuse and figure out where does this fit naturally in the curriculum already, and then we just meet in the middle.
And there are some colleges that it’s a perfect harmony of work, things just working really, really well and we see a lot of engagement. There are other colleges, it’s still a continuous struggle, but that is the nature of the work that we do. It’s always going to be that way because you’re working through emotions and different perspectives and personalities and change, and that’s hard for people.
So that’s really the probably most impactful thing that we did were these listening tours. And it was such a cool experience, I have to say. Our employer relations team lead Rhonda, she is also doing this independently just for employer relations type of questions. And the thing she’s finding is just fascinating perspectives from faculty of what they want or what they think.
So not only is it an opportunity to listen, but we’re educating at the same time. But instead of us going in there and just talking the whole time, we’re truly asking a question and listening to try to find a problem that we can solve for them. That’s really probably the major takeaway that I would give the listeners.
In these tours, if you do them, ask a question that identifies a problem that you hope you can solve for them because then you become important, then you become valuable. And when you align that to a strategic vision, who can say no to you whenever you’re trying to do it very purposefully? That’s what we’re finding.
Meredith Metsker: That’s great advice. Just to clarify, so you met with the provost. You met with the dean’s council, and then you met with 30 or 40 faculty members? Is that correct?
Josh Domitrovich: Yeah. So provost got me into dean’s council. So provost and deans we all met together, strategized. They got me into the department chair meetings. So in some cases, for example, five departments in a college, I met with all them and said, “How can I get this to your faculty?” Some of them individually took me to their department. Others said, “Just go to these people, they’ll work with you.”
So it was a combination after the department chair meeting, some of it was a hodgepodge, some of it was networking with individuals. But that’s essentially in all, I got to about 30 or 40 faculty after the department chairs, that meeting.
Meredith Metsker: Okay.
Josh Domitrovich: It’s a lot of work.
Meredith Metsker: Okay. Yeah, I would say that’s a lot of people.
Josh Domitrovich: It is a lot of people. It’s relationship building. That’s why I it’s exhausting, you can burn out very easily from this.
Meredith Metsker: But now you have buy-in.
Josh Domitrovich: That’s right.
Meredith Metsker: From everyone, from top to bottom it sounds like. So on that note, what’s been some of the feedback you’ve gotten from these groups about the Career Champion program and the Professional Advantage Academy? I know they’re pretty new still, but yeah, I’m curious what you’ve been hearing from these stakeholders.
Josh Domitrovich: Yeah, I mean I think largely it’s such a proactive different strategy that most people in our legacy campuses didn’t engage with, experience or see. I think one unique opportunity that PennWest presented us was we had to think different and creatively to try to find a solution to our current problem. And our problem was students weren’t engaging at the level that we know. We as an institution know that they should be because they’re here to be in that career focused mindset.
So for us, you know it works when you go into a room of faculty or you walk out of that room of faculty and they all are appreciative of the work that you do, completely understand the strategy behind of how you’re trying to scale something and ultimately how it makes their life easier.
I think faculty have a sense of they’re trying to do so much naturally for the students and a lot of them have taken this career burden on themselves, whether it was because of a lack of support before, that’s just something that they want to do, whatever the case is, where they’re at, at spectrum, knowing that we’re allies and that we’re here to help make their life easier.
To me, that is probably the greatest feedback that we receive, is that they see us as somebody that they can reach out to, know that they can trust for us to be able to really help the students. And it also helps …
What I haven’t mentioned so far is our office oversees the distribution of the First Destination Survey. So we’re tracking and we’re extracting all this data that we’re able to give back to the academic colleges. And one other thing that I learned in the listening tour was, if you align with accreditation, people tend to listen to you a little bit more.
So what we were learning as I was going was that if I can somehow showcase to them, students who engage in X, Y, Z of our programming, let’s utilize the academy. Students who participate in our academy are this much more likely to be retained, this much more likely to graduate, this much more likely to graduate with an opportunity day of graduation, six months of graduation.
Those things really, really help you sell yourself without even having to say anything. You let the data speak for itself and then they use that for accreditation. So in some of our colleges we’re actually written into the accreditation components where they engage with this percent of coaching or these types of programmings or the career centers embedded in these courses. So we’ve really tried to work and showcase to faculty and deans that we’re here, use us to your advantage, however it can support you in attracting students.
And I think the other piece is there was a little bit of a learning curve for us because in our new structure in PennWest, we were shifted from primarily two of the three career centers in legacy campuses were in academic affairs and we are now within enrollment management. So even there, your focus changes a little bit, like what I have to push forward, how do we help impact enrollment? How do we help impact retention? And then I also have to figure out how do we impact curriculum engagement and first destination outcomes.
So that is why where we started this conversation about Career Everywhere, it’s not just a word, it is actually truth. What we’re trying to show people is no matter where you look throughout a student’s career lifecycle, career is an important part of it. So the career center needs to be an important part of it. Regardless of how big or small our role is, the student needs to know we exist because you can’t escape career being everywhere.
Meredith Metsker: Yeah, not if you want to survive-
Josh Domitrovich: That’s right.
Meredith Metsker: … in this economic climate at the moment.
Josh Domitrovich: That’s right.
Meredith Metsker: Well Josh, you’ve shared a lot of really great tips just organically through this conversation, but is there any other advice that you would offer for other career services leaders who want to do something similar to what you’re doing?
Josh Domitrovich: Yeah, I think the biggest piece of advice that I would give is that scaling and burnout go hand in hand, that you have to be very careful about the pace that you set and ensuring that your team is taken care of and that they’re involved in the decision-making process along the way.
I think one of the learning lessons that we’ve all experienced in PennWest is there are some lofty visions and goals that the institution has set. But people joke early on, are we building an airplane while we’re trying to fly? That doesn’t work. So having vision, seeing the forest beyond the next forest, but also making sure that your team doesn’t run into the trees along the way.
You really have to make sure that you’re catering to the people that you’re working with and take care of them. I think that’s what I try to do the most, is making sure the team knows that I care more about them outside of work than I do inside of work, because if they see that, if they feel that, if they experience that, I know they’re coming here and doing a heck of a job at whatever the goal is for them to ultimately accomplish with us because they’re great practitioners. But if we don’t take care of each other and really make sure nobody burns out, then what is it all for? We can’t get to the end destination.
And one of the ways or strategies that maybe I can share for practitioners and managers would be giving your staff the ability and permission to say no is really, really important. And here’s what I mean by that in context. In our current environment, as I’ve displayed a little bit today, we’re asked to do so much for so many students, staff, and faculty, but we don’t have nearly the staffing that it would require to do it the way we would want to do it.
Which means when another decision is made or another staff member leaves, you can’t just shift that work to somebody else and expect it to be done the same way or at the same level of quality. Because what we’re learning is the more that you do, that quantity as it rises, the quality often decreases, and that’s not why we’re here.
So it’s allowing staff to come to an environment that you’ve created to say, Josh, I’m not sure that this is going to work. You want me to do this? Here’s everything else I’ve been asked to do. So what goes? That’s the permission that we’re working with in our environment that it’s okay to come forward and say, I’m not doing well, this isn’t healthy. Something has to go. I can’t balance all this.
I told them, I don’t want you to jump off of a boat without a life vest. Let’s never get to that point where then I have to come find you. That’s not a good situation for anybody. Just tell me up front, we’ll work with you. I’ve said the same thing to my boss who’s a VP, you keep asking us to do these things, I’m going to come back through the team’s guidance and say, then these have to go. Are you all okay with that? Because there are too many priorities that we’re facing and we can’t do everything really well.
So what we’re trying to do now is distill everything down into very simple terms where our major focus is to enhance students’ career readiness. We’re doing that through our Career Everywhere initiative and our major strategies are Career Champions, Professional Advantage Academy, career coaching, employer engagement, and our internship center. That’s what we do.
That’s very simple, people can understand that and then we can dig into the context of what all that means. But it’s taken a lot to get here and it’s taken a lot of pain to get here to figure out saying no, creating that environment where people truly care about each other and aren’t afraid to speak openly like that.
It’s been a beautiful process that I wish others could see that nobody can really see unless you’re in it. So that would be my greatest takeaway for anybody who’s starting these initiatives. I can’t do anything without the team, so it’s my job as a manager to serve them as a servant leader, be authentic as possible. If I do those things, if I focus on them, I know they’ll take care of me and then ultimately reaches the end destination.
Meredith Metsker: That is fantastic advice. I can see how sustainability has been a very common thread, not only the work that you do externally, but the work that you’re doing internally with your own team too.
Josh Domitrovich: I appreciate that.
Meredith Metsker: So that’s wonderful advice.
Josh Domitrovich: That means a lot.
Meredith Metsker: Well, I want to be cognizant of time here, so I’ll start wrapping us up. But is there anything else that you would like to add? Any questions I didn’t ask that I should have?
Josh Domitrovich: No, I mean, I would encourage people to be on the lookout. Hopefully there’s some good information coming forward, whether it’s from this podcast or you could take a look at our site at career.pennwest.edu. We’re going to have some information on there, like our resume sample and video, our checklist. So everything’s accessible.
We’re leaning into uConnect and really leveraging it the best way that we can to make sure career is everywhere, that’s a huge platform that we use. So by all means, it’s there. You can look at it, take a look at all the content and adapt and adjust as needed to fit your institution.
So I wish you well in your endeavor and I think we have a very important yet very challenging job at elevating career within a campus culture and making sure career is truly everywhere.
Meredith Metsker: Love it. So on that note of where people can learn more, if people want to learn more from you or connect with you, where’s a good place for them to do that?
Josh Domitrovich: So if you’re happy to connect with me on LinkedIn, you can look up my name on LinkedIn. Happy to share my email as well, firstname.lastname@example.org. So J-D-O-M-I-T-R-O-V-I-C-H, @pennwest.edu. I love to collaborate and have conversations. I just did one this morning with a colleague across the state. There’s always something to learn and happy to share an inside look at what we do because I know you can’t plug and play it in your institution because you have your own unique set of circumstances and politics and culture. But if I can help in any way, that’s why we’re here as practitioners, I want to help.
Meredith Metsker: Great. Perfect. And I’ll be sure to include Josh’s email in the show notes for anyone who’s listening. All right, Josh, final question.
Josh Domitrovich: Yes.
Meredith Metsker: So at the end of all of our episodes, I like to do this answer-a-question, leave-a-question type of thing. So I’ll ask you a question that our last guest left for you. Then you’ll leave a question for the next guest.
Josh Domitrovich: Okay.
Meredith Metsker: So our last guest was Daniel Pascoe Aguilar of Excelsior University. And he left this question for you. What or who inspires you?
Josh Domitrovich: I would say at this current moment, I think it’s recently changed. I just recently had a daughter.
Meredith Metsker: Oh wow. Congrats.
Josh Domitrovich: Thanks. She’s just about 20 months and my whole life perspective really shifted thinking about her wanting to be, I hope, the best version of herself when she grows up and leaving my mark on the world that can try to help her get to her end destination. She makes me see students differently. She makes me see staff differently. She makes me see everybody differently, that we’re more human beings than we really thought. And if we can connect at that level, I think you can be very humbled and grounded and truly care for people, who they are and want to try to help elevate them.
So she definitely is now that inspiration and motivation because not only am I doing it for PennWest and these students, but I also want to do it for her because I want to try to help impact a society that she’s going to grow into, and that starts today with our students and our teams. So that would be my answer to that as of today, more recently.
Meredith Metsker: I love that. That’s very sweet. So what question would you like to leave for the next guest?
Josh Domitrovich: My question for the next guest is, are you truly creating a equitable, sustainable, and accessible process within your industry, career center, department? Reflect on that and is there an area that you could really improve to make sure that those three tenets are hit?
Meredith Metsker: Big question. I like it.
Josh Domitrovich: Yeah, big thinking there.
Meredith Metsker: All right. Yeah, well, that’s great. Well, I think that’s all the questions I’ve got for you, Josh. Thank you so much for joining me today. I think this whole conversation is just gold. I think our audience is going to get a ton of value from it. So thank you very much again.
Josh Domitrovich: And thank you for the opportunity, Meredith. I really enjoyed it.