Podcast

How Career Services Can Support Retention

Chris Entringer, Career Services Coordinator and Enrollment Advisor at Northeast Iowa Community College, shares how he and his team work to support retention.

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Chris Entringer, Career Services Coordinator and Enrollment Advisor at Northeast Iowa Community College, shares how he and his team work to support retention.

He emphasizes the importance of building relationships, collaborating with other departments, and being proactive in reaching out to at-risk students.

In this episode, Chris also shares:

  • At a high level, how career services can support retention (and why their role is so critical)
  • What career services (and retention) looks like in a community college
  • What his team’s integrated model looks like and how it supports their efforts to improve retention at NICC
  • Several specific strategies his career center uses to improve retention
  • And more

“It’s so important to get those referrals and really be a part of all the processes that you do for retention. I think career services should have a piece in that puzzle,” Entringer said. 

Resources from the episode:

Transcript

Meredith Metsker:

Hey, everyone. Welcome back to the Career Everywhere podcast. I’m your host, Meredith Metsker, and today I am joined by Chris Entringer. He’s the Career Services coordinator and enrollment advisor at Northeast Iowa Community College. Thank you for being here, Chris.

Chris Entringer:

Yep, thanks for having me. Appreciate the opportunity to talk. And this is a great, great venue for colleges and Career Services across the country, so thanks for the invite.

Meredith Metsker:

Yeah, I’m really glad you’re here and I’m excited to talk to you today about how Career Services can support student retention, and I’m also excited to have the community college perspective represented. You’re our first community college guest, so just thanks for being here.

Chris Entringer:

Yep, thanks. Thanks, that’s awesome. Thanks a lot.

Meredith Metsker:

All right. Before I get into my questions, Chris, is there anything else you’d like to add about yourself, your background, or your role there at NICC?

Chris Entringer:

Yeah, and I’ll give you a little bit of background. Hopefully, not too much. But when I got into college, and I went to a local private college in Dubuque and I really didn’t know what I wanted to do with my career or my major. And I was one of those students that bounced around pre-med to pre-physical therapy to English writing. And then I always say, “I took a sociology class of all things, sociology. What’s sociology?” One of those gen eds. But I really enjoyed the instructor. I enjoyed learning about social interaction and how all that works, and it just fascinated me. So I got trial by error to try something, I learned about that career.

I remember my dad, a pretty conservative guy, a technical guy, and worked in the cable industry. He said, “What are you going to do with sociology?” I said, “Well, there’s things I can do with that.” I remember I went to the University of Dubuque Library in Dubuque, Iowa. And back then, early ’90s, they had a sea of college catalogs. So looking through catalogs and I found, I thought maybe guidance counseling, maybe being a sociology professor. But then I found there’s a post-secondary education higher ed program at University of Northern Iowa, which is down the road from Dubuque. And said, “I think I’d like to do that. I think I’d like that interaction with students, making…” And I checked out the program and really loved the program.

I got my master’s in post-secondary student affairs. And then how I got into the community college really, I took a class actually called the community college at Hawkeye Community College in Waterloo, Iowa. And boy, it just opened up my eyes to see, “I think I’d like to work in that setting, really making a difference with students, making a difference with those types of students and college students in general.” But I really liked that idea. And I remember I joked about, “Colleges are all over the country and I could work anywhere in the country.” And then I ended up in my backyard at Northeast Iowa Community College.

I did an internship at NICC, summer of ’95. I could date myself, and that was a great experience. I got my foot in the door. I got to really see the career. And my role was really career and advising, and I’ll talk about it a little later, but I had a dual role with Career Services and advising and I’ve really had that role ever since up until now. It’s been a great run. I’ve enjoyed the ride and enjoying all the technology things that are changing in our midst as we speak.

Meredith Metsker:

Yeah, sounds like it’s been a very interesting career journey for you, but you landed exactly where you needed to.

Chris Entringer:

Yep. It’s been a good place to work here.

Meredith Metsker:

Awesome. Well, before I get into my more specific questions about our topic, I do want to kick us off with a question I ask all of our guests, and that’s what does Career Everywhere mean to you?

Chris Entringer:

Okay, that’s a good question. I thought about this a little bit too, and I think to me personally, I always think about the celebration of career. Celebration of everything career, and what does that mean? I think making that investment in your students, whether it’s in a classroom or… And I talked about that power of one. Every student you meet, really invest in that student in terms of… And students can tell. They can tell if you’re invested in them, you’re interested in what they’re doing. Even if they’re undecided or they know they want to go for nursing and you’re helping with resumes, I think they know that you’re really invested in them.

I think really celebrating that with the students and really celebrating that with your college too, I think that’s infectious. I really try to bring that forth in our college here at NICC. I always joke about doing walkabouts. You walkabout around the campus and really promote Career Services. And I’ll give an example of when a student comes in and introducing them to maybe our support staff and say, “Hey, this is Jane Smith and she’s looking to go into nursing.” So really introducing that student. Or you’re going to the library and introducing them to Victor, our librarian. And then it really gets your colleagues invested in students too. So I think on that high level, thinking about that high-level thing philosophical, but I think that celebration of career is important. I think it really helps drive what you’re doing at your colleges, and I think it really helps to motivate you to really remember you’re here for the student. You’re here to help them with their career.

And then with prepping for the job market as we do that too in Career Services and really having a good career when they leave. And even to the point where always have that door open. So a lot of students, they may stop out. But I’m always that person that celebration of career, “Hey, keep in touch.” So I really love it when students, maybe they stop out for different reasons and then they contact you in the future. “Hey, Chris. I’m looking at coming back to college.” And then you make that connection that way too. So celebration of career is a broad philosophy on that.

Meredith Metsker:

Yeah, I love how you worded that, that it’s a celebration of career because it really is something worth celebrating. It takes a lot of time and energy to figure out what you want, to figure out what you want your career path to be, and then to make it happen. It should be a celebration.

Chris Entringer:

I have that mantra every day. I’ll come to work and be excited about that, making a difference in people’s lives because it’s really important.

Meredith Metsker:

Yeah, what a privilege, right? That’s awesome.

Chris Entringer:

Yeah.

Meredith Metsker:

Cool. Well, now I’d love to dig into our topic today, which again is how Career Services can support retention. At a high level, what are your thoughts on that? How can Career Services help support retention?

Chris Entringer:

Yeah, that’s a good question. I think retention is sometimes it’s hard to find a grasp on that. I think Career Services, and I’ll intertwine this later in the talk here, but I think Career Services, oftentimes I say, “We’re there when you need us.” I think really getting to know your college support staff, your advisors, faculty. And I think a big part of retention, I think, is really getting those referrals. So if a student’s really struggling and maybe a student’s doing our nursing program, we have a really great nursing program, but they really struggle with the clinicals and they’re assigned to change their major. That’s a real, boy, takes their breath away. “What am I going to do now?” So I think having our staff, whether it be faculty or advisors or admissions, really getting those referrals to send those people to Career Services so we can help them reevaluate and regear what they’re going to do.

And a lot of times in my role, I do advising too, which is really nice because sometimes, that really complements things. If you’re looking, sometimes students think like, “Well, boy, I’m changing my major. I’m going to be way behind in this and that.” But you start looking at their credits and say, “Well, actually a lot of your credits count towards this degree, so you’re really not that far off.” I think any way possible or ways you can be a part of that puzzle or part of that retention puzzle, I think, is to getting those referrals and really being a part of all the processes that you do for retention. I think Career Services should have a piece in that puzzle as far as we have lots of initiatives we have at the college, and I could speak to those too. But we have an early alert system for students that are maybe not performing as well in their classes or having problems. We do a really good job of reaching out to students who are not attending their classes, and we work with at-risk student groups. We get reports about activity in their classes.

So there’s a lot of work amongst in our integrated model, which I’ll just also talk about, but a lot of really heavy work goes into that, especially early in the process and really making those connections with faculty. And then Career Services part in that is really supporting that student that’s maybe changing their program or they’re looking at dropping out of school. So really supporting those multifaceted processes that we do at the college for retention. And those are just to name a few things. I’ll talk a little bit later about our Career Hub, which we’re also looking at some retention efforts in that too.

Meredith Metsker:

Cool, yeah. I think it makes a ton of sense that Career Services really could play a major role in retention because if students feel like they’re on a clear path, there’s a goal at the end, there’s light at the end of the tunnel, there’s again a clear goal, a clear pathway, it would be so much easier and more fulfilling to continue with your classes, to continue staying in school. So yeah, that makes a lot of sense. Okay. Well, as I mentioned earlier in the intro, you’re our first community college guest. I think to provide some context for all of us, can you just share a little bit about what Career Services looks like in a community college environment?

Chris Entringer:

Sure. We’re in northeast Iowa, and Iowa has 15 community college districts across the state of Iowa. And I would say on a bigger overall, a lot of the Career Services offices are pretty small. They might be one-stop shops. We’re maybe no exception to that since my role is I have a dual role with advising, and we have other staff can do some other things. So oftentimes, you’re maybe not having a ton of staff. Even our bigger community colleges in Des Moines and Cedar Rapids, they’re not hugely staffed. So I think it’s really important to make yourself known, toot your horn. I think your CEO said, David said that Career Services is optional, so boy, how do you make yourself known? How do you get yourself out there? I think it’s really…

And you have new students coming a lot faster than a four-year college. They’re moving faster through whether it’s a one-year or two-year program. So I think it’s really on a day-to-day basis, really doing as much and as best you can with Career Services at your school. And the more ways you can get yourself known, and like I said, toot your horn a little bit, get faculty to know who you are. And then you start thinking you have those referrals. People are starting to send people your way. So overall, community colleges in Iowa are typically smaller offices, one-person shops.

I will say that we do a good job of keeping in touch. If I have a question, I can reach out to other community colleges, Career Services offices around the state. We have a state professional organization. We just started a new organization, a new grouping of all of our Career Services departments from across the state, from most of the community colleges. And that’s been really fun. Seems like not that long ago, I was the newbie. And now I’m more the veteran. So going to these meetings with new Career Services people, I think that’s really, really valuable.

Another note, and I think it’s important too to think about the community colleges. We work pretty closely with our transfer colleges, so the state universities, the privates, and we have an organization called the Career Professionals of Iowa for the state of Iowa. That’s a professional organization for Career Services. I had to really encourage colleges or areas to think about having a… If they don’t already have a professional organization that’s made up of your Career Services, people from the community college, from the privates, from the universities, because that’s been a really great organization too. And as far as helping support Career Services in general, but also helping… We can learn a lot at the community college from the four years, and they can also learn from us. So I think that trade off has been really, really strong in the state of Iowa for community colleges.

Meredith Metsker:

Yeah, that’s great that you have those peers you can bounce ideas off of, share best practices with. That’s awesome.

Chris Entringer:

Yeah. Even so Career Professionals of Iowa, CPI. We even have a college at northwest or east? Correct me if I’m wrong, but Northwest Missouri State. We have some colleges in Missouri that join our group too, so they come up over the border. That’s fun too, to meet some… We let some of the border schools sometimes from other states come and participate in our conferences and stuff like that too.

Meredith Metsker:

Yeah, you may as well. The more, the merrier, right?

Chris Entringer:

Yeah.

Meredith Metsker:

Okay. Again, you were just talking about your team a little bit, and you mentioned in our prep call that your team has an integrated model where multiple departments are working together. Can you tell me a little bit more about that model and how it helps you support retention?

Chris Entringer:

Sure. In 2017, the fall of 2017, the college pretty much thinking student services. We developed an integrated model. We were moving towards that prior to 2017. But the college really sat down and student services really looked at how can we be more of a one-stop shop? How can we support students better in that sense? And part of it is how you’re set up building-wise. I remember in the past where we weren’t that far away, but financial aid was a couple blocks down, and you made a contact that way. But so with new construction, and our main campuses are in Peosta, Iowa, and then Calmar, Iowa, so way northeast Iowa. So each of the campuses has gone through some new construction. We have, our student services are all constructed so we’re all pretty much in one area on each campus.

And integration, we’re one college but we have the two main campuses and then we have centers. And integration really tries to integrate all those entities, but especially the two main campuses. And think of the community colleges in Iowa, we’re the longest geographically in terms of Calmar and Peosta, different distance. So how do you best communicate? Of course, technology really helps with a lot of that this day and age. That integrated model, we have enrollment advisors that they do a little bit with financial aid. They help with incoming students. We work really closely with admissions. We’re next door to everybody, so I do a lot of collaboration with our staff that are right in our office. Our learning center is close, and our TRIO program is real close by, and we have staff like our support staff. They may support different offices. I have support staff that support some Career Services functions along with other functions.

And I think if there’s a lot of cross-training. No, don’t get me wrong. We do have some specialties. We have an advisor that does… She’s our finance person so she has a dual role. I do advising and Career Services so I’m integrated in that way. I think it’s really that, think of that physical location, the one-stop shop so students get everything done in one area, and then we have staff that maybe hold multiple roles in terms of what they do and functions, from just processing functions to who they work with in terms of students and programs and stuff like that. So it’s been overall a good system.

I mentioned before about how we have, as far as retention, we have all those initiatives. We have an at-risk group that we work with. Think of the retention group like certain staff or a lot of staff that are working on that are non-attending students. We have a majority of our staff work on the non-attendance outreach. You think about, “Well, you spend a lot of time doing that.” To me, it makes a lot of difference. Sometimes you’re like, “I got to do this. We got to do this outreach for non-attending.” But boy, if you can make a contact with a student, find out what’s going on, and again, that retention piece, are they maybe need to back out or maybe start the next semester, or can we adjust their schedule? That’s really, really been key on that.

We identify on our… Our college system’s called Brightspace, our college course or classroom system, and we can pull reports off of that. And we have at-risk groups that are pulled from that that we reach out to. And then we also have just our regular student lists. There are assigned advisees or advisors for that, but really concentrating on those at-risk students. And we have parameters that are set up with our college to determine where and who those at-risk students are. So it’s a lot of outreach to our students. And early, the better. Early alerts too. And that Brightspace report, that’s checked throughout the semester. We’re really checking that at all times.

And then even at the point where students can the last day to withdraw from classes, we really try to have that process there so they know they can maybe withdraw from the class if they have to so they don’t get a low grade, stuff like that. I think retention, it’s like a puzzle, a bunch of pieces of that puzzle and how are you going to put the pieces of the puzzle of your services you offer, and then how can that translate into outcomes with your retention? I think that overall, we had some good results with retention as far as those outreaches.

Meredith Metsker:

Yeah, that’s really interesting. I am curious from a Career Services perspective, or in your case, both academic advising and Career Services. When you identify an at-risk student, what happens? What do you do from that Career Services side?

Chris Entringer:

Well, there would be outreach to that student. Would be from our advising staff who are assigned those students. And then it’s really that collaboration of me as an advisor or my Career Services role where we identify that student, especially if they’re struggling or if they’re struggling on maybe what they’re studying. So it’s a lot of working with the other academic advisors, that. And we have advisors that just do advising, but we also have me and another colleague and then we have a colleague up at our north campus at those. We’re that career advisor. We do both career end.

So it’s really connecting with those other advisors to make sure those at-risk students are where they want to be and if they’re struggling. And then that again falls back to that referral process where whether it’s the faculty or especially advisors, they can help identify. We can be as good at retention with the support of our other colleagues at work, specifically people working with those at-risk students. And again, I said before, those referrals are really key to keeping those students, making the best kept effort we can make to keep those students enrolled. It’s like you can’t get everybody back, but you really work hard to retain, and retention is put your best foot forward on that. So I think it’s really that collaboration piece with advising, I think, is a key part of what we do with retention in our integrated model.

Meredith Metsker:

Okay. I’m curious, what specific things does your team do to improve retention?

Chris Entringer:

Well, I think I mentioned before those outreach with those at-risk students. I think identifying at-risk students, really working hard to keep them enrolled, keep them engaged. I think that’s the key part of it. And I think just doing our best to keep working on those at risk groups that we have. I think that’s the key part that we do. And I can mention more about our Career Hub. I talked about that too, about how we are looking at to some of that with our new initiative and with the Career Hub too.

I think upfront too, with I think retention, it can even start before they’re even on your campus, so to speak, meaning they come through your front door even, to come to your college. And again, that’s that undecided student who really is maybe more risky if they’re not sure what they want to do and they’re just going to enroll and be floundering a little bit. So we have on the front end, we have students can apply us as undecided or they can apply under a cluster like, “I know I want health, but I’m not sure which health program.” Those students are all assigned to our career advisors, and then we work really closely with those students to help them and get them enrolled and really, really work with them really upfront. I think that’s a key piece of retention too.

So think like being proactive, think even before they’re on your campus. What are some initiatives you can do? We’ve been doing the undecided applications for quite a long time. Of course, we’re always trying to ramp up that process. And we actually started a Find My Path semester. That is a program where students, they come to the college and they’re not sure what they want to do. And again, thinking of that retention piece where so those students typically, they’re the students that are assigned as undecided but they work with me and our other career advisors and then we help determine. Well, maybe we can just certainly do career planning with you on your own and do that as a process, or you could think about joining or entering the Find My Path semester.

What that is, they take a Exploring Careers class and a job shadowing class along with, we have a College 101, a College Experience class. And then they’ll take pretty common classes, maybe a writing class, a math class, psychology. So they’ve taken pretty general classes to start out with. And then I think that has been a great addition to our college. We have it on a soft launch, so we started fall of ’22 and we’ll get about 10 to 12 students in the fall and then six, seven students in the spring. Not a lot of numbers there. We’re trying to really ramp that up, but I think it’s really, those students are really those students that you really want to keep and you want to capture and keep them engaged.

And we’ve had really excellent feedback from students that have been in those classes for the Find My Path semester. Think of it like I used to tell students. “It’s a structured career planning semester for you.” It is a good investment upfront. So you’re not… Geez, we don’t want you to jump into a dental assisting or a welding or nursing program and you’re saying, “Get me out of here,” in October. I think that is a really, I think as far as Career Services and a good collaboration with faculty and with our integration model, I think that Find My Path semester is again that whole idea that upfront. Think upfront with retention with those students that are making sure you keep them and you’re not losing them.

And we’ve had even contacts from students that have… We had a student that graduated and he took the class later in his NICC program, but then he was contacting Career Services after the fact to get help with stuff. So it’s like we make those connections. That class is taught by a full-time faculty who teaches the College 101, College Experience class, plus the Exploring Careers class. But our Career Services office works really closely with that class and really supports that class. So it’s been a good collaboration with an academic faculty class too. I think that’s a really good initiative and hopefully we’re going to increase our enrollment in that in the future.

Meredith Metsker:

Yeah, I would love to hear more about that Exploring Careers class, what is typically covered.

Chris Entringer:

Here’s a good example of a Career Everywhere or they use our website quite a bit. They’re using our Career Services website. And with Candid Career, we have the videos. They’re using that quite a bit. It’s really taking career assessments, learning about job markets. And the job shadowing part is really done a little bit further in, but they establish their career planning with assessments, with learning the job market. They bring in guest speakers that talk to them. Career services goes and talks to them. And then a few weeks into the term, the job shadowing or slash information interview part, Career Services helps them to… They have to do a certain number of job shadows, information interviews, or they can actually visit a transfer college program, so learn about transfer options. So it’s really getting them to take action. Take a career assessment, go visit with an employer, bring in guest speakers they can listen to and gain knowledge from.

And then at the end of that class, a little bit early but we prep them for a mock interview and a resume so it gets them out of their comfort zone. Again, that whole idea of those students getting out of their comfort zone a little bit. It’s really an interactive class. I think a lot of good speakers. And Career Services again, we go in and talk to the class a couple of times about resources and stuff like that. But it’s a great example of how Career Services can really be engaged with a class. And I like the idea that they’re using our website. They’re using our resources. They’re using our Candid Career and other resources we have for that class.

And really get nice feedback from students. We’ve had good testimonials and feedback from the class. So it’s like they’re all in the same boat. They’re a group. They’re cohort. They’re trying to figure out what they want to do as a cohort. So the value in that as a group, “Hey, we’re all in this boat together. We’re trying to develop our plan,” plan for future career and what they want to study.

Meredith Metsker:

Yeah, I imagine it would be comforting to go through that with a cohort of people who are experiencing the same questions, the same uncertainty, trying to just figure it all out because no pressure, what do you want to do with the rest of your life, right?

Chris Entringer:

Yeah. And it’s interesting because we do a lot of, I talked about the power of one, a lot of individual appointments. And I really believe in that. But not to rule out, because we email, we do Zoom, there’s meet students where they’re at, but it’s really talking through the students. Usually we get a pretty good sense if they’d be a good fit for the Find My Path semester. We really try to help them find that that’s a good fit for them.

Meredith Metsker:

Okay, very cool. You’ve mentioned a couple of times today and also in our prep call about your Career Hub. Can you tell me a little bit about that?

Chris Entringer:

Yeah. So Career Hub, that is a Career Everywhere thing. Around that integration time, that fall of 2017, we got a new jobs posting system and we got a career planning assessment piece that we’re… We wanted to really try to find a catchy slogan or a way to promote a one-stop shop for students so, “Hey, let’s call ourselves, call it the Career Hub.” The Career Hub is really that one-stop shop to get career planning information, do a job search, find out about resumes. And maybe not our surprise, but in a good way it caught on at the college. So you start hearing marketing talking about, “Hey, the Career Hub,” or a faculty say, “Hey, I sent students to the Career Hub to look up jobs.” So it’s like, “Hey, it’s taken off.”

Just in that name of that, we even got to the point where we were thinking about, “We’re called Career Services, but maybe hey, maybe we’ll change our name to just call ourselves the Career Hub and not have Career Services.” So that debate went back and forth. Then as we got further into that, we saw value in that. We saw value as a Career Everywhere marketing way to market our services. We have, Mary mentioned that College 101 and Exploring Careers too. But the College Experience class, we really try to get out to all those classes and then they access the Career Hub. They access the career planning assessments and all that. So we promote that right as they start at the college for most students. That’s been on our college’s edu website, our public website.

But we thought, “Hey, how do we extend our arm? How do we have more of an outreach to students in terms of the Career Hub?” So we were working with our Department of Instructional Innovation and Design, our Distance Learning Department. I wrote it down so I remember, but they’re great to work with. The DIID office is what they’re called. They’re distance learning so we have a lot of online courses and programs at the college, but they also support our college class portal called Brightspace. Brightspace is where students have their class information. If they’re doing all online classes, they access their class in Brightspace, like your internal portal. And maybe other colleges, I was always interested if other colleges are using this too. But so I said, “Hey, why don’t we move, really migrate our Career Hub to create a Brightspace in that Brightspace classroom environment, so to speak, and then really, really work up that Career Hub concept from that?” Because students are in Brightspace. They’re in there all the time. We have our Student Life office has a Brightspace kiosk or page. We have some clubs in organizations.

So our Career Services team really worked closely with our Distance Learning team, and we just wrote down a wishlist. Just think big, right, a wishlist. What would Career Services, what would we want in this Brightspace Career Hub? And thinking about how do we expand that reach? You think about we have veteran students. We have Marshallese students. We have single mothers and single fathers that maybe can’t get to campus. So we have a lot of more online programs. And not to mention, still our face-to-face classes, but how to really reach that arms out further to capture more of those students. So this project was the idea. And so within the Career Hub, think of it as it’s going to have, we have what’s called a Career Lab, and that’s going to have information about resume development. It’s going to have a mock interview resources, and we’re going to have rubrics in there to critique students.

So for example, with the Career Lab, the resume part of the Career Lab, I might go talk to a class of 40 nursing students and they all have a resume critique. So we’re going to have them, they’re going to send, emailing me their resume or sending it as a Google doc. We’re going to have them upload that resume into the Career Hub and in part that Career Lab, and that’s going to be a great way to really connect with students through the Career Lab and provide resources in there. Another cool piece is that we can direct. So with the Brightspace Career Hub, we can have resources in there that are particular to a certain programs. We can have resources that just the nursing students would see versus other majors, which is pretty cool. That’s going to be a big piece of that.

We’re also looking at, we are going to have micro-credentialing courses, and those are going to be micro-credential students can pick up. We’re seeing if we can really relate those to the NACE competencies so they can get micro-credentialing, little courses they can take to get some credentials. And in part, that may include some of the NACE competencies as far as part of that. It’s that part we’re going to have really looking at maybe an employer section, for employers. Again, have resources for faculty and staff. It’s really that again, that whole Career Everywhere concept and that celebration of career to have, “Hey, this is a spot.” And I think it’s important to think big, think big and have big goals, and then you see where things land. But we really want it to be a college resource, a Career Services resource for students. And again, that bigger outreach to capture more of our students.

We don’t want to lose that face-to-face part either, but really this really opens up that door with technology to provide an online system. It’s in our college course system. Students are used to using it. And with that, it’s really going to influence our NICC Public Career Services page. We’re going to migrate stuff from that to the Career Hub. So I has to settle that, just how much do you have on your edu site that’s for current students versus perspective versus alumni, and how do you balance that? I think I know that’s something that we struggle with sometimes. What do you have on your edu site and are your current students looking at that or not? With some Google Analytics, we found that our current students don’t look at the Career Services page as much as you’d like or that we like. I mentioned so maybe that should be more of a place for maybe alumni or for prospective students. But I mentioned we drive that a little bit from Career Services, like with that Exploring Careers class where they’re really active using our career website.

But hey, even better now with that Career Hub Brightspace course room portal, that can really ramp up how students are using that system, how they’re using Career Services in terms of a process or a way they can access what we’re working with them with. It’s a lot of technology pieces to it, and really grateful that we have a really great Distance Learning Department. I’d encourage other colleges or Career Services really to find those partnerships. And I’ve listened to some of the podcasts. I think that’s really critical to find those partnerships who you can work with, who you can partner with, because we really had a good… It was really fun to sit down with our Distance Learning Department and our Career Services and really create a Google sheet and just write down our wants and needs and what we want to have. And that collaboration is really great. I think it was really enjoyable too. The process has been enjoyable.

Now that being said, we still have a lot of work to do on it, but we’re in the early steps. And I could maybe share at a later time how it’s going and all that, but we’re really excited about it. That whole, I’m trying to keep that celebration of career with the Career Hub system that we’re going to have for Career Services. We’re looking forward to that. And as far as retention, we’re hoping we can really integrate some retention in that. How are we retaining students that are accessing that? How can we? Because the system, it has some really great ways to track things and track usage. And the old days where we have a spreadsheet, an Excel spreadsheet, and you just mark down all of it. So this has, I’m sure other colleges have some pretty robust tracking systems, but we’re excited that as a small community college, to have some really robust tracking of what we’re doing in the system that the Brightspace provides us.

That’s another piece that we really want to help support our retention efforts, even at a higher level with the Brightspace hub and have it be really intentional and have it be real up-to-date information with how we’re doing that in terms of retention and just using our services, using Career Services as far as how we track everything we’re doing.

Meredith Metsker:

Yeah. That would be cool if you could eventually be able to gather all of that data that shows the clear causation relationship between the work that you all do and retention there at the community college.

Chris Entringer:

Yep. And certainly, one of our goals, I mentioned when you mentioned this early on, that popped in my head right away when you mentioned that as far as that’s really an important piece of the system is how, again, we’re supporting retention efforts from Career Services.

Meredith Metsker:

Yeah. It sounds like a lot of what you’re doing is, it’s really about a couple of things. One is engaging the whole ecosystem of the community college to make sure that everybody is involved in career conversations, everyone’s prepared to have career conversations. And then secondly, it’s also about being really proactive. You’re trying to get in front of these students as early as possible, identify at-risk students, help them along maybe more than others might need. So it sounds like what you’re doing has been effective. Are you seeing those results there on campus?

Chris Entringer:

Yeah, I think so. I think there’s some real excitement for the system and all that. I think about that. Was it uConn has that Career Champions? And we’re trying. This is our Career Champion system. And that whole idea of that where Career Services is optional, so how do you really got to build that brand? You got to really get faculty engaged in that. And they’re key to that, all of it, because they really help drive our students and get that talk around campus.

Now, the Career Hub becomes a part of the college. I think integration has really helped to, if you think about they talk about the old adage of silos where you’re siloed, where I think our integration has helped to knock down those silos in terms of student services. And I think that that can only help the Career Hub I think as a system for our college. If we already have the integration, we have less silos to try to break down to make it a great and robust. And really we want to make it a great system. It’s for the college, and it’s not just… It’s Career Services but it’s the college’s product. You try to think of it that way. Think big picture on that.

Meredith Metsker:

Yeah, that’s really cool. I’ll be excited to keep in touch with you and see how things progress in the coming years.

Chris Entringer:

Yeah, I’ll have to give you some updates how it’s going in the future.

Meredith Metsker:

Yeah, please do. So Chris, I’m curious. What advice do you have for other Career Services leaders in all institution types who want to help improve retention?

Chris Entringer:

I think, and maybe this is stuff they already know in some ways, but I think it’s really, it’s hard work. I think you have to, almost on a daily basis, you really have to get to know your constituents around campus, really work the room if you can. I remember talking to a colleague at Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids. They’re a bigger community college, but I remember them talking about they really work the room. And they have a couple more staff than we do, but they really get out there out and about within their college. And our campus at Peosta and even Calmar is pretty small. We’re pretty small campuses. We can do the walkabouts pretty good, but I think really trying to make those connections.

And if you could do it face-to-face, even better. I know it’s sometimes at maybe bigger in universities, but I think if you can make those contacts face-to face, that reminded me of our past presidents. When he started at the college, they said that he walked around the campus all over the place. “All I did was walk around and get to know people.” So I think that relationship building is really key. And then really asking that question, how can Career Services, how can we support retention? How can we be a voice in that? I think tooting your horn about we want to be a part of that. We want to have that as a part of retention, I think. And if retention is that part where I mentioned earlier about those referrals, I think that that is a key component of that, those referrals to get those students, to keep them engaged. If we end up being the last stop as a connection for the student to keep them, just try to hold on, keep them in the college, I think that’s key.

I think if there are things that can be done even before they get to the college, like I mentioned before, those undecided students, I think that’s maybe a different way. It’s like, “Well, they’re not even here with us. How do we retain them? They’re not even at the college yet.” But I think it’s important to think about that, those undecided students, those students that are, “Boy, I’m really gun-shy.” And you wouldn’t believe, I have students that are under that undecided applicants that they’re super gun-shy. It’s almost like you really got to do your work to get them to actually come in and meet or engage or talk over Zoom, I think. But I think that’s really critical for Career Services to play a role in that, to get students to build that trust.

If they have that trust, I always think that feeling of students that feel they can’t come and talk to you, I work really hard at that to let students know I have an open door. And it’s great when they… I appreciate walk-ins or a quick text they send me. I appreciate that because I know I built that trust with them that they can reach out to you. I think it’s being involved in the college. I think I mentioned before about doing walkabouts around campus, and I try to just a nice hello to students. Or if you see a student you’re working with, ask them.

I stop a student that I’m working with or maybe one of my advisees and I say, “So when are you graduating? How’s it going?” I always ask those questions. And I’m also, maybe not retention, but I’m on the keynote speaker committee for graduation, so I get to learn about students that way too. I think it’s… And that’s been, they tell their story so you learn about what does it take to be successful as a college student and how did Career Services make a difference for them in terms of when they give their keynote speech.

But I guess I would end with I think it’s really working the room. Try to get out there face-to-face if you can, get to know your constituents, get to know your faculty, you get to know your support staff, everybody. I think that’s really important. And then certainly trying to work to get those referrals of those students. And then really working with your college too. And certainly, there’s colleges have systems in place to check, to really research that data. We got to look at that data to determine how we can better retain.

Meredith Metsker:

Yeah, it’s good advice across the board, especially the building relationships thing we’ve had. I think almost every guest on this podcast has really emphasized the need for those partnerships, those relationships. Again, engaging the whole ecosystem of a college or university, just making sure everybody is involved in this Career Everywhere concept because it’s better for students. They’ll be more successful, and it’s honestly better for that whole ecosystem in general.

Chris Entringer:

Yep.

Meredith Metsker:

Okay. Well, Chris, I know we’re coming up towards the end of our time here, so I want to start wrapping us up and be mindful of our time. But is there anything else that you would like to add that we haven’t covered?

Chris Entringer:

Oh, boy. Well, I don’t know. I think it’s important to enjoy what you do. If that’s a career advice, I think it reflects in what you’re doing in your job in Career Services. I think really being… Remember that celebration of career, I think that celebration of careers is key. I think with support staff, with your maintenance people, I think that’s all important. I think coming to work every day like that, I think it really makes a difference in terms of the culture. So I guess I’ll end with what I said earlier, just that celebration of career. And there’s bad days here and there, but I think really try to be a good, “Hey, Career Services,” people get to know that reputation or that office or that department, that Career Services office that it is celebrating careers. I think that’s really important.

Meredith Metsker:

Yeah, I really love that concept. And as you were just talking, it made me think celebration of career has multiple meanings. You can help students celebrate all the career possibilities that are available to them, but it’s also, as you said, about enjoying your work, celebrating your own career as a career professional and enjoying the impactful work you get to do every day.

Chris Entringer:

Yeah. And then again, related to that, and actually the actual celebration. I really make it to our college graduation. And again, I do my walkabout. I do our walkabout. I see faculty, but I try, I catch those students. And maybe a student I didn’t even work with, but I congratulate them. So I think if you can do that, it’s really rewarding, I think. And think of that maybe rewarding for yourself, but think about the student that, “Hey, Chris is here. He’s here to support my graduation.” I think that’s the final celebration of that.

Meredith Metsker:

And I’m sure it makes them more likely to reach out to you in the future if they need help as an alumnus too.

Chris Entringer:

Yep. And I said this before. Every time I present to students, I say. So I remember when I was in college, it’s like, “Well, can I go back to my college? I’m graduating, can I go back?” But it’s always like, “Hey, you can always come back and get resources.” Because we do work with quite a few alumni that come back to the college. And again, sometimes it’s that student that stops out or maybe they graduated and they’re still looking for a job, or maybe they come back for… And I have quite a few. I keep students resumes on file as best I can. Sometimes they say, “Hey Chris, can you get my resume?” It’s like, “Hey.” They didn’t keep the copy of the resume. I do that too, so I have a lot of… That’s really fun too, really having that connection with alumni and really, again, that whole idea of keeping that door open if they ever need help with anything.

I’ll give you a quick, quick example. I had a student that graduated. He was a welding major and he graduated three years ago, came back, got help with his resume because he was applying for a job at John Deere in Dubuque, so we helped with his resume. That was a recent one I had. That’s really rewarding, I think too, as a Career Services office, certainly if you can. And then sure, many colleges working with their alumni office, again, that partnership or keeping students, that whole mantra that, “Hey, you can always come back and get resources.” Or from not just Career Services, but other parts of the college. I think it’s really, really important. If it’s lifelong learning or just they need help with future career plans or job search or resumes.

Meredith Metsker:

Yeah, that’s great. It’s, as you said, lifelong learning and helping, and Career Services can help facilitate that for sure. All right. Well, Chris, if people would like to connect with you or learn more from you, where’s a good place for them to do that?

Chris Entringer:

I have a LinkedIn account. That’s a good spot. Just the NICC Career Services page. Or we have an email, that’s careerservices@nicc.edu. That’s an easy way to remember if they want to shoot an email. Our group checks that email so that’s a good place to land. Certainly a friend, I would say friend, but that’s a Facebook, but friend on LinkedIn is good too. I enjoy connecting with people. And I’ve really enjoyed that because I mentioned before, we look really closely with our Iowa constituents Career Services, but it’s really great to have that avenue nationally. So I think this, your Career Everywhere and your podcast, I think it’s been great to hear nationally a lot, hearing from other colleges. And we benefit a lot from our in state stuff. But it’s great that to hear from other nationally. It’s been great too.

Meredith Metsker:

Awesome. Well, I’m glad to hear that. That’s definitely the goal here, is to help facilitate some of that learning and knowledge sharing. All right. So Chris, to wrap us up, at the end of every interview, I like to do this answer a question, leave a question thing. I’ll ask you a question our last guest left for you, and then you’ll leave a question for the next guest. Our last guest was Ange Richard of Boston University, and she left the following question for you. What advice would you give to college students who are just graduating and starting their first job?

Chris Entringer:

Okay, the first one’s, well, the first one’s not really a real one, but I had a classmate at University of Northern Iowa and he said his answer to that question was, “I’m just going to stay. I’m going to keep staying in college. I’m not going to enter the workforce.” Well, that’s not going to work but he joked about that. That was kind of funny.

But more seriously, I think I’m a big believer in hard work from day one, so work hard. I think it’s important to find a mentor, whether it be formal or informal. I think that mentorship is important. I think back when I started, one of my coworkers, Kathy was her name, and she, boy, we sat down and she went through stuff with me. She went through every college program we went through with a highlighter marker. And that was really, really my mentor. And so I think hard work, finding a mentor, either informally or formally, or more than one mentor.

And then I’m a big believer in asking questions. So whenever I meet new employees of the college or in student services, I always say, “Hey, my door is open. Just ask me questions.” I think there’s a lot to say about that too. They know that you’re open just to talk to them. But I think, because I tell students, I still ask questions. I go out and ask questions around. So again, that collaboration with this, our integrated model, I still share and ask questions, information share.

So I think those three things, hard work, a mentorship, and ask questions are key, I think.

Meredith Metsker:

Great. Yeah, that’s good solid advice all the way around. All right, so Chris, what question would you like to leave for the next guest?

Chris Entringer:

Oh, this one. I thought about this a little bit. Okay, here. So in short, to AI or not to AI? Or more specifically, what are you doing with AI? What’s happening with AI? We’ve been using AI with ChatGPT with some resume development and some different processes, and we found value in it. So just curious for the next guest on the podcast, what are they doing with AI? How do they see it in the future? Our college member, and I’m sure our distance learning team is very, very active right now with how AI is going to affect classroom learning. So I think I’m curious to hear that if they have any plans or not, or how they see AI with Career Services and how it can hopefully be a positive and helpful resource in the end. How are they going to leverage that that is my question.

Meredith Metsker:

Okay. Yeah, that’s a good question. It’s a very hot topic right now in Career Services and all industries, honestly.

Chris Entringer:

Yeah.

Meredith Metsker:

Okay. Great. Well, Chris, thank you so much for taking the time to join me on the podcast today. This was a fun conversation. I think our audience will get a lot of value out of it and hopefully think about how they can continue to help retention on their campuses. So just thank you for taking the time to share your experience and your wisdom.

Chris Entringer:

Yep, appreciate the time. It’s been great. Great chatting with you and appreciate the opportunity. And we’ll continue to enjoy the future podcast that you guys do. So it’s been a great resource for our college and I’m sure a lot of colleges across the country and Career Services particularly.

Meredith Metsker:

Awesome. Well, I love to hear that. So thank you very much again and have a great rest of your week.

Chris Entringer:

Great, yep. Thanks, Meredith. Yep. Bye, everybody.

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