Podcast

How to Build and Scale a Career Champion Program

Nancy Bilmes, Director of the Center for Career Development at the University of Connecticut, shares how her team has built and scaled a Career Champion program to include over 800 participants. 

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Nancy Bilmes, Director of the Center for Career Development at the University of Connecticut, shares how her team has built and scaled a Career Champion program to include over 800 participants. 

These faculty, staff, alumni, and employer participants learn about current career-related trends, resources, and language to have more confident and meaningful career conversations with students. 

In our last episode with Nancy in January 2023, Nancy shared how her team initially built their Career Champion program. In this follow-up episode, Nancy shares:

  • How her team has scaled the program to over 800 participants through various strategies, including academic liaisons, faculty fellows, presentation and meeting follow-up, first destination referral outreach, and more
  • What outcomes they’ve seen, including survey results that indicate Career Champions refer students to the career center about 25% more often than non-Career Champions
  • How they’re continuing to engage Champions and what new channels they’re leveraging
  • And more 

Resources from the episode:

Transcript

Ashley Safranski:

Hello everyone. Welcome. I appreciate you all carving some time out of your afternoon to join us for this webinar. I hope the New Year’s off to a great start. My name is Ashley Safranski. I lead marketing here at uConnect. And I am super glad, excited, grateful, all of the things, to join this conversation with the wonderful Nancy Bilmes of UConn, University of Connecticut. As many of you know, and especially if you’ve been paying attention to our collaboration with Nancy and team for the last few years, the UConn team has built and scaled one of the most robust Career Champion programs in the country. And I’m super excited to dig in with you Nancy, knowing that engaging faculty, staff and other stakeholders is just a really important goal and initiative of so many career teams and one way to really make Career Everywhere a reality.

So before I turn it over to you, Nancy, to introduce yourself, just a quick few notes for everyone on the session. First, we are recording, so I will share the recording out with everyone via email to all registrants. So you should expect to get that tomorrow. Second, we’ll spend the last 15 to 20 minutes of our time today, so the last 15 to 20 minutes of the hour, for audience Q&A. So please do use the Q&A chat that’s here in Zoom to submit questions throughout the discussion and we’ll answer most of those at the end. And then the chat box should work. So if someone can go ahead and say hi in there and we’ll make sure that it’s there and I’ll be monitoring that as well. Okay. I’ll stop talking there for a second. Nancy, can you go ahead and introduce yourself?

Nancy Bilmes:

Sure. Thanks so much, Ashley, for having me here. I always enjoy our chats. My name is Nancy Bilmes. I am the director of the Center for Career Development. I oversee our Career Champion program and our Career Everywhere program along with Amelinda Rossitto. And I’m super excited to give you some updates of some transformations and things that have happened over the last couple of years, and to be here with all of you. Thank you so much for attending and participating in this awesome webinar that uConnect puts on for all of us.

Ashley Safranski:

Awesome. Okay. So as many of you may know, and as we’ve shared in some of the webinar outreach and promotion, back in October 2022, we hosted a webinar with Nancy on the same topic. And back then we really talked about how UConn got started with their program, generally what it entails, just how they got to that initial point. And today the goal is to really focus on that element of scale and outcomes. But I do think regardless, it’d be great just to get that refresher Nancy. So if maybe you could just share an overview of the program and how it got started and what it entails and all that good stuff.

Nancy Bilmes:

Sure. The Career Champion program and our Career Everywhere initiative started in 2019. That’s when we launched the Career Champion program. But our initial research and benchmarking really started in 2018 when we talked to our stakeholders, to other universities about a Career Champion program. And that’s when we started to really form what does this look like for UConn? And really one of the outcomes aside from the Career Champion program about all of these conversations was our vision to create a university-wide culture of career readiness that prepares all of our students for success post graduation. And we realized we can’t do that alone. Many, many years ago, career centers were very siloed and if someone did a career event … Why did you do that without us? And let’s talk about how we can collaborate more. But now it’s all about collaboration and inviting everybody in and really creating that village to support all students. And most faculty and staff, which is what we started with … We introduced alumni and employers about a year after. But most faculty and staff are already having these career conversations. So we figured a Career Champion program would help support them in these efforts since they’re experts in their fields and we’re experts in career. So we were looking for an avenue to share content, updated data and resources with our university community.

Ashley Safranski:

Awesome. And I think you know that really embraces this idea that we talk a lot about at uConnect of career conversations are happening all over campus, and this mentality shift from being the sole provider of career services to the facilitator of career services and really enabling all of the stakeholders across campus to have those conversations. I know you mentioned faculty, staff, but you just mentioned employers and alumni that you added. Can you give a breakdown of roughly what the mix is?

Nancy Bilmes:

Sure. I’m really excited to share that we just went over our 800 marks, so we have a little over 800 Career Champions. And if you add up all these numbers, it’s going to come up to more than 800 because we have some who fall into more than one category. But we have about 260 faculty, 280 staff, 105 employers, and 240 alumni. As we look to scale and grow, we’re really looking to do that in all of those buckets.

Ashley Safranski:

Can you dig into what is the requirement to be a Career Champion? Because I think that knowing the answer here, I know that it plays a big role in how you’ve been able to scale the program.

Nancy Bilmes:

Yeah. Sure. So as we did our research and our benchmarking back in 2018 and talked to the few other universities who had Career Champion programs, because they really started popping up probably around 2017, 2018, and they all had some type of requirement, which was great because it meant that all of the Career Champions had similar information. And those requirements were typically like a training or a half-day seminar around career, what that means, what the career center is doing. And the more we talked to our stakeholders at UConn, we knew that that would be more of a barrier for entrance. And we wanted as many people as possible to participate as Career Champions. And even knowing that they wouldn’t have that framework or that information that has been helpful at other universities, we knew that once they were on board, we could get information out to them.

And so the requirement is really to complete an enrollment form, which takes about three to four minutes. Just with demographic information, what they’re already doing around career, what they hope to continue doing or learn around career. We send career newsletters to our Career Champions. And the newsletters, that’s our … I don’t want to say our qualification or our entry is read the career newsletter. You get it once a month. It’s not a high bar, it doesn’t take that long. So you’ll learn about what’s going on within the center. You’ll learn about opportunities for students. You’ll learn about something maybe on our website or something from our first destination survey. And those are things that we’re looking for our faculty and staff to learn. You can go beyond that. There are many faculty and staff who participate in our training programs that we run, usually one or two a month during the semester. And we also have a career conference that I’m sure I’ll get into talk about a little bit more later. But those are some of the above and beyond opportunities that are available for Career Champions.

Ashley Safranski:

Yeah. I think opting in.

Nancy Bilmes:

Yeah.

Ashley Safranski:

Opting in and showing the intent to at least want to learn and want to advance the mission of Career Everywhere.

Nancy Bilmes:

Absolutely. Absolutely. And we’ll get into a little bit more about demonstrating that it has added value when we talk about data later.

Ashley Safranski:

Yeah. Definitely. I think you’ve touched on this in a different way, but just to ask the question, I think more specifically, what are you trying to achieve with the program? What are the goals and objectives of the Career Champion program?

Nancy Bilmes:

When I think about this question and I respond to this question, which I do get a lot, there’s really three things that we know that make up the Career Everywhere and Career Champion philosophy at UConn. One is we know that the biggest motivator to come to any university is to get a better job, to earn more money, to be more financially stable than maybe their parents. We also know that students come to the university or a university with varying levels of career capital. Students come to the university who already have had internships or two internships. And then there’s students who come to a university and maybe they’re first gen students or from marginalized backgrounds, and they really haven’t even had the chance to talk about career or even think about career based on circumstances.

And lastly, we also know that a career center is a voluntary destination at most universities. There’s nobody telling these students you have to go to a career center like advising or like a guidance counselor when they were in high school. So with all of these different aspects, in a nutshell, our goal is to infuse career development into all facets of the students’ experiences at UConn to help them learn about career planning and the importance of career planning as well as the resources available to them, whether the resource is that faculty member they’re talking to or a referral to the career center or an on-campus job or whatever it is. All of those things bundled together helping us at the university, helping career become equitable across the board for all students.

Ashley Safranski:

I think related in terms of what’s the ask. Beyond the requirements of what it takes to be a Career Champion, once you are a Champion, what’s asked of those who participate? I imagine it’s multifaceted in terms of A, just making sure they’re informed like you’ve talked about. They have good talking points, they know what resources exist to inform their own conversations, but also to know what you all are doing so that they can make those referrals to the Career Development Office when it’s appropriate. Does that sound right?

Nancy Bilmes:

Yes. Yeah. Absolutely.

Ashley Safranski:

Okay.

Nancy Bilmes:

Yeah. Our base level ask is that reading the newsletter, getting to know our website, understanding the value of career development, understanding the value of the offerings that we have. A career fair or a webinar or learning how to write professionally. Those are the asks from us to our Career Champions.

Ashley Safranski:

Sure. Yep. So UConn has been longtime partners of uConnect, which we’re proud and excited about. Can you talk through briefly just how you’re using your website or your uConnect platform, virtual career center to both educate and inform your Career Champions and to have a specific place for them to go and to engage with them?

Nancy Bilmes:

Yeah. Absolutely. Within the first year or so, we created our Career Champion resource page on uConnect’s platform. And it was really a great opportunity for us to include all the data, all the information, all the resources that we wanted Career Champions to be able to have easy access to. I mentioned earlier that we have about one or two training opportunities a month. We record those and we put them onto the resource page so any Career Champion can then come and watch the recording of something that they may have missed.

We also have links to previous presentations, which is super helpful, as well as upcoming presentations. All those presentations I just mentioned are listed on our website that Ashley is sharing. We also have our career modules. We’ve created seven career modules up to this point, and those career modules are available for faculty and instructors to embed into their classroom. We have resources to advise students. So easy access to resources so our Career Champions know where to go to easily find out about Handshake or other information that they might want to share with their students. We also have job market insights. So we determined with insight from our Career Champions, what were the most important things for you to have easy access to, and the resources and information that I just shared were some of those things that they had indicated would be super helpful for them.

Ashley Safranski:

Yeah. It’s like a one … Just scrolling through there.

Nancy Bilmes:

One stop shop.

Ashley Safranski:

Which is nice. That’s the same way that you want to engage students as well. It’s one place to find everything. Easy access. Let’s talk scale. Back in October 2022 I think you all had about 500-ish Career Champions, which even at that time was bonkers. We’re at over 800 now, I think you said to date. So can you talk us through some of the strategies you’ve implemented to continue and build momentum and add new champions?

Nancy Bilmes:

Sure. There’s several different things we’ve done. I’ll talk first about our committees. We have a committee that is focused on faculty. So faculty meet once a month to learn more about what other faculty are doing. We have a Career Champion advisory board. So those are folks who get together and give us some feedback and share information about what they’re doing around career and what’s been helpful. And our most recent committee is a career plan development committee. So we’re creating a career plan to go along with a student’s academic plan to help them think about milestones throughout their university career from a career standpoint. So those committees have really helped engage some of our Career Champions and help us to recruit additional Career Champions because they talk about it, they’re enthusiastic about it, and they have a reach that we don’t have because they have their own networks.

We also have recently added a faculty fellow to our staff, and this is our third semester with a faculty fellow. Last semester we had two. And those are faculty from various departments who are Career Champions, and they really want to engage above and beyond what a Career Champion would be able to do with a stipend. So we have them from about three to five hours a week, and they help us reach out to other faculty member in their networks. They do workshops for us. We had somebody last semester who was from the humanities department and did a workshop from the humanities’ perspective, which was great because it’s a academic space that is difficult to penetrate. We’ve had them help us with assessment. So with faculty are using any of our modules or the NACE career readiness competencies. We had a faculty member who helped us create some assessments. So again, they’re integrated into what we’re doing and really learn and understand at a higher level, and they share that with their networks as well. So that’s another way that we’ve grown the program.

Some of the other ways that we’re doing it from more of a ground level are through the academic liaisons that we have in our department. So each of our career coaches and our staff have a liaison to a different school or college. So they will go into potentially a faculty meeting or another meeting. They’ll potentially meet one-on-one with faculty or staff through those departments and sometimes be creative in … There was one of our liaisons who had their students write letters to faculty in their areas to invite them to become Career Champions. So that student outreach is something that’s been done a couple times and we’re looking to make that even more of a presence within the office.

We have our first destination that many career centers do. And one of our questions that we added two years ago is asking them if anyone at the university assisted them with their career planning? And many of them did say yes and provided the name and email. So from there, I reach out to them letting them know that they’ve been recognized in that space, but also then inviting them to become a Career Champion so they could learn more about what we’re doing as a career center. We reach out to new faculty. We’re still trying to figure out the best time to do that because it might not be when they’re first coming to campus because they’re inundated with information. So we’re still massaging that and trying to figure out when the best time to do that is. We have our CPR team, corporate partner relations, does outreach to employers. And our alumni representative on our committee most recently went into PeopleGrove and emailed our alumni mentor volunteers in PeopleGrove to become Career Champions. And our alumni group has expanded dramatically from that outreach. So those are different ways that we’ve been growing the program over the last year, year and a half, and it definitely has been … We’ve seen the results from that.

Ashley Safranski:

Yeah. I think my takeaway from that is it’s just a lot of really intentional outreach and sometimes it’s big and sometimes it’s small, it seems like. Bigger initiatives and small, but it’s all very intentional and casting that wide net. That’s really impressive.

Nancy Bilmes:

Yeah. And I think one thing that is super helpful is that we have a team. We have a Career Everywhere team. And a shout-out to everyone who’s doing all this work. All of the work is done by the entire staff, but we also do have a Career Everywhere team who does a lot of that intentional recruitment and that intentional outreach. And this isn’t done by just one person or just by me. This is a department-wide effort with some people having more of a role in it. But it’s definitely a department-wide effort, and I definitely want to shout that out to my team.

Ashley Safranski:

Yeah. That’s awesome. I want to ask you, actually … It’s not on my list here, but can you expand on that Career Everywhere team? What does that mean and what does that entail?

Nancy Bilmes:

Yeah. So we’ve identified people on our staff where it makes sense to have a representative. So for example, I mentioned Amelinda before. She runs our team meetings and really runs a lot of the strategic planning and whatnot. So she and I got together and really thought about who makes sense to be on the team. So we decided that it really makes sense for someone from our programming area because a lot of what we’re doing is programming. It makes sense from somebody from corporate partner relations. And even before we started recruiting employers, we knew that employers would be an important part of this. So we have somebody from our corporate partner relations. We also have five campuses. So Storrs and four regional campuses. And it was important that somebody from the regional campus be a part of the team as well as marketing because you can imagine that our marketing is an important part of this process. So we have somebody who does marketing within our office, and he’s also part of our team. And then we have our alumni representative who does our alumni program, and she started as part of our team in the last year.

So it does a couple things. It brings everyone together who has a piece of the puzzle, but it also allows the distribution of work to go amongst everybody and not just one or two people. So having that team helps with workload as well as communication to other parts of our department.

Ashley Safranski:

Sure. Okay. I think that makes sense. Thanks for digging in there. Growing from 500 to 800, just in that small less than two years timeframe, are you finding the snowball effect that the bigger it gets, it’s more quickly growing and getting bigger or not so much?

Nancy Bilmes:

Right. Right. Yeah. That’s a good question. A little bit of both, honestly. We do find that there’s periods of time where we are getting more of that snowball effect where it might be the time of year or where we find that faculty or staff or alumni are hearing it from others and are joining. But I would say more so we’re getting to the point where the folks who were already friends of the career center back in the day have joined were early adopters. And so in some ways it gets harder to recruit because we’re now getting into trying to recruit those people who don’t have the perceived time because they think it’s going to take longer than it will or don’t think it’s their job or aren’t necessarily student facing, which is fine. So I think that it’s a little bit of both. There’s more challenges because a lot of people who already knew about us and were working … But we do get some periods of time where the word gets out and we do have more of that snowball, if that makes sense.

Ashley Safranski:

It does make sense. And I think, like you said, you got the early adopters, the innovators who you were able to go with the goers a little bit and then now it’s focusing on the laggers.

Nancy Bilmes:

Just one more thing about that. The number we have, 800, is great. I’m not knocking that number at all. But if you look at the number of faculty and the number of staff we have, the 240 and the 260 or the 260 and the 280, it’s about 12% of the campus population. So when you look at it that way, we have a lot of room for growth. Because it’s not even 50% of our population that we have to move. And of course with alumni and employers, it’s infinite, but that’s also just not realistic. But for our campus constituents, it’s 12 or 13%. So that puts it in a different perspective, I guess.

Ashley Safranski:

Yeah. Yeah. No. Totally. It’s clear you all are putting in a lot of time and resources and intentionality into the program, and I know that you’re really excited to now have some outcomes and data to talk about. So maybe we can dig in there. So I’ll just turn it over to you to really talk about some of the outcomes that you’ve seen from the Career Champions program.

Nancy Bilmes:

Yeah. We were really excited. Last fall we conducted a faculty and staff survey, and we really did it for five weeks in the fall and then five weeks in the spring to try to get the biggest reach that we could. And we had over 500 respondents, which we thought was great. That was our goal. Well, actually was my operations manager’s goal. Mine was a little bit less, so I’m glad we achieved his goal. So within that survey, we interviewed both Career Champions and non-Career Champions, and we found that those who are Career Champions were 35% more familiar with the NACE career readiness competencies than non-champions. So that’s huge. Because most non-Career Champions, I think only seven or 8% had even heard of the NACE career readiness competencies. So even though we don’t have training and we don’t have presentations that the Career Champions need to participate in, they’re hearing us and they’re listening.

So that was really great. We also found that Career Champions refer to the career center at about 30% more often than non-Career Champions. So they might be referring to a one-on-one, or they might be referring to a career fair, but they’re making that referral more often. And then about 48% of Career Champions are more familiar with resources for faculty. Because we have resources specifically for our Career Champions and our faculty and staff. And there was about, like I said, a 48% more familiarity from Career Champions. So that was data that was found through our survey. Some other data that we found through other means that I’ll talk about, our presentation requests from faculty has more than doubled in the last two to three years, which creates other issues or other challenges. But we were excited to … They’re hearing about us, they value what we’re doing, so they want us to come into the classroom. Student usage of the center, especially one-on-ones in career fair attendance has also gone up. Again, both of these things, we can’t say they’re directly related to the Career Champion program, but there’s a correlation.

Ashley Safranski:

Great correlation. Yep.

Nancy Bilmes:

Yeah. From our first destination survey … And again, this is more of a correlation as well. But for the past two years we were at a 90% positive outcomes rate. This year we were at 92. So that’s a huge jump, and we were super excited about that. And obviously, again, no direct data, but a correlation. And then another exciting, again correlation is that 83% of students utilize career services compared to the national average of 54%. So because we know that Career Champions are referring to our services and programs at a higher level, there is a correlation there as well. So the data has been collected through First Destination, through our faculty and staff survey, and some of the data is a correlation and not a hard statistic, which I think is a result of this type of program. I think it’s hard to find data that’s going to say that your First Destination stats have gone up 2% in a positive direction because of a certain program, but we’re happy with that.

Ashley Safranski:

Yeah. Rightfully so. I think all of those outcomes are great, and even it being correlated, not directly 100% causation, I think that’s super exciting for you all. So what are the takeaways in terms of do you double it? Do you just keep going in the same direction? I think it at least is validating to know that or a lot of the work that you’re doing is paying off and worth it, but is the takeaway, let’s double down and really try to grow and double the program, or what are your goals with it?

Nancy Bilmes:

Yeah. It’s definitely growing the program because we do see from this faculty, staff survey that Career Champions understand more about what to do in the career space. They understand more about the career center and the resources we have both for students and faculty. So we’re really moving in a direction not necessarily to create more programs or to create more conferences, but to grow the program in numbers as well as become more engaged with those who are Career Champions who haven’t engaged in programs and conferences with us just to make sure that they’re not getting lost. So that’s definitely on our list of current and future initiatives as well.

Ashley Safranski:

Okay. I think you’ve touched on some of these for what I’m about to ask a little bit, but just to dig in a bit deeper, can you highlight some of the ways that you’re actively engaging the champions that you do have?

Nancy Bilmes:

Yeah. Sure. So when they first become a Champion, we have been alternating back and forth between offering a welcome meeting, which again, wasn’t mandatory, but we weren’t getting a lot of traction on that, so we changed to more of a welcome email. But we’re now going to be going back to meetings, but also doing more of those in webinar format where they can learn about what do I do as a Career Champion and who do I contact and all of that. And they also get an email from their liaison within the department. So they get a little bit of information and touch points at the beginning. We offer … I had mentioned there are training programs and our workshops and our conferences. We also offer one-on-one consultations. So one of our newer roles within the Center for Career Development is our career readiness program designer, and this is somebody who has a background in teaching and does a lot of our consultations with faculty for faculty who want to integrate career into the classroom. She also creates the modules for classroom presentations as well.

There’s also our modules that faculty and instructors engage with and use as part of their courses. And then presentations from our team in mostly classes. We have had some groups and other employers ask us to come in. Some of the larger employers on campus. And then also we have an alumni and employer class presentation program where faculty and instructors can indicate that they want to have an employer or alumni come in and talk to their class. And alumni and employer Career Champions can indicate that they want to, and then we’ll work to facilitate that opportunity.

One of the newer things that we’ve been doing in the past year and a half is really targeting supervisors because we have about 6,000 student jobs on campus, and we know that not all supervisors are trained. Sometimes you come in, it’s not even part of your job description. And I’m sure that a lot of university staff who are here probably experience similarities at their university. So we’re starting to do more of a supervisor series where we have one or two supervisor presentations, and those have been among our most popular presentations that we’ve offered. So that’s been something that is new-ish, and we’re going to continue to focus on moving into the future.

Ashley Safranski:

I love that. As someone who supervised students on a college campus before, I can see how that would be-

Nancy Bilmes:

You can resonate a little bit.

Ashley Safranski:

I can resonate. I think that’s fantastic. What have been some of the biggest challenges or obstacles you and the team have faced as you’ve worked to scale the program?

Nancy Bilmes:

Sure. I think as with a lot of things, time. All of what we’re doing, we’ve been looking at from a strategic planning perspective and what is our priority? Is the Career Champion and our outreach to faculty and being facilitators of career, has that grown to be one of the more important things we do within the center? And what are those things that we’ve been doing that maybe it’s time to sunset? And we’re in the midst of that. So I don’t really have a report, but we’re looking at how do we sustain the program and how do we have the time for staff to be meeting more in faculty meetings and faculty one-on-one or supervisors or advisors. And so that’s the challenge is really looking at everything we’re doing within our department and figuring out how to prioritize and make some difficult decisions sometimes.

Ashley Safranski:

Yeah. Absolutely. That was going to be actually one of my questions just about how are you making decisions around balancing growing this program that you feel is successful when there’s a million and one other things to do and time is limited and there’s not single positions dedicated to the program it sounds like. You’re using time from various different people in the office who have other priorities just on them. So I’m curious, any issues with getting team buy-in to take part in the Career Champions or the Career Everywhere team or the program?

Nancy Bilmes:

Yeah. I think there is definitely buy-in. I believe that staff see the value but there’s always questions. Especially at certain points during the semester. I’ve got these students I’m supposed to meet with. I also have these faculty that you want me to meet with or others within campus or externally. And one of the things we did last semester, for example, is we tried to look at our career coaching timeline to see, well, when are we most busy with one-on-one career coaching? And can we look at those weeks … Say there was about six weeks where those on our team who do career coaching would have a focus on that. And then at the beginning of the semester when students are getting settled and whatnot, the projects around the Career Everywhere and the Career Champion program might take priority or then within the winter break and summer, the priorities. So looking at chunking the year as well is something that we just started doing and I think has had a little bit of impact. But also looking at, for example, presentations. Like the typical presentations that career offices do, like resume writing, interviewing. We used to do two of each during the semester. We now only do those if we’re requested. All the others are through webinars.

So students can still come on our website if they want just a resume overview, but we’re not going out and doing presentations unless they’re co-sponsored with a club or a faculty member or something like that. So those are just a couple of small examples because we need to do more, but of how we’ve been scaling and how we’ve been approaching spending more time with faculty and staff and employers and alumni in the Career Everywhere and Career Champion space.

Ashley Safranski:

Yeah. Definitely. I think that makes a lot of sense. Even just instead of giving the same presentation over and over and over, making it accessible and easy to find on your website. Point students to, and then allow them to ask questions or engage with you in a more meaningful or deeper way.

Nancy Bilmes:

Especially for the presentations that we were just doing on our own, we might get two students or six students or zero students. So that made a lot of sense.

Ashley Safranski:

Yeah. Yeah. Finding opportunities to just create efficiencies is key. Just a few questions before … There’s dozens of questions in the chat, so thanks everyone for submitting those and we’ll try to get through as many as we can. I do want to ask what advice do you have for career teams who just want to get started? And maybe they don’t have their eyes on 500 or 800, but it’s just they want to start more meaningfully engaging faculty, staff, and other key stakeholders. How would you advise that they get started?

Nancy Bilmes:

Sure. Even if you’ve been at your university for a while, I would start with a talking tour. With focus groups, with meeting with constituents and … What you’re thinking about doing and ask for feedback. We always asked what would be the biggest barrier? And the answer was always time. Maybe it will be that on your university, I wouldn’t be surprised, but maybe it’s something else or in addition to. So find out what would be a barrier, what would be something that they could buy into and how are they already helping students? So I’d definitely do a talking tour.

I would also think after you get your data, talk to other campuses as well. Benchmark. I would also think about what is your need? What is your mission? Why are you doing this? What is the reason that this might work on your campus? And buy-in with administration. Your faculty, your deans, your department heads, your provost, your president. See if there’s buy-in. I always talk about support in action. There’s buy-in in the sense that you’re supported and your administration supports or your boss supports the role, but is there going to be any action they can take? And it might be yes, but it might not be the best time. So you have to decide, do you want to start at a grassroots? And that’s what we did. We started at grassroots. There’s growing pains, but it’s definitely been successful in a lot of different ways. So those are some advice. And I also have a team approach, even if it’s just two or three people. Don’t try to take this on your own unless of course you’re an office of one, then this might not be the best approach for you.

Ashley Safranski:

Yeah. Awesome. That’s great advice. I’m going to transition here into the Q&A. As I do that, I’m going to launch a poll question. At uConnect, as we’ve talked about, we get to work with Nancy and team at UConn. And one of the ways that we partner with our career services teams is by helping them to increase awareness and engagement of faculty, staff, and other stakeholders. And obviously, Career Champions is a great way to do that. Career Champions program. So if you’re interested in learning how virtual career center can help engage important stakeholders on your campus, please go ahead and let us know so we can follow up. And I will leave that up here just for a few more seconds. And Nancy, there’s a question. I’m just going to go through these and we’ll go through as many as we can. So if they seem out of order, please bear with us. Do you have a sample of a newsletter you’d be willing to provide maybe as a follow-up that we could share with the webinar follow-up?

Nancy Bilmes:

Sure. Absolutely. I believe they’re also on the website. The Career Champion resource page that keeps everything organized that we collaborate on with uConnect. So you can look there as well, but sure, we can share one with you, Ashley, so you can send that out afterwards.

Ashley Safranski:

Awesome. And just for the audience, we’ll share as many resources as we can. Nancy, you and I can touch base and really-

Nancy Bilmes:

Absolutely.

Ashley Safranski:

Things that we want to make sure we highlight. Nancy, you mentioned UConn has employer members. How is this facilitated and how are sessions with employers different than those with staff faculty?

Nancy Bilmes:

Yeah. That’s a great question. I would say that’s something we’re continuing to work on and evaluate. A lot of our employer Career Champions, we ask them to participate as speakers for our training. So we’ll have a healthcare panel for our Career Champions so they can learn about healthcare careers or careers in media. So a lot of times we’ll ask them to participate like that. But there’s a lot of our training programs that overlap with all of our champions. Like learning about Handshake. Employers know it from a posting perspective, but if they’re a mentor for a student, they might not know it from the looking for jobs and other information perspective. We also work with our employers at our career fair. We invite our employer Career Champions and our faculty and staff Career Champions and our alumni to a breakfast. We did that for the first time in the fall so they can talk to each other. So we find employers want to meet our faculty and staff, and we find our faculty and staff want to meet the employers. So we do try to find opportunities to connect that are easier than having a special session. So that’s why we try to use our career fairs or our conferences where employers and alumni, faculty and staff will all be together anyway.

Ashley Safranski:

Okay. That’s great. I’m looking through. There are several questions related to, so I’m going to do my best to group it into one question, around engaging faculty, which is always one that comes up. Can you maybe just give some … How you all have approached engaging faculty in particular? Have there been any institutional roadblocks that have been put in the way? Someone mentioned that outreach to faculty has to be done really carefully because of regulations from faculty senate. So maybe how you have approached it and then guidance for those who may have some barriers in place.

Nancy Bilmes:

Sure. Sure. That’s a great question. Again, something that we still have some pain points with. But at the beginning, like I mentioned, the support versus action of our administration, there was support, but we needed to make all of the connections ourselves. There wasn’t a lot of action in the sense of the president or the provost office saying, “This is a great opportunity. We encourage you to participate.” So all of the connections, which at that point were the friends of the career center, like I spoke about before. But we didn’t have barriers in the sense that we couldn’t reach out to folks. We didn’t have email lists at that time. We do now so it’s easier for us to reach out to our campus partners. Since then, we have had the opportunity where there has been some action taken from our administration. The provost office included some information about the Career Champion and program and encouraged faculty and staff to participate in the program. My executive director and associate vice provost attends the deans and department heads meetings. So he does have an opportunity a couple of times a year to remind folks to invite them to our conferences and that type of thing.

So as the program has grown and folks have seen some of the outcomes, we’ve moved that needle a little bit from support to action and have gotten … But still not as much action as I would like. But it’s moving in a positive direction. It’s also through one-on-one relationships. And that’s where we have the liaisons. So reaching out to people in those specific departments, folks who’ve invited us in for presentations, following up with them. Those one-on-one relationships, even though it seems tedious and time-consuming, they have been helpful as well. Because those are people that we’ve connected with on campus. And then asking them, is there someone else within your network or your department who you think would be interested in this type of opportunity? And then following up with them as well. So a lot of different ideas that we’ve worked with, but some of those are the ones that have probably worked best for us.

Ashley Safranski:

Yeah. That’s great. Thanks, Nancy, for covering that. Can you talk about how alumni serve as Career Champions? What do they do in that role?

Nancy Bilmes:

Sure. Our alumni are really continuing to get information on how to be a mentor and how to be a positive mentor. So again, most of them came from our alumni mentoring program, and so a lot of the information we share with them are around the resources that we have so they can then share that better with students. Also inviting them in to talk to our faculty and staff Career Champions, inviting them to the career fair breakfast because the majority of the folks who come to our career fair are alumni. And so we tap into them, especially the Career Champions, to talk to faculty and staff about what they’re doing post-graduation. We also tap into our alumni Career Champions for programming. So if we’re doing a panel or something else where we’re looking for industry professionals, we’ll look at that group of Career Champions and ask them to participate and run those programs. So it’s a back and forth. It’s helping them to understand what we do, so when they do connect with our students, they have those resources, but it’s also them wanting to give back and us creating a platform for them to be able to do that.

Ashley Safranski:

Excellent. Let’s see. Is the monthly newsletter the same for all of your groups? Faculty, staff, employers, alumni?

Nancy Bilmes:

Yes, it is. The only group that it is a little bit different for is our AVP’s administrative group who aren’t necessarily Career Champions, but he sometimes adds or takes out some content. And the content in the newsletter is such that most articles would be interesting to most audience members. If you told my marketing professional that he needed to do one for each group, I don’t think he’d be very happy.

Ashley Safranski:

Yeah. Pick and choose what makes sense. As a marketer myself. Very well. I think you’ve talked a little bit about engaging the different ways that you all actively engage your champions. Do you find that most of the champions stay active and engaged throughout the year, or are you just continuously marketing them to stay engaged and to stay active, or is that something that you track?

Nancy Bilmes:

We do track if they come to a program or the conference or have a one-on-one meeting with somebody on staff, and it’s probably about 30% or maybe a little bit higher are active in that way. The others, we are making an assumption that many of them are reading the newsletter and becoming familiar with our website. We haven’t found a great way to track that piece of it yet. We’ve talked about several different avenues to get feedback from Career Champions, but those who aren’t necessarily as engaged won’t be the ones who would necessarily give us that feedback. So it’s definitely a challenging space for those who we don’t hear from on a regular basis to determine how engaged they are.

Ashley Safranski:

This idea of small teams wanting to take this on, teams of one to three is a theme here in the questions. Can you give some advice just around for teams who want to get started, and maybe it’s just on one person to get started, how many hours do you think is reasonable to spend? Or just how would you get started talking about with the grassroots perspective, but any thoughts there?

Nancy Bilmes:

Yeah, I think most of us within the career center already have our friends. We already have people in the staff space and the faculty space who we’re collaborating with. So that’s honestly where I would start. And I would just start to formalize that group of people. Maybe it’s five people, maybe it’s 10, maybe it’s 20 or 25. So that’s the group that I would start with. And I would get feedback from them and listen to what they say, what their concerns are, but that at least gives you a group of people to send a mini newsletter to maybe to start planning maybe one event a year that they might like to participate in. What do they want to learn? How can they help students better? And maybe it stays that way for a little while. But I think anything just to start small and just formalize what you already have, I think just puts things in a little bit of a different space than having just people here and people there. It gives you that space to have a program or something similar to that.

Ashley Safranski:

Yeah, I think that’s great. Some more ask Nancy advice questions. Any advice for campuses that have an online campus or maybe any advice for facilitating this for a mostly online institution?

Nancy Bilmes:

Sure. Since we started this mostly during the pandemic, we did start in 2019, but then very quickly the pandemic came, we did most of this online. And quite honestly, we still do because of our regional campuses, most of our conversations with our faculty advisory board or our faculty subcommittee or our programming, the majority is virtual because we don’t want to leave folks from any of the campuses out and it’s difficult, obviously, as you can imagine, to get from one campus to another. The only events that we have in person are we’ll have a coffee and career, and we’ll do it here in Storrs. And then some of the regional campuses will do it at their regional campus as well. Or one of the campuses will have a Waterberry career conversation for Career Champions. So I think all the technology we have can make this really seamless as a virtual only program.

Ashley Safranski:

Great. Do your Career Champions help with events like mock interview days? And I’ll just add on to that or similar types of programming?

Nancy Bilmes:

We haven’t gotten to that point yet where they help with mock interview days. They help more with training each other. So our faculty will offer some trainings for employers or for other faculty as opposed to for students. We are doing this coming semester the first alumni in residence who is a Career Champion. So that is our first foray into that space. And we will certainly keep you posted to let you know how that goes.

Ashley Safranski:

Yeah, definitely. Please do. We have two minutes left and there are still several questions. So can I volunteer you, Nancy? Can we share your email address and LinkedIn? Is it okay to encourage reach out?

Nancy Bilmes:

Absolutely. Yeah. Yeah. I’m happy to talk about this with anyone who wants to reach out. You can tell that I’m excited about it and we all share our information, so I’m happy to do that.

Ashley Safranski:

Yeah, I appreciate that. And what’s next for the Career Champion program? What’s on the horizon? What are you you guys shooting for?

Nancy Bilmes:

Growth to move on with more champions and sustaining. Again, not really creating new programs. A lot of outreach with supervisors like I mentioned before. And also reaching out to those champions who we might not have heard about … Heard from, sorry, in the last year or two, and seeing if they want to be engaged. And if not, that’s fine as well.

Ashley Safranski:

Okay. I’m thinking we’re going to need some time to do a live a live AMA with Nancy and maybe bring Ame, Amelinda.

Nancy Bilmes:

Absolutely.

Ashley Safranski:

We can do a live session. So everyone be on the lookout for that in the next few months. And we’re at time right about. So Nancy, I just want to say thank you so, so much for just always being so generous with your time and your knowledge and your experiences. It’s super impressive what you and the team have done with the Career Champions program and we’re so grateful to get to work with you and the team so thank you.

Nancy Bilmes:

Thank you so much for having us.

Ashley Safranski:

All right, everyone, stay warm and hope you all have a great rest of your week. And again, be on the lookout for an email tomorrow with the recording and resources and a way to get in touch with Nancy. All right, take care.

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