Podcast

How to Engage Student-Athletes with Career Services

Dr. Carissa Liverpool, Assistant Athletic Director of Student-Athlete Development for the Scarlet Knights For Life Program at Rutgers University, shares how her team is engaging student-athletes with career services.

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Dr. Carissa Liverpool, Assistant Athletic Director of Student-Athlete Development for the Scarlet Knights For Life Program at Rutgers University, shares how her team is engaging student-athletes with career services.

Carissa talks about:

  • The unique challenges student-athletes face in terms of career development and how to address them
  • How her team uses technology to engage student-athletes, employers, coaches, and more
  • Her best advice for meeting student-athletes where they are
  • And more  

Being a former Rutgers student-athlete in softball, Carissa knows better than anyone that student-athletes are one of the hardest populations to reach. Between athletics, academics, a social life, and more, student-athletes are notoriously strapped for time. In this episode, Carissa shares her best tips and tricks for reaching student-athletes and connecting them with employers.

“You have to meet them where they are. If you know they are in a specific building, or they’re taking a lot of the same classes as their teammates, navigating their time and being present where they are physically is very helpful. That number one. Number two, going to their competitions is really important. I think slowly building that relationship and that trust and that rapport, because at the end of the day, they are students. They’re students first, and knowing that you’re supporting their athletic abilities and their student abilities is important too,” Carissa says.

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 Dr. Carissa Liverpool. She’s the assistant athletic director of student athlete development for the Scarlet Knights for Life Program at Rutgers University. Thank you for being here, Carissa.

Carissa Liverpool:

Thanks, Meredith. I’m super excited to talk about the stuff that we’re doing.

Meredith Metsker:

Oh, likewise. I am super, super excited to dig into how your team is engaging student athletes with career services. I think that’s a really unique population to serve, and I know you all are doing a lot of innovative things to support them. I’m excited to dig into that.

Carissa Liverpool:

Great.

Meredith Metsker:

Before I get into the rest of my questions, Carissa, is there anything else you’d like to add about yourself, your background, or your role there at Rutgers?

Carissa Liverpool:

Yeah, I think it’s so important to provide context for our discussion because the lens through which I do my work is pretty unique. I’ve been at Rutgers a long time. I was a softball scholarship student athlete. I graduated in 2009. After graduating, I started my master’s in education at Rutgers while working in athletic compliance. Most people get a little turned off by compliance, but it was a really great first job. I learned the ins and outs of how an athletic department operates, which was super important for the work that I do now.

I quickly started a doctorate program in education and transitioned out of my role in compliance to athletic fundraising where I was a major gift officer, but I also launched our first ever Letterwinners program, which was really an exciting opportunity. It’s an organization strategically designed to keep former student athletes engaged and connected and involved with Rutgers Athletics and their specific sport programs. We have about 14,000 former student athletes, so it was a really interesting experience, challenging to say the least.

And then in 2018-2019, we transitioned that program and me out of fundraising and into student athlete development so that really I could take those relationships that I had built with former student athletes and engage them in the space for career development. We had done a three year assessment of what are the best ways that our former athletes are staying connected. It was really through the career space. They were giving their time and their talent in this area. We wanted to make it formal and structured for them. We did that.

And then in 2022, literally last year, my colleague Brett Miller was hired to take over the day-to-day operations of the Letterwinner program and strategic engagement with them so that I could transition into my current role focusing on the employer relations with those relationships I built and really focusing on the student athlete career development curriculum and how we can continue to leverage those relationships for postgraduate outcomes for our student athletes.

Meredith Metsker:

Wow, that’s really cool. I’m glad you provided all that context, because I imagine that it is really cool for your student athletes to come in and talk to you knowing that you are a fellow student athlete. And not only that, but a fellow Rutgers student athlete.

Carissa Liverpool:

Absolutely. It’s one of the first things I mentioned with recruits when they’re on campus. I’m a product. I’m usually an open book, and it seems to do wonders when they ask questions. Even, what’s the best restaurant on campus? It’s a great experience, a great job. It’s very rewarding.

Meredith Metsker:

I love that. It must be if you stuck around that long.

Carissa Liverpool:

Yeah, exactly.

Meredith Metsker:

Oh, I love it. All right, Carissa, well, before I get into the more specific questions about our topic today, I want to kick us off with the question I ask all of our guests, and that’s what does Career Everywhere mean to you?

Carissa Liverpool:

Honestly, it’s a movement that I wished I had focused on and maybe had a little more opportunity with when I was in college. Career Everywhere is simply that, right? It’s a phrase that provides resources and opportunities beyond your traditional career service provider, that one-on-one resume building, all of that when you think of a traditional model. It’s really going into a role of facilitating long-term investment.

And in my case, long-term investment in a student athlete’s career journey wherever they are and whenever they need it. Whether it’s on the bus to a game or it’s outside of the classroom waiting to go into a class, wherever they need their assistance, they can have it beyond the scope of the work that maybe we can do as humans. In my opinion, that’s what Career Everywhere is.

Meredith Metsker:

Great. I love that. I am excited to dig into more about how you’re reaching those student athletes outside of the career center. I know we’ll get back to that here in a minute, but just to set the stage for our topic today, can you give me an overview of what your team is doing to support student athletes there at Rutgers?

Carissa Liverpool:

Yeah, we’re doing a lot. We’re a four-person shop doing the work of loads of people, which is exciting stuff. In student athlete development, we really focus on the holistic development of student athletes. Really what that means is we focus on their student identity, their athlete identity, and who they are as people and how they identify and whatever way they want to identify. We really have four bucket areas of focus.

We have personal enrichment, which is simply making sure our student athletes are intentionally focusing on their personal identity the minute they get on campus in that first semester. We share resources in a freshman class that I have the blessed opportunity to teach. Every freshman student athlete has to take it. It’s for credit, and it helps them successfully navigate Rutgers, learn how to balance priorities, find a sense of community and belonging, and figure out what does it mean to be a Scarlet Knight and be proud of that.

And then we have community engagement and we really focus on facilitating local and global ongoing service with the true ability to serve and reflect and take that reflection for whatever it means to the individual athletes. We do a lot of stuff with campus partners and campus tradition events, and then we also partner with large organizations across the globe for things like Read Across America, Soles4Souls, things like that. We do professional development, which in our case is the career space.

And really we start by supporting our student athletes, exploring their personal interests to better inform major selection, but also their future goals, whatever it may be, whether it aligns with their major or not. We try to expose our student athletes to professionals, whether they’re alumni former athletes or Rutgers alums in general or any type of professional that is local in the community that wants to give back their time, to really practice conversations and build a robust network of professionals.

We meet with student athletes one-on-one maybe to go over a LinkedIn profile or to help them with their resume, practice their interviewing skills. We use two platforms, one of which is the uConnect platform, which I know we’re going to dive into. But we have another platform that we use that’s really focused on conversations, informational interviews with professionals, and then obviously the uConnect platform, which is in our mind a one-stop shop for career development for our student athletes in one place.

And then our last bucket area is alumni engagement, so that’s housed within… We’ve talked about this in the beginning with how my role has transitioned, but it really is a link for our former student athletes to stay connected and feel a part of their experience from Rutgers. We hope that maybe they’ll be able to hire our student athletes for internship opportunities, job placement, even job shadowing opportunities. The Career Edge platform only heightens their ability to connect without having to work through human capital within our department.

They can go right to the platform. Those are the four areas. Obviously we do a lot of programming. I think we had 46 programs last year with a staff of four. We had over 200 plus career appointments. It’s a lot of work, but it’s a lot of rewarding work and you see the benefit of the work that you do immediately a lot of the time, which is great.

Meredith Metsker:

Okay. I apologize if you said this already, but can you tell me or remind me how many student athletes you’re working with per year on average?

Carissa Liverpool:

Yeah, so it varies. It depends on where we’re at in the year for rosters, but anywhere from 700 to 750 athletes. The way our athletic department is structured is each sport has their own career athletic academic advisor, but then also a career development advisor. We work very closely with our athletic academic advisors who help on the academic side. They’re talking about majors. They’re talking about eligibility, talking about tutors, learning styles and learning specialists.

And then we partner with them on life after sport goals. If a kid switches a major, how are we having conversations with the student athlete when they were in communications but now want to be in public health and how are we providing resources for them when they make the switch so they’re not overwhelmed?

Meredith Metsker:

You guys are working on career outside of the sport, but maybe the others are working on career within the sport, if that’s-

Carissa Liverpool:

Correct. I would say with our department, if you had to sum it up, we really are responsible for the post-graduate outcomes. We want to know where our athletes are three months, six months, nine months, 12 months after they graduate. Are they getting a job? Are they doing a fellowship or an internship? Are they traveling Europe? Are they playing professionally? Are they playing semi-professionally? We want to know what they’re doing because we also want to serve them if they’re in a career pivot.

We’ve several former student athletes reach out to say, “Hey, listen, I’m in a pivot and can you connect me with people?” Or I had someone yesterday reach out, “I just passed the bar. Are there any alums in New Jersey? Of course, there are plenty where I can connect and see if I can get some experience.” We’re always serving, we’re in the very servant leadership type of role.

Meredith Metsker:

Okay, gotcha. In your experience, what are some of the unique challenges that student athletes face in terms of that career development and how do you go about addressing those?

Carissa Liverpool:

Yeah, they have a lot of challenges, but I think the two-

Meredith Metsker:

I know you know this firsthand.

Carissa Liverpool:

Yeah. I think the two biggest ones are the ability to prioritize and overall life balance. If you’re not balanced in your life and everything that you have, you don’t know how to prioritize, whether it’s balancing athletic and academic responsibilities, balancing social activities and student athlete responsibilities, balancing emotions on and off the fields, mental health, but then they also have to think about their future. At the end of the day, they’re still young adults making young adult decisions, which can be tough sometimes.

As professionals, we try to introduce career development as early as possible just in that freshman class that I mentioned earlier. We even talk about it on recruiting visits. If I’m talking with a potential student athlete that is going to enroll in our institution in the next year or two, you’re really talking about, hey, we’re going to take care of you. We have a ton of resources. A lot of times you’re talking to the parents or legal guardians, but at the same time, a lot of our recruits are very invested in what can we do with life after sport.

We really try and focus on meeting them where they’re at individually. We try to assess their overall skillset, knowledge in the area of their interests, and most importantly, listening to their passions to find their purpose post-graduation. A lot of student athletes don’t know what they don’t know. They’re not exposed to the traditional resources because of their time. It’s very structured. They have a very unique relationship with the university. I think the more we can meet them wherever they’re at in their journey and help them understand it’s okay wherever they’re at and it’s okay to pivot.

I literally just had a meeting with a women’s tennis student athlete yesterday, and she is a communications journalism media studies major. She’s a senior, and she decided she wants to go to law school. She just decided over the summer. We are now navigating that conversation about, where does that leave you? Are you going to take an extra year of school? Are you going to compete somewhere else? Are you going to go into a certificate program that aligns with potentially going back to law school?

We have lawyers who are close to campus that you can shadow and speak to about this experience. And that’s a senior. Just having that conversation with her to ease her stress about the ability to be okay to pause and say, “I actually want to do this,” and then figure out how to get there. We have to be able to do that with everyone that comes to see us because it’s not just a broad stroke. All athletes aren’t the same.

Meredith Metsker:

Right. How do you go about doing that when you have a team of four and 700 plus athletes?

Carissa Liverpool:

Yeah, it’s very time-consuming and it’s a lot of hours, but again, it’s so rewarding. I just had a gymnast secure her job after graduation, and I feel like I got the job with her because we were in constant communication of whether this is the right phrase to use in the thank you email to the employer after an interview and all of that. And then at the end when she signs her contract, you feel like you did it too, right? Because we’re so invested, we figure it out. It helps when coaches are invested in the work that you do too, and I would say all of our coaches are invested in the work that we do.

When the coaches are invested, they give us time. Whether it’s 10 to 15 minutes prior to practice or post practice to say, “Hey, reminder, we’re here. Schedule a meeting. Here’s how you can do it. I just need 30 minutes. We can do it virtually. It can be a phone call on your way to class, just to know that you can have a simple conversation about goal setting and how we want to get you to that dream job.” But it is not an easy task with four people.

Meredith Metsker:

Yeah, I bet. Oh man. I know we’ll talk about how you’re using technology to scale up some of that work. We’ll talk about that here in a little bit. But on the subject of coaches, how do you go about getting buy-in from them in terms of supporting career development?

Carissa Liverpool:

I think it’s simply relationship building and trust, which is like any work that anybody does. When you can show your value in the work that you do and share success stories, the proof is in the pudding. We’re showing all of this data to coaches to say, “Hey, listen, these athletes came to us and all of them landed jobs, all of them landed internships.” We only need 10 minutes just to tell them about us so that we can then take their 30 minutes out away from soccer, for example.

That’s the way we’ve approached it. We’ve approached it from from coaches first. Coaches give us access. We then get the buy-in from the athletes. The work we do is fun. We’re not just going over resumes and LinkedIn in a very dry meeting. We’re talking about some really interesting things and their passions, and people love talking about what they like to do. We can do that in a simple office. We could do it on a walk or a coffee, breakfast or whatever the case is. Again, meeting them where they’re at.

If they’re on a Rutgers bus because our campus is huge to their next class and that’s the only time we can get them, let’s have a conversation. But it really starts with the coaches too. Like I said, by far, all of our coaches are phenomenal and they support the work we do. Our fundraising team helps us support financially. We are a program that they talk to donors about to give us more funds to fund platforms or to fund a trip into New York City to site visits for three or four companies during the day. Again, it’s truly just building that trust and showing the data of success.

Meredith Metsker:

When you say data, is that first destination survey data?

Carissa Liverpool:

Yes, I would say so. We are really intentional with tracking where our athletes go post graduation and how they’re getting there. For example, if this gymnastics student athlete that just landed her job utilized our services, check for us. There’s proof she got a job. She put in the work with our office. We’ve built connections to help her along the way, and she’s now at a dream PR company. That right there is a success story.

The more we can do that, the more we get our former student athletes engaged and involved in this space, the more those relationships strengthen and the more job placement, internship opportunities come our way. I would say the last two to three years we’ve been really intentional with the data. I’m curious to see once we do a hard launch with our uConnect platform, truly diving into the data after a year or two to see what’s going on there. I’ll be excited to look at that.

Meredith Metsker:

Yeah, hopefully you’ll see some good numbers. I’m betting you will.

Carissa Liverpool:

Fingers crossed.

Meredith Metsker:

I would love to go back to something you said a little bit earlier about reaching students where they’re at. You’ve mentioned a couple examples, but can you just dig in a little bit more there on how you go about reaching student athletes when they are so busy?

Carissa Liverpool:

Our ATH athletes at any level have a very unique relationship with their institution. High school as well. But when you’re competing at the top level in one of the top conferences in the country in your sport, that relationship is just different. You’re dedicating 20 plus hours a week to your sport. That includes team practice, training, competition, travel, team activities, and then you have to be a student. And Rutgers is pretty tough.

And that doesn’t include if you’re really passionate about community service and giving back, pre-treatment for an injury, post-treatment for an injury, doctor appointments, sports psychology appointments, nutrition appointments, office hours with a professor, group work outside of the classroom. All of that is why their time is very limited. We meet them where they’re at.

If they need a workshop on financial literacy, budgeting, or how to have a professional networking conversation and they can only meet on Sunday at 8:00 or 9:00 PM, that’s where we’re meeting them and that’s when we’re meeting them in their building to make them feel comfortable on their time. It’s tough because the university offers so many resources, which we have a lot of athletes take advantage of those resources when their time permits.

But a lot of times they can’t attend a career event that’s being hosted by the university career services or a career fair even just because of when it falls within their day or their travel schedule or whatever the case is. Our department literally does the same thing as the university career services department, but just for student athletes because of their time constraints. We provide multiple ways to engage them.

And that’s why the Career Edge platform, which is the uConnect platform, is such a great tool for us because it just adds another layer of engagement that is at our student athlete’s fingertips truly whenever they need it. It’s really tough. For anyone out there that was a former student athlete, I feel you, I hear you when you say being a student athlete is hard, but so many success stories in the career space especially when they utilize our services and hopefully the Career Edge platform.

Meredith Metsker:

I think that’s a good segue to my next question, which is, I know your team is using technology, including the uConnect platform, which you call Career Edge, to support and engage student athletes. Can you just talk to me a little bit more about how you’re using that tech to reach athletes?

Carissa Liverpool:

Yeah, I’ll talk about the Scarlet Knight Network first. We’ve had this platform a little bit longer, I think since 2019 or ’20. Essentially this platform allows student athletes to log on and see profiles and backgrounds and bios of about 350 advisors. They can schedule a phone call, simply a phone call. It’s a great way for them to start learning how to have valuable conversations with professionals in a setting that isn’t as intimidating as an in-person meeting or an event. We encourage them to use that first to get their feet wet in this space.

It’s a great tool for student athletes to just start to explore areas in which they have interest in potentially doing something post grad. The Career Edge platform really for us is designed to connect top companies with our most qualified student athletes. We have developed a Career Passport, and essentially it’s a four-year program for our student athletes to navigate where we hope they will be in their career development after each year they’re in school. As a freshman, we hope you’ve done X, Y, and Z.

Check it off the list. As a sophomore, X, Y, and Z. With that passport program, we now have the Career Edge platform that provides the tools to help them accomplish those tasks and to-do lists each year. The platform for us serves two major purposes. One, it’s a place for our student athletes to access all of the important life after sport resources in one place, as well as access to internship and employment opportunities from employers that specifically want to hire our student athletes.

And two, it’s a place for employers to connect with our student athletes directly for hiring opportunities and job shadowing opportunities. When we have a student athlete, for example, who has accomplished all of these things from the Career Passport program, they are deemed career ready or career qualified from our office. We’re comfortable saying, this student athlete is ready to have conversations for future employment or internship opportunities, et cetera, with a professional.

They will get an online business card. Essentially it is a resource card with their picture on it and their resume and their background information and their contact information. If an employer has a job and is looking to hire our student athletes, they don’t have to contact us directly. They can go right to the website platform and will see all of our career ready student athletes. We’ve already had professionals using it in that way, and those athletes have blessed professionals reaching out to them.

We don’t even need to play this middle man, middle woman role when connecting for jobs. We can obviously because that’s part of what we do, but the platform is just another tool for folks to see the work that we’re doing and hire student athletes that are ready to go. It’s been amazing. I love it. I’m in it every day, and we’re constantly transitioning student athletes from being career ready to folks that have jobs or have internships, which is great. That’s exactly what we need to do.

And then adding student athletes all the time after they’ve done what they need to do within our office. Student athletes love it. Coaches love it. Our staff loves it. It’s been wonderful, and to think that we’ve only really launched it this spring. I’m excited to see where we go from here in the next two to three years on what it looks like.

Meredith Metsker:

That’s so cool. I love that innovative way you guys are using the uConnect platform and it’s like playing matchmaker for students and employers.

Carissa Liverpool:

That’s exactly what it is. We had this vision of simplifying the experience on a platform. Because sometimes, not the uConnect platform, but sometimes platforms can be daunting because there’s so much to offer, which is great. For us, we wanted a simple way to have a coffee shop job board. There’s jobs here. This is a way you can connect. Pull the tab and have that relationship. That’s what the platform is doing for us and we’ve seen success. We’re going to keep going at it the way we’re doing it.

Meredith Metsker:

I’m curious, how did you get the word out about this functionality to employers?

Carissa Liverpool:

We have a database of about 800 employers that are engaged within our office in some way. We sent an introductory email out about the platform. I utilized our LinkedIn group. We have a Scarlet Knights for Life LinkedIn group, which is mostly former student athletes. It’s a way for them to connect themselves, but also a way for us to post stuff that we’re doing or a job if someone’s in a career transition, et cetera. We posted it there. I posted it on my own personal LinkedIn. We got it out on all of our social media channels.

And then as for student athletes, we did a very soft launch with our Student Athlete Advisory Committee, which is called SAAC. It’s basically our leadership group of student athletes. We wanted to make sure that they were the first ones to access it and hopefully they would be the first ones on the platform with a business card, which most of them were. And then we did a very hard presentation with our coaches to get them engaged in that space to not only showcase the work we’re doing, but to create additional buy-in by showing more resources that we have to offer their athletes.

Meredith Metsker:

That is just too cool. You said you’ve already seen some good results. Can you tell me a little bit about some of those?

Carissa Liverpool:

Yes. We had within the first, I don’t know, three days, we had 600 engagement points, which was incredible, whether it was people posting jobs and subscribing to it or clicking around and exploring. I think the biggest indicator for us was literally having a mandatory head coaches meeting. I mean, I’m talking mandatory, football coach was there, men’s and women’s basketball coach was there, everybody was there. We presented a demo on this tool. I was only supposed to go for three to five minutes.

I went for 15. Truly it was because they were so engaged. They were asking questions. They were asking me to go back because they really wanted to dive into a specific section and had several coaches send emails or pull me aside after saying how wonderful of a tool this is. When recruits come, I’m pulling it up on my computer to show recruits and their legal guardians or parents this active tool that we’re using. I think the best thing is the word is getting out across campus and I’m going to be doing a demo with our alumni career services team.

Because at the end of the day, a former student athlete is an alum. If they contact the university career services, they may not necessarily contact our office. The alumni career services department will know that this exists and we can work together to help a former student athlete navigate this space as well. Once word gets out across campus about the cool stuff we’re doing in athletics, that’s a good thing. I’m excited about that.

Meredith Metsker:

Yeah, that’s super exciting and especially to get such good feedback from all of the head coaches.

Carissa Liverpool:

Absolutely. Yep.

Meredith Metsker:

Also, just a quick note for anybody watching or listening, I’ll be sure to include a link to the Career Edge platform so that you can go check it out, or if you want to go do that right now, it’s careeredge.scarletknights.com. You can go and see these virtual business cards that Carissa was talking about and go check out some of the resources. On the note of resources, what types of resources are you offering on the Career Edge platform that are specific to student athletes? How do you navigate finding things for them?

Carissa Liverpool:

Honestly, it’s not necessarily specific to the athlete population, it’s just having resources in a place where they can access it in one place. For example, we have the Scarlet Night Network is a resource, so that is just for athletes, but there is a document on what to wear to an interview or professional networking event because that is one of the biggest questions we get, especially from our female student athletes, which it is, as you probably know, harder to navigate that space than it is typically for men.

We have a sample resume on there that we have customized for the student athlete experience. We highlight on the resume their athlete identity within the resume. There’s a LinkedIn page creation tool, how to beef up your LinkedIn. There’s a tool for the university’s career services so that they can come there if they want additional resources. We have a lot of student athletes that are international. We aren’t equipped to career advise to an extent a lot of the laws that surround being an international student, so we link our global, which is the international student office.

We have that as a resource on there as well. It’s really ways for them to go to one place, access most of the things they’re going to need. And then if something’s not there, we add it. We just added a resource the other day. There’s a website called teamworkonline.com, and it’s a place where a lot of jobs in sports are promoted. We use that as a resource because a lot of our student athletes have a passion for sport and are interested in exploring what type of jobs exist in the sport world.

They sometimes don’t even know some of the jobs that are in college athletics. Having that there so they can explore different types of roles in the sports space. Things like that. Again, a lot of it is not necessarily tailored to being an athlete. A lot of it is just life skill resources that anybody could really utilize. But for us, it’s in one place for them.

Meredith Metsker:

It’s more about them being able to access all of the information.

Carissa Liverpool:

Yes. 100%.

Meredith Metsker:

Okay, which is where that technology comes in handy for sure.

Carissa Liverpool:

Correct. Definitely.

Meredith Metsker:

I’m curious, you touched on this a little bit, but what results have you seen so far from some of these strategies and this tech that you’ve implemented to engage student athletes?

Carissa Liverpool:

I think given that we really only launched it I would say in March, the hard data, which I would love to explore, is not quite there yet, especially because that’s towards the end of an academic year. I think for us looking at it next spring as we go through an entire year, entire hiring cycle for companies, that will be helpful. But I would say the increase in conversation is probably the biggest thing for us that I’ve noticed, number one, and number two, that’s our success.

The more people are talking about the resources our office offers, the more people will get curious and the more we’ll have foot traffic within our office. We talk about foot traffic a lot. Foot traffic maybe I have a student athlete who really hasn’t seen anyone in our office and is nervous for whatever reason. Maybe talking about life after sport is scary. It is. Thinking about the future, planning for the future can be a scary thing, especially when you’ve had that athlete identity for so long and all you’ve really focused on is your sport, academics, and being a good human.

You’re not really thinking about what I’m doing in a year outside of your sport maybe. If we can get increased foot traffic, maybe a student athlete can bring a teammate who’s nervous into the office to show them the stuff that we’re doing. Student athletes are now talking about this platform because they’re seeing engagement on the platform, and knowing that they can navigate this platform from their fingertips on their phone anywhere is really the asset for our entire department because those conversations are being had.

I’m hearing them. We’re seeing them. We’re seeing more recruits come into our office. We’re seeing more athletes come into our office earlier in their career, like their freshman and sophomore year, versus, oh my goodness, I’m in my last semester of my senior year and I don’t have a plan. That in itself is success because it really is hard to define success in this space other than looking at hard data and postgraduate outcomes.

But for us, that organic conversation that folks are having and then seeing an increase in people coming into the office is how I would say we can define success right now.

Meredith Metsker:

Yeah, that’s really exciting, especially when, correct me if I’m wrong, but there’s an opt-in model, right?

Carissa Liverpool:

Yes. Totally.

Meredith Metsker:

Student athletes are not required to use your office.

Carissa Liverpool:

Yeah, hat’s the challenge. Athletes are required to meet with athletic academic advisors for obvious reasons. They have to maintain their eligibility, but we are kind of like the fluff department. You have to want to invest in your time into life after sport when you’re ready. Some athletes are ready. The minute we talk about the resources, we have the offer, and some are seniors and we still haven’t seen them. It’s okay. We still reach out and we understand. But at the same time, we’re here.

We’re constantly utilizing word of mouth. We have television screens in our building, so we put content up there. We put QR codes up there that link to this platform, so folks walking by, going to the bathroom, going out of the bathroom, whatever, they can click on a QR code to take them to resources. Any way to engage and get them invested earlier is better. It’s not a requirement. It’s not a requirement, which is okay. It’s okay.

Meredith Metsker:

Let’s see, the freshman year class, is that a requirement?

Carissa Liverpool:

It is. We work with the athletic academic advisors to have every freshman student athlete enrolled in that class. I lead two sections, and then I have a couple of my peers lead the others, because five sections is a lot. We collaborate and work together. We designed the curriculum and this platform is introduced into the freshman class when we talk about personal branding and career development. Because at the end of the day, your resume is your brand on paper and LinkedIn is your brand on social media in the professional space.

We talk about that early, especially because Rutgers Athletics has a massive following on social media platforms, including Instagram and all of those. They’re going to be tagged. We want to make sure that their brand is a positive representation of them as well as the university.

Meredith Metsker:

Yeah, that makes sense. It’s always important to talk about, I guess, decorum and best practices when it comes to your personal brand on social media.

Carissa Liverpool:

They’re 18 to 22 year old young adults, right? We’ve been there.

Meredith Metsker:

I’m curious, Carissa, you’ve offered a lot of really good advice already, but in general, what advice would you have for other career services professionals who are trying to reach more student athletes?

Carissa Liverpool:

I think you have to meet them where they are. If you know that they are in a specific building, or they’re taking a lot of the same classes as their teammates, navigating their time and being present where they are physically is very helpful. That number one. Number two, I think going to their competitions is really important. I have the luxury because I work in athletics, I can just pop into their practice. It’s normal for me to show up to practice. It’s normal for me to show up at competitions.

But for folks that don’t work in athletics or at university career services, showing your support at their competitions is huge. I think slowly building that relationship and that trust and that rapport, because at the end of the day, they are students. They’re students first, and knowing that you’re supporting their athletic abilities and their student abilities is important too, which obviously career development falls into that skills and life skills and things like that. They are definitely a hard population to tap into if you’re not housed in athletics at this level.

At other institutions, different size institutions, sometimes an athletic academic advisor is doing career development as well, and there may only be one for 500 athletes. How do they manage that? A lot of the times at schools like that, the student athletes will seek out university career services because they have more resources than let’s say the athletic academic advisor who has to do life skills as well. That’s a tough question. That’s a very tough one. Being present I think is huge in their spaces.

Meredith Metsker:

I imagine some of that involves probably building relationships with faculty because we know that they will be in class. Can you get into class?

Carissa Liverpool:

Yep, absolutely, and coaches. One thing that we do at Rutgers, which is really cool, is we have faculty mentors for each sport program. It’s a faculty member who meets with each team, a different mentor for each team, and they become the super fan, but they are faculty. They can speak on behalf of a student athlete’s time commitments and constraints.

If a student athlete has to miss a class for travel, being that voice to another professor who might be struggling with having to have an athlete leave a class or miss a class. To really express what it actually means to be a student athlete is helpful. And also, again, you’re building relationships. Having a faculty mentor who works well with university career services, that could be your in as well.

Meredith Metsker:

Okay, that’s a really cool program.

Carissa Liverpool:

Yeah, and our athletes love it. I mean, our faculty mentor, when I was a student athlete, Steve Miller, love him to death. He’s in the communications school at Rutgers. He’s still the faculty mentor for softball. Shout out to him because he was great and he was a big resource for us as student athletes in terms of navigating talking to a professor or doing extra work or whatever the case is.

Meredith Metsker:

It sounds like he was a great advocate.

Carissa Liverpool:

100%.

Meredith Metsker:

Well, let’s see, you’ve talked about some of the initiatives you’ve already launched to reach student athletes, but are there any exciting new projects or other initiatives on the horizon?

Carissa Liverpool:

I think the biggest one for us is our team leader is Carey Loch, who’s wonderful. She’s diligently working with our athletic communications team to rebrand our office, as well as our office website. Once it’s complete, which it’s almost there, Career Edge will have its own space within our website, which will, again, drive even more traffic, because the Rutgers Athletics website receives thousands of hits every day in all different types of places. For the life after sport area in Scarlet Knights for Life, Career Edge will have its own page.

We’ll be able to really see if we can drive more traffic to the platform through our athletics website. That’s one thing. And then the second thing is we are narrowing down dates for our fall career networking events. If there’s any employers listening that want to come to Rutgers and share their words of wisdom with our athletes, you can reach out to me. You can navigate Career Edge and find me. You can Google me. You can find me on LinkedIn. Anyone that’s interested, we’ll be happy to add you to our employer relations database and get you an invite to this event. It’s great.

Meredith Metsker:

Wow. It sounds like you got a lot coming down the pipe, so that’s exciting.

Carissa Liverpool:

Yes, absolutely. Always moving.

Meredith Metsker:

That seems appropriate for a former student athlete.

Carissa Liverpool:

Yes, absolutely. Don’t don’t know anything else.

Meredith Metsker:

All right, well, I want to be mindful of our time here, so I’ll start wrapping us up. But Carissa, is there anything else that you would like to add that we haven’t covered? Any questions I should have asked but didn’t?

Carissa Liverpool:

No. I think we’re just really grateful that we’ve had the opportunity to launch this platform. It’s been a great experience, and I definitely want to give a special shout out to Ashley, our customer success manager. She’s awesome. She’s a rockstar. She’s always on her game, and I appreciate her advice, number one, her suggestions and her customer service. She’s been incredible and we’re very grateful. Thank you for allowing me to come on and tell our story, but also to thank Ashley because she’s been a tremendous help.

Meredith Metsker:

I’ll be sure to pass that along to her. That’s going to make her day. All right, well, Carissa, if anyone would like to connect with you or learn more from you, where’s a good place for them to do that?

Carissa Liverpool:

LinkedIn’s probably best. I think my name is Dr. Carissa in parenthesis Conroy for my maiden name and then Liverpool. But also, I mean, if you Google me, everything’s pretty much tied to Rutgers. We have social media handles, Scarlet Knights for Life Instagram, where we post a lot of stuff, Scarlet Knights for Life Twitter. Happy to connect any in those places. It’s great.

Meredith Metsker:

All right, and I’ll be sure to include a link to Carissa’s LinkedIn as well, along with her Career Edge website.

Carissa Liverpool:

Awesome.

Meredith Metsker:

Final question. At the end of every interview, I like to do this answer a question, leave a question thing. I’ll ask you a question that our last guest left for you, and then you will leave a question for the next guest. Our last guest was Emily McCarthy of the University of Arizona, and she left the following question for you, if you could pick any person alive or otherwise to be your mentor, who would it be?

Carissa Liverpool:

It’s a tough one because there are some historical people that I would add to my list, but I think right now would be a guy by the name of Jon Gordon. For anyone that’s in the athletic space, he’s like a guru. He’s the bestselling author, keynote speaker. He has a ton of books and he focuses on leadership, changing your mindset, and being a difference maker. I sound like I’m a spokesperson for him right now, but I just love the way he illustrates leadership. One of my favorite books is The Energy Bus, and it’s a very simple read. I mean, he even has it in a kid version.

I have it for my daughter. It’s really about making sure you’re the vitamin C and the energy when you walk into a room and you’re a part of a group and taking all of that in and providing that for others. I would say Jon Gordon. And if you’re listening, let’s connect. We’ve connected before, but let’s do it again. It would be a great opportunity to showcase some of the work that we’re doing at Rutgers, some of the work uConnect could offer maybe Jon Gordon, and some of the stuff he can do to benefit folks in this space.

Meredith Metsker:

All right, I love that. I’m going to have to go check out… You said it was Energy Bus?

Carissa Liverpool:

The Energy Bus. Yes. That’s a good one.

Meredith Metsker:

All right, I’m going to add that to my reading list. What question would you like to leave for the next guest?

Carissa Liverpool:

I’m going to stay in the career space. Providing context, when people ask me what I do, I really tell them I get to help student athletes to define and execute their why. My question would be, how did you align your passion with your purpose? How did you define your why in your career journey?

Meredith Metsker:

That’s a good one. It’ll require some thought, I think.

Carissa Liverpool:

Totally.

Meredith Metsker:

All right. Well, yeah, I’m excited to hear the answer to that one. Well, thank you, Carissa, for taking the time to join me on the podcast today. This was a really fun conversation, and I thank our audience is going to get a ton of ideas from you on how to better engage student athletes. Thank you very much again.

Carissa Liverpool:

Yeah, thank you for having me. This was awesome. It’s great stuff.

Meredith Metsker:

I’m glad. I had a good time.

Carissa Liverpool:

Me too.

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