How UConn Built a Career Champion Program with 500+ Champions

Learn how UConn trained 500+ faculty, staff, alumni, and employers to have better career conversations with students. 

Apple Podcasts badgeSpotify Podcasts badgeYouTube Music badge

Nancy Bilmes, Director of the Center for Career Development at the University of Connecticut, shares how she built UConn’s Career Champion program and trained 500+ faculty, staff, alumni, and employers to have better career conversations with students. 

Nancy shares:

  • How (and why) her team started the program three years ago
  • How they recruit Champions (particularly faculty)
  • What the training process looks like (including the resources)
  • How they measure success
  • And more!

Resources from the episode


Nancy Bilmes: Do you want me to talk about UConn and our center?

Ashley Safranski: Yeah, I think that’d be great. Could you just share a little bit about the UConn Career Center, the makeup of the team, the model that UConn takes when it comes to career [inaudible 00:00:13]?

Nancy Bilmes: Yeah. We have 26 staff members in our career center, full-time professional staff. We also have several GA’s and a lot of student workers like many of you do. We are five campuses, UConn stores in four regional campuses and we work and oversee all of the campuses so we’re centralized in that way. We’re also centralized in the sense that we work with all the schools and colleges except for the School of Business, Law and Medicine. The School of Business has its own undergrad and graduate career center, and then Law and Business, I think like Law and Medicine, like many schools do their own thing around career. So yeah, we’re mostly centralized. We do have a liaison model where we have one liaison to each school and college except for our College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and we have two. So not enough, but it is our biggest school and college with close to 12,000 students.

Ashley Safranski: Wow, okay. No, that’s super helpful background. I think let’s just get into the Career Champions program. We had this conversation with you back in June at NACE. Obviously we have been partners with UConn for a long time and friends of your team, but maybe you could just give an overview of the Career Champions program at UConn and what that entails? I think that’d be a good place to start.

Nancy Bilmes: Sure. I’ll provide some background and context. It’s funny because uConnect, back in 2018 I think, you all launched your Career Everywhere initiative at UConn with a conference with a lot of regional career centers, so that was super fun. We built off of that and looking at career across campus. And knowing, I’ve been in the field for a very long time, and knowing that many years ago things were much more siloed and we were career and others on campus shouldn’t be doing career because we’re the experts. Well, things have shifted and faculty and staff are always talking to students about career, or students are asking advice about career. You know, “What do you want to do when you graduate?” That’s just a natural question that everybody asks students, so we really looked at thinking about how can we help all of our students be successful? And decided to lean into a Career Everywhere movement.

The Career Champion program really supports Career Everywhere. Career is happening everywhere and all the time, really, 24/7 with our website and other websites as well. So we did some benchmarking with other universities who’d already started their Career Champion programs, and we also did a lot of focus groups on campus with faculty and staff, interviews with faculty and staff to really learn and understand what are the barriers, what would be the barriers to a Career Champion program.

From there in 2019 we launched our Career Everywhere and Career Champion program. We did that with a brunch on campus with a speaker from Gallup, and it was super exciting. We had about 150 staff and faculty members there, and that’s where we initially launched the Career Champion program. We followed up with all of those people and invited them to become Career Champions. I don’t remember the exact number that we got initially, but it was 60 to 70, so it was a good 50% of those folks who joined the program. Since then we have continued to put our efforts into building the program and building the opportunities for faculty and staff to learn about career and to become more confident in having those conversations with students.

Ashley Safranski: Yeah, I would say getting 50 to 60 champions from brunch is good ROI on a brunch. That sounds-

Nancy Bilmes: Yeah, we were excited. It seemed to really resonate with the folks who were there.

Ashley Safranski: Yeah. Tell me about, I think that you make a really interesting point about this realization, maybe that you all had, probably well before launched the program in 2019. But this idea that we are just one center, we’re just one team, and career conversations are absolutely happening all over campus, as they should be. Right? I think we can all agree career should be happening everywhere. Can you talk more about, was there a moment, or how did your team think about that shift? I think that’s something that a lot of the partners that we work with now are really starting to embrace that shift from career services being the providers of career resources, to the facilitators.

Nancy Bilmes: And that’s a great word, facilitators. I think it was a tough transition for many people, including myself, because you’re letting go of some control. But at the same token, we’re not teaching these people to be career consultants or career advisors, so I think that was a mantra that we shared over and over. We had conversations with all of our staff participating around, what does this look like? You’re not going to lose your job, our jobs might just be shifting a little bit. And in a space where we’re trying to provide expertise and most current information to our constituents and our Career Champions, so they can take that information and be sharing it with their students. Some of that information is information on our resources in our center and about how to refer to us.

I think that you need to try to look at shift thinking a little bit and shift the picture because we still work with students. We still are consulting and working with students one-on-one, and that’s never going to go away. But now we’re shifting some of our resources to working more directly with faculty and staff. As a matter of fact, we have a program designer starting in just two weeks, who is really going to be focusing on working with faculty and developing curriculum, and incorporating career into the classroom, and this person has a curriculum and design background. That’s an example of how we’re shifting resources, but we’re still doing the work that we’ve been doing for many, many years.

Ashley Safranski: Right, right, that hasn’t shifted. I think that’s… What an evolution, for career services to be hiring curriculum designers. I want to get more into that, but before I pivot, you had mentioned in some of the early work, that you held focus groups and you met with faculty and staff to identify what those potential barriers would be. We did have a question come in, can you share a bit more about what was identified as those potential barriers for faculty and staff?

Nancy Bilmes: Sure. It probably wouldn’t be hard for most people to guess what the biggest barrier is or was, and still is, would be time. Faculty, especially at a research one university like UConn, faculty are invested in teaching, some are advising and doing research, so there’s a lot on their plate. And the work they do for us doesn’t count toward their PTR and tenure or anything like that, so there’s definitely challenges around that. Because we heard that time and again from folks that we talked to, our center decided to create a program that is flexible, and we don’t have a presentation or a series of workshops that our Career Champions need to participate in before becoming Career Champions. We decided that because they’re having these conversations anyway, so regardless of whether they become an official Career Champion, they’re still informal Career Champions. So we decided that it was more important to work with folks around where they were at, provide the information in different ways that they could still get it, and use it at their own leisure.

For example, we hold several training sessions every semester on different topics, on DEI and career, using Handshake, using FOCUS 2, and whatnot, and some of those are done by our staff and some of those we recruit Career Champions to lead as well, but we record them all. And we also have a newsletter, so if folks can’t come to those live sessions or can’t watch the recordings right away, they can do that when they have a little bit more time, or they can read about what we’re doing in the newsletter. We feel that it’s important just for them to know about us and to know what we do and to be able to refer to us, and be able to understand at a baseline level what they could share with students, than needing to go through presentations and workshops to become a Career Champion.

Ashley Safranski: Yeah, I think that’s half the battle, is just awareness. Right? I think in many ways it’s similar to working with students, it’s how can we make it known that we’re here, we’re here to help, and we have resources? So building the awareness. Sounds like you all are also taking a multi modality approach to just, hey, let’s put the content out there and let them digest it in a way that works best for them and their schedules.

Nancy Bilmes: Yeah, absolutely.

Ashley Safranski: I did have a good follow-up question to that. Getting started, so you had the brunch and I think with anything getting started is that first hurdle to get over. So you had the initial focus groups, you identified the problem and the solution, the focus groups, the brunch. How did you keep that momentum going after you recruited your first, what’d you say, 50 to 60 initially? What was the next phase after that?

Nancy Bilmes: Sure. Well, we had a little hiccup called Covid that happened fairly quickly after that, so our attention was obviously on how do we pivot to virtual services and to helping students who were graduating and all of that. So we did take a little bit of a hiatus, and once we were able to really start in again, probably in the fall of 2020, our Career Everywhere team grew a little bit from that. We had folks who, where we were taking a little bit of time from maybe another task, that we were able to have a graduate assistant work on and have them be part of the Career Everywhere team. So we started to build that team and we had different folks who were responsible for different recruitment populations. For example, I was overseeing the recruitment of faculty. There was someone who was overseeing staff, someone from our CPR team who was overseeing our corporate partners, and then another one of our staff members who is working with alumni.

For example, for faculty, because of our liaison model that I mentioned earlier, I’ve worked with our liaisons to come up with ideas on how to recruit faculty members from the different schools and colleges. So it’s not necessarily at a Career Everywhere or a Career Champion level, it’s at the college level. These are folks, our liaisons know a lot of the staff and faculty in those departments so they’re able to, I guess, recruit from a more personable approach because they know these people. I think a really creative idea that came from one of our College of Liberal Arts and Sciences liaisons was, she has a group of CLAS ambassadors, so those students wrote emails to all the faculty in CLAS, inviting them to be part of the Career Champion program. We got about 30 to 35 responses, and then just interesting responses from faculty about like, “Oh, well tell me more about the career center,” and things like that, so that was a super creative initiative.

Ashley Safranski: Yeah, that’s a big win. There was a question in the chat, and I think this is on the topic of faculty in particular, which always seem to be elusive. Everyone on campus is vying for faculty’s attention and time. Is your UConn Career Center a part of student affairs or another division? Because I do think, to the point of the question, optimizing engagement with faculty can sometimes be dependent upon where the career center is situated.

Nancy Bilmes: Right. We are situated in the provost’s office, but I would say that what we’re doing is still a grassroots effort. We have support from the provost and the vice provost, but we are going out and doing this more independently. The leadership is not necessarily… Aside from supporting the program, we haven’t gotten to a point yet where they’re saying, “Oh, everyone should be a Career Champion,” and talking to the deans and department heads about it. So it’s still from the bottom up and we’re infiltrating that way, with support, like I said, of folks in the leadership areas.

Ashley Safranski: Okay. Yeah, I think that’s really helpful. The questions in the chat are, unsurprisingly, blowing up. I do see all of these and we’re going to continue to try and chip away. Nancy, if someone were to just say, “Hey, what does it mean to be a Career Champion?” How would you give an overview of that to a faculty or a staff member pretty succinctly?

Nancy Bilmes: Sure. What I would say to somebody who asked what it means to be a Career Champion, I would say that it’s a formal way to help support students in their career, and a way to help career become a place of equity. Career Everywhere and the Career Champion program, I would say is a career equalizer for marginalized and first-gen students. It helps with access to career information. So for example, if a student doesn’t really think about career or hasn’t talked about career in high school or with a parent because of their background, and they hear about it in their class and then they hear about it maybe in a club they belong to, it’s now going to start churning. And hopefully they’ll continue those conversations, either with a Career Champion or somebody else that they trust, or maybe they’ll even come to the career center. I guess that wasn’t super succinct, but it’s really leaning into what we do at the career center and help career be accessed by all of our students, to promote success for all students.

Ashley Safranski: Yeah, I think you mentioned earlier that uConnect co-hosted in a Career Everywhere event on the UConn campus, and so it’s a topic really important to us as well. We like to think of it as making career services accessible to anyone, anywhere, anytime, 24/7, 365. I think your Champions program and your website certainly do a nice job of addressing that. I think there’s a lot that we can talk about, I think with faculty and it shows in the chat and in the questions that I’m getting about engaging faculty. But I do want to quickly touch on, I think the fact you engage corporate… Employers, corporate partners or employers within your program, can you speak a little bit to, at what point did you decide that you should include employers in the program, and what that looks like, related to the program?

Nancy Bilmes: Sure. We probably decided that maybe in early 2020, a little bit before the pandemic set in. Why we thought about that was we were thinking about who do students talk to about career? And sure it’s faculty and staff on campus, but it’s also employers and our alumni because we have a mentor network, and right now we have Firsthand as our platform. So students are reaching out to alumni or they’re networking with alumni through their own process and their own networks, and employers are recruiting students, so they’re talking to students on a regular basis.

So as we were thinking about this, we came to the conclusion that if we brought employers and alumni in, we can share the information with them, but then they can also talk to faculty and staff, and it’s been a great reception from our faculty to have our employers and our alumni in that space. Just a few weeks ago, we had our first annual Career Everywhere Conference, and we had folks represented in all of our different areas of our Career Champion program, and they were just so super happy to be able to connect and network with each other. It resulted in some employers going into some faculty classes, that might not have been facilitated other ways. The employers and alumni really appreciate just being kept up to date on what the university’s doing and what’s current in the career space, so they can help students better.

Ashley Safranski: Oh, I love that. I want to come back to the Career Everywhere Conference because it sounded great and I think that’s going to be a hot topic. I do want to ask you, how are you all managing this? You talked about early, you divvied up responsibilities amongst a group on your team, and maybe now it’s more focused. But as you engage faculty, staff, employers, alumni, there’s so much information and it’s always changing, right? Which keeps everyone on their toes. How are you managing it now and how are you making sure that you have up to date resources and information and whatnot, for the partners in your program?

Nancy Bilmes: Sure. Our committee has grown a little bit, and one of the reasons it has grown is so everyone on the committee can have specific roles, because they have other jobs that they’re doing, so the committee’s grown, but the roles of all of us who are on the committee have shrunk a little bit. For example, we have our marketing staff person as part of the committee because we have a listserv and there’s obviously a lot of marketing and sharing of information that goes out, as well as recruitment materials that he helps us develop. We have someone from our regional campus who spends a few hours a month on the Career Everywhere team, and he’s focused on looking at the regional campuses, making sure that they’re getting the same type of information, and having the similar events on the smaller scale at the regional campuses.

We have one of our staff members who works in programming, and we do programming for our Career Champions, so he’s stepped in to help us with that piece of it, so everybody has a little part to make the Career Champion program run efficiently. Then my senior associate director and myself really head up and organize the career… Well, my senior associate director does, organizes that as part of her job responsibilities. She definitely has more of a commitment than most of the other committee members.

I think your second part of your question was how do we share resources and information? We have a listserv, so we send out a newsletter once a month, and we have probably two presentations or training sessions that are held each month. However, I think our biggest resource that we have, and most accessible resource for Career Champions, and I’m going to share my screen for a second, is… Can you see that, Ashley?

Ashley Safranski: Yeah. Yep.

Nancy Bilmes: Okay. It’s our Career Champion resource page. And this might look familiar to all of you uConnect users, we use this also for our affinity and career communities, and it works perfectly. It’s great for our career resource page as well. We have information very accessible here if they just want to go to see our resources or what trainings are happening. We also write blogs and articles for our Career Champions, so we have a little bit of information here on the page and how they can use it. If they’re not a Career Champion already, they can click here. The enrollment form takes about two minutes, it’s very quick. Then we have resources for Career Champions, things that they can do if they want to write a blog or request a presentation, join the Husky Mentor Network that we have.

We have five career modules right now that faculty and instructors can use in their courses, they can come here and review what those modules are made up of, and also request access to those modules. This is where they can view all of our recordings of our past trainings, as well as the events for the upcoming couple of weeks. Here we have a welcome session for those new Career Champions, a student employee evaluation cycle session for Career Champions who are supervisors. And then the intersections of identity and career, to talk about identity and access to career. And then our resources that you’re all familiar with. These are our blogs that are either written by a Career Champion or we have spotlights, so every month we spotlight a new Career Champion. Then we have our career communities down here. This has been a super helpful resource that we use to share everything that we’re doing, and a place for these Career Champions to go to find out more information.

Ashley Safranski: I’m in marketing, you always want to get people to your website and hope that then they poke around, right? They stay a while.

Nancy Bilmes: Yep.

Ashley Safranski: Do you find or do you have any sense for, you’re pointing people to this page, but really they’re able to get so much out of the different resources that you have on your site?

Nancy Bilmes: Yeah, absolutely. Once they go to an information session or a welcome session and they see not just this page, but see our career page and the resources that we have, that we’ve been able to cultivate, they are super excited to be able to then share that information with their students. I think that’s half the battle sometimes, is even those faculty and staff who know about our office, they sometimes don’t know about the resources that we have and the services that we can provide. And having all these Career Champions just understand this information has been great.

Ashley Safranski: Yeah. You mentioned something, and you’ve mentioned this as an example to our team a few months ago when we met, Career Champions can write blogs, can submit blogs that can be posted. I think one of the examples that we have in our article of you all, is an article for Latinx students. Maybe just briefly you can talk about how are you facilitating that, and streamlining that process to get content even from your Career Champions? And is that happening?

Nancy Bilmes: Sure. Not as much as we would like. It does happen on occasion, like with the article you just talked about, Ashley. I just also received a short blog from one of our participants from the conference, a faculty member. And we do get occasional blogs from our employers, but we do share that this is part of the Career Champion program and encourage folks to engage in that way. We do have a resource page for anyone who wants to write a blog, that explains how to do it and how to get it posted. We do share that information sometimes in our newsletter, but always in our information, in our welcome sessions and when we’re talking to our Career Champions about the program or how they can get more involved. Because that’s a common question, “What can I do? How can I get more involved?”

Ashley Safranski: Yeah, I mean that’s awesome. You get people in when they are asking, “How can I do more?” That’s the dream. We’re on this topic and there was a question that came through, so I’m just going to ask it now. How is uConnect helping you grow or improve your Career Champions program?

Nancy Bilmes: Yeah, the resource page I just shared is definitely a huge way that we’ve really leaned into uConnect to gather all of our content in one place for Career Champions. And just using the uConnect site and the uConnect resources in and of themselves, have helped us organize the information in a way that makes sense to our Career Champions. Not just on our Career Champion resource page, but on our website because, as many of you know who are uConnect customers, being able to organize your content is super important because we have so much to share, and it’s always a challenge to figure out how to do that in the best way. uConnect has certainly helped us with that.

Ashley Safranski: Great. No, that’s helpful. What changes or outcomes in the last three years have you maybe noticed as a result of the Career Champions program? Whether it’s anecdotal or any data that you’ve seen?

Nancy Bilmes: Yeah. Some of the data that we’ve seen, we did a survey last year and we’re in the process of actually sending out a survey soon, just asking the Career Champions, “Are you more comfortable and confident in talking about career?” And about 90% of them said that they were. The challenge is definitely really trying to figure out what the impact is from an outcomes perspective, and I think that that’s going to be something we see over the years when we continue to analyze this year’s data from first destination. I think that as we see maybe the needle increasing our positive outcomes, which is 90%, so it’s great as it is, but any more is obviously wonderful. Will we be able to attribute it directly to the Career Champions? Not at this point. We’re still in those conversations, but I think anecdotally we will be able to share.

Because we all know that students go to faculty for career advice, and so faculty are now going to be even more confident in giving that advice, so that’s super exciting. Then I think also with NACM, which is even… NACM is the National Alumni Career Mobility Survey that UConn has participated in for the last three years, and they survey students out at five and 10 years. That would be even more longitudinal, but it’ll be interesting to see how many more students feel more confident about the career advice and the career plans that they had in college, than maybe they did five or 10 years ago. But again, we probably won’t be able to see that for five to seven years, but super excited about that.

Ashley Safranski: Yeah. It’ll be interesting to see how many of your graduates come to be a part of the program as an alumni.

Nancy Bilmes: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely.

Ashley Safranski: Take a step back and put yourself in 2019 Nancy and you were dreaming this up, what does the promised land look like? Is there a certain number of Career Champions that you’re trying to get to, or just what is ultimate success?

Nancy Bilmes: Yeah, I guess there’s always that vision or that dream. When I first ventured out on the Career Champion program and Career Everywhere, it was really building this culture, this ecosystem of faculty, staff, and now alumni employers to help all students be successful upon graduation. I’m not naive enough to think that we’re ever going to have all faculty and all staff as part of this program, but to get to the point where we have a majority, and where faculty and staff, and alumni, and employers are talking to each other about the value of being a Career Champion, and doing that organically.

Having folks come together and share, like, “I added this to my syllabi on the career competencies,” or, “I did this activity with my group of student leaders.” And having students understand the value of career readiness, and not just from the career center, but from others that they will meet across campus. To me that’s a culture of career readiness, is having the conversations not just primarily with the career center, or primarily with just a certain group of faculty or staff, but with a large majority of folks on campus or in our community.

Ashley Safranski: Yeah. Lisa just asked a great, I think, follow up question to this, have you noticed any uptick in students engaging with career services as a result of your program?

Nancy Bilmes: Yes. Even though that’s not necessarily the goal, we have definitely seen an increase in appointments and we’ve also seen an increase… And right now, this is anecdotal, we’re actually working on coming up with more data as we speak, but we’ve also seen an increase in the number of faculty and staff who’ve engaged with us and requested presentations or requested a meeting to talk about syllabi. So there’s definitely… And again, there’s a little bit of that shift, although we are seeing more students engaged, we’re also seeing more faculty and staff who are also engaging because they want to be prepared to talk about career in their classroom.

Another anecdotal outcome is we have a faculty subcommittee and a Career Champion advisory board, and the faculty subcommittee is in its second year. We have 16 to 17 faculty members, and I would say 80% are staying for a second year. They meet monthly and last year their two outcomes were, they helped us develop syllabi language that if, at the very least a faculty member wasn’t ready or just didn’t feel that they were in that space to add career content to their class, they could add it to their syllabi. Then also we created a Blackboard site with their help, that houses our resources. They shared syllabi with us, they shared projects with us, we have our syllabi language on there. So they can hop on there if they’re ready to just dabble in finding different ways to incorporate career into their curriculum.

Ashley Safranski: That’s great. Have you seen any faculty actually using some of that syllabi language in this year’s curriculum?

Nancy Bilmes: I believe I had a faculty member, at least one or two reach out to me about it, and said they were going to be incorporating it unto their syllabi. It’ll be a great question for our faculty subcommittee when we have our first meeting later in this month, to see who’s engaged in that. But as we continue to meet with faculty and talk about the career space, those will be conversations that we continue to have, for sure.

Ashley Safranski: Yeah, absolutely. I want to talk about the Career Everywhere Conference-

Nancy Bilmes: Sure.

Ashley Safranski: … that you all hosted last month. Can you share just what it was and who was invited, and what it entailed, and just generally how it went?

Nancy Bilmes: Yeah, for sure. We started thinking about a conference, probably last summer, so summer of 2021, as a means to get folks together to network. Much of our efforts have been in the virtual space because we’ve been building this during the pandemic, and we have regional campuses too so we want to be as inclusive as possible, so some of what we’re doing makes sense anyway, without a pandemic. But we really wanted to think about how can we get folks together to meet each other, to network in person now that Covid’s waned a little bit? We thought about having a conference and we talked to our faculty subcommittee as well as our advisory board, what would be the best time of year to have a conference? And of course we got September, we got May, we got January. I can imagine it’s similar on your campuses as well, timing is very challenging.

But we decided to do a kickoff to the semester, and some of the feedback we got from faculty was, that’s a good time of year because it’s before classes get super involved, and Fridays tend to be good for some folks, for some faculty who don’t teach on Fridays. We worked as a small committee in our office and would occasionally reach out to some of our active advisory board and faculty members, based on some of our ideas, and decided that we were going to host a conference where most of the sessions were led by Career Champions. The conference was, we put out a call for proposals and we got about seven or eight proposals and that was about the number of sessions that we were planning to have, so all of the breakout sessions were run by our Career Champions who were doing this work, in one respect or another.

Our keynotes were our staff. We did a NACM keynote on the data that we’ve gotten over the past three years on NACM, as well as we created a career and identity survey about a year and a half ago, and we also wanted to share the results of our career and identity survey. Those were the two keynote addresses. We had about, I don’t know, 120 sign up for the conference. I think we were able to accommodate 150, or maybe it was 120, I don’t remember. But we had about 75 folks come. We had employers, we had faculty, we had staff members, and we had a smattering of alumni. The feedback we got was that it was successful and that they would love to see it happen again, and that the breakout sessions were really engaging, and it was just great to be able to network and talk to each other, and meet others in person.

Ashley Safranski: Yeah, definitely. Can you give an example of what a topic of a few of the breakout sessions were?

Nancy Bilmes: Sure. You’re going to put me on the spot. One of them was around working with students with neurodiversity, Autism, ADHD. Another was from an employer and what they were really focusing on, opportunities and preparing students and that type of thing. We had a session on career myths, like challenging career myths. Yeah, those are a few that I remember off the top of my head.

Ashley Safranski: No, that’s great. Okay, we have 16 minutes left and I want to make sure we can get to some of the questions that I didn’t get to in the chat and within the Q and A. As I do that, I do have another poll question that I’m going to pop up. But as Nancy showed, we at uConnect, we’re so lucky that we get the opportunity to help facilitate their Career Champions program and their website platform. I’m going to pop up a poll. If you are interested in learning more about how uConnect can help facilitate a similar program at your institution or just generally want to learn more, feel free to let us know in the poll and we’ll follow up accordingly. I’ll leave that up for a second and maybe while that’s up, let’s see. Nancy, this is going to be rapid fire, so I might be all over the place here [inaudible 00:40:53].

Nancy Bilmes: Sure.

Ashley Safranski: Hopefully you’re ready. You mentioned newsletters to the Career Champions earlier, can you share generally what’s incorporated in those?

Nancy Bilmes: Sure. Actually, we’re just going to be sending one out this afternoon or tomorrow, so it’s timely. Depending on the time of year, we’ll dictate some of our content, but we have information in this newsletter actually about this webinar and about the Career Champion program being recognized nationally. About our career fairs that we had over the last couple of weeks, we have our career champion spotlight in there, information about the Career Champion program. Then we have upcoming events for students, so they can refer students to some of the things that are coming up. Sometimes we’ll have information about career communities, using our resources if we don’t have a big event coming up or haven’t just had a big event. It really depends on where we are in the cycle and what we’re trying to focus on, but those are some topics that we include. If faculty or staff or others can’t participate in our live trainings, we’ll remind them about our career resource site on occasion, and upcoming opportunities for them as well.

Ashley Safranski: Just a quick follow-up on that, kind of tactical. Is the newsletter just a plain text email that you’re sending via listserv or are you sending it out another way?

Nancy Bilmes: Yeah, we use Constant Contact and we’ve created a couple of listservs. Jim Lowe, who’s the AVP, has a listserv and I have a listserv that includes all the Career Champions and our liaisons, and folks like that. So we’ve created a couple of different avenues to share that newsletter with.

Ashley Safranski: Okay, great. Thanks for answering. There’s a few questions about students’ involvement in the development of the program, so I’m going to try and bundle them together. Did you include students in any of your early research or focus group efforts? And also, can students be a part of the Career Champions program?

Nancy Bilmes: Yeah, good questions. We didn’t at the beginning, but we have talked to our students through our CLAS initiative and some of our other more student workers, but we’ve been talking about having more focus groups with students to help continue to shape the program. As far as students becoming Career Champions, funny that you ask that. A couple of things that are on our horizon is developing… And this would be separate from our faculty, staff, employer, alumni, but developing a Parents Champion program as well as a Peer Career Champion program. As we’ve been doing some strategic planning and whatnot, those are two of our, a little bit farther out initiatives that we’re going to be looking at over the next several months. So not yet, but [inaudible 00:44:20].

Ashley Safranski: That is exciting. I think webinar 2.0, when we [inaudible 00:44:25].

Nancy Bilmes: Yeah. Well the interesting thing, when we looked at our NACM data, most students, when asked who they went to for advice, they went to other students even more than family. So students are talking to each other about it, “I’m so stressed, I don’t know what to do. What do I do with my career? What are you doing?” Those conversations are happening even probably more often because students are with each other 24/7, so we think that is an important group to capitalize on.

Ashley Safranski: Yeah, great. Question in the Q and A that came through, are Career Champions self nominated and they get as involved or not involved as they want? Can you confirm?

Nancy Bilmes: Sure. Yes, career Champions are self-nominated. We reach out to folks that we know, and we encourage our advisory board and our faculty subcommittee to reach out to others as well, but they are self-nominated. I just actually had a conversation with a faculty member, an adjunct who also oversees an institute, and she was talking about one of our pretty active Career Champions and how Judy shared so much information and she had a webinar she wanted us to promote. So we went back and forth and then I said, “Are you a Career Champion,” or I actually knew she wasn’t because I looked at the directory. I said, “You might want to think about becoming a Career Champion,” and she was super excited just to be asked.

I think it sometimes doesn’t occur to folks, but she signed up right away. I had a conversation with her yesterday and I can imagine she’ll be super involved. There’s a lot of people out there that we just haven’t engaged with yet, some of them who would probably not be interested right now in this opportunity, but those too who just don’t know about it or know how to get involved, or what questions to ask to become involved.

Ashley Safranski: Yeah. Have you noticed any… I mean, I have to imagine you’ve noticed a bit of a snowball effect, right? Can get those early adopters, the first 50 to 60 that you got, especially with faculty, have you noticed that as you chip away at getting more faculty involved, that there’s more word of mouth or there’s maybe less reluctance sometimes? That typically you would always get this response, but maybe you’re not seeing it quite as often?

Nancy Bilmes: Yeah, I mean I definitely think that there’s that word of mouth coming from folks who go back to their department and share about the experience about the conference. I do see that happening, and then it shifts throughout the year. There’s a certain period of time when we’re active in recruiting our faculty or we’re active in recruiting our alumni, and then we’ll get several a week. Versus over the summer, we laid low a little bit. We had other things we were focusing on and we didn’t recruit as much, so we got some, but not like we do when we’re more in the active phase and people are talking about it more because they’re on campus, and that type of thing.

Ashley Safranski: Right. Anything special or secret sauce that you have to get reluctant faculty on board?

Nancy Bilmes: That’s a good question. I think it’s the flexibility. I think not thinking that they’re going to have to participate in six hours of meetings or six hours of training. The other piece is what you had mentioned about Career Everywhere, career all the time, the access that’s given to students as more folks around campus talk about career. I think those two things are pretty compelling.

Ashley Safranski: Yeah. Feel free everyone, if I’ve missed your question, go ahead and put it. I’ve tried scrolling through, but throw it back in the chat or in the Q and A, we do have about seven minutes left. While we’re getting some more to come in, if you had one top piece of advice that you would give to a career services leader or team, who’s interested in starting a program of their own that’s similar to yours, what would that top… One or two, I’ll give you two. Top two [inaudible 00:49:00].

Nancy Bilmes: I think one of the top ones would be to have conversations with faculty and staff who you’re already friends with, so the low-hanging fruit. Get some buy-in, ask the hard questions about the barriers, “What would make you want to participate in this program?” Have them reach out to their network and maybe focus on some of those more reluctant faculty and staff who might be a little bit harder, and have the same conversations with them. I think definitely doing some focus groups and just some research around your campus is definitely helpful.

I’d say one of the next helpful things would be benchmarking and looking at other universities who are hosting Career Champion programs, that are similar to you. Certainly you can learn from smaller, larger universities, but if there are any that are similar to size and structure of your university, I definitely would consider that as well. And the last one, I would probably… Even though you only gave me two, I’m going to go with three.

Ashley Safranski: [inaudible 00:50:27].

Nancy Bilmes: The third one would be having that conversation with staff and getting staff buy-in.

Ashley Safranski: Like internal staff [inaudible 00:50:34]?

Nancy Bilmes: Internal staff.

Ashley Safranski: Sure.

Nancy Bilmes: Yeah, because there is that intimidation factor. We’re saying, “Okay, everyone can talk about career,” and so I think that’s super important as well.

Ashley Safranski: Yeah, I can totally see that, I think alignment upfront is really key. Well, a question came in through the chat from Will, outside of the Spotlight features that are on the Career Champions page, how do you recognize Career Champions?

Nancy Bilmes: Sure, good question. We have a recognition event in May, right around the end of the semester. And we have awards that faculty can be nominated for, staff, alumni, employers, to be recognized as Career Champion of the year and that type of thing. Then we also recognize all the Career Champions, we have spreadsheets where we put them up as part of a PowerPoint. And those who are even more active on the advisory board, the faculty subcommittee or received one of the awards, they get a letter from our AVP to them and to their supervisors, thanking them for what they’ve put into the program, and letting them know how much students are benefiting from their participation.

Ashley Safranski: Yeah, I love that. Aside from Career Champion of the year, what are some of the other awards?

Nancy Bilmes: Sure. We have some that don’t have… Like we have employer of the year, so students and staff and faculty can nominate an employer of the year. It might be an employer who’s come into several different classes and has been really active on campus, as well as faculty of the year for graduate and undergraduate, and then a staff career advocate of the year. They’re all around being career advocates and students can nominate as well as any faculty, staff, alumni, or employer.

Ashley Safranski: Great, I love that. I think that’s it. I think those are all of the questions. Can people connect with you on LinkedIn? We’ve been linking to your profile, I hope that’s okay.

Nancy Bilmes: Yup. Absolutely, you can reach out to me and you can look at, I think someone put the UConn website in the chat. You can reach out to me, you can find me there or on LinkedIn. Happy to talk.

Ashley Safranski: And Meredith drops [inaudible 00:53:16]-

Nancy Bilmes: Thanks Meredith.

Ashley Safranski: … in the chat and we’ll be sure to send links to all of the resources that we talked about here today. Nancy, I can’t thank you enough, you and your team at UConn are just the best partners, and what you all are doing with this program is incredible. I just really appreciate all the time you’ve taken to help us spotlight this great initiative, and I hope folks today got some good insight from it. So thank you, Nancy.

Nancy Bilmes: Great, thank you Ashley and the uConnect team, and Meredith. This has been great and look forward to many more opportunities to collaborate.

Latest episodes

Subscribe to the Career Everywhere newsletter

Weekly best practices, tactics, and strategies directly from the innovative career leaders implementing them every day.