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The Impressive Impact of Career Days at Penn State

by on October 03, 2017 5:00 AM

Elizabeth Fegert is a small bundle of pure energy with an equally powerful set of organizational skills. That is pretty much a perfect match for the job description for career fairs coordinator in Penn State Career Services. The question for Elizabeth was, did she really know what she was getting herself into? The answer is yes, and she wouldn’t have it any other way.

This was the first Penn State Fall Career Days for Elizabeth, and she and the rest of the outstanding staff at the Career Services office, saw a record number of 10,496 participants Sept. 12-14 at the Bryce Jordan Center.  In addition, 539 unique employers were on campus to recruit. Impressive, to say the least. Penn State is consistently ranked at the top of the “Top 25 schools whose graduates were the top-rated by recruiters” according to the Wall Street Journal.

According to the Career Services website, “Fall Career Days is a campus-wide career fair co-sponsored by Career Services and seven of the academic colleges at University Park campus. Employers travel to campus to meet students from all majors and all years to recruit for their various staffing needs during one, often multi-day, visit.”

As I looked out over the organized mass of students and employers on the event floor of the Jordan Center, I was beaming with Penn State pride. This is where it all comes to fruition for a great many of the students. It is just a beginning of their ventures into “the real world” and given the success of the career fairs at Penn State, I think it’s easy to say that the vast majority of our students are well served.

I ran into good friend Dr. Robert “Bob” Orndorff, who is the Senior Director of Career Services, manning the main check-in desk for employers right alongside his busy staff. After searching for 30 minutes around the concourse, event level, and South Annex, I finally tracked down Elizabeth and she was quick to point out the efforts of the rest of the staff from the Career Services Center and Alumni Career Services for their dedication.

She also gave big kudos to marketing communication specialist Jenna Kyger Lewis and marketing interns Bailey Weber, a PSU public relations graduate, and Mariska Suparman, a current undergraduate majoring in telecommunications.  They did a fantastic job with outreach on social media including using Facebook, knowing that parents would see it and remind their kids. After all, Facebook is now a “Boomer” thing and most self-respecting “Gen Z” students think it’s so yesterday.

Well, it worked. More than 900 students attended the pre-career fair preparation programs/workshops covering topics such as “Resume Tips,” “Interview Tips,” “Building Your Brand on Social Media,” “Dress to impress,” and “After the Handshake.” There were 29 different companies that even volunteered to assist with resume preparation during the career fair.

The feedback from the companies includes accolades about how much they enjoy recruiting at PSU and that the students are so much better prepared than the majority of schools they visit.

There are more than 400 staff and volunteers made up mostly of undergraduate students who volunteer. “We recruit them through student organizations and groups,” Elizabeth said. “Underclassmen who volunteer get the lay of the land so it’s not as intimidating when they come back as upperclassmen looking for internships and jobs.”

Elizabeth also pointed out that, “While the career fair is incredibly successful, the committee is always looking to make it better and as great for employers so they continue to recruit our students.”

I learned a few things I didn’t know about Fall Career Days. The career fair is not just open to current University Park students, but also to Commonwealth Campuses, Penn State alumni and even students from other local small schools. Cheryl Bonner and her Alumni Career Services Staff were on hand to assist alumni who make the trip when searching for opportunities.

One of the observations I made was how many students stood in line for the biggest companies (like J.P. Morgan, Boeing and Verizon), while missing out on some of the smaller businesses that might have offered a better opportunity. These companies recruit potential employees from all majors across the university. For instance, it is not unusual for corporations to hire education majors to be a part of their training staff or communications majors for their sales and marketing positions.

Dr. Orndorff described the new Student-Athlete Job Fair that was held in Pegula Ice Arena. The program is part of a new initiative in Intercollegiate Athletics and led by Keith Embray, the assistant athletic director for student-athlete welfare and development.  This is a new position that is popping up across the country as athletic departments are helping student-athletes with the unique set of challenges and opportunities they face given the added time demands of their hectic lives.

Cheryl Bonner introduced me to alumnus Paul Black, a 2004 Aerospace Engineering graduate, who was recruiting for his company, AGI (Analytical Graphics, Inc.). The Exton, PA Company has over 200 employees and their slogan is “Mapping Space and Time. Yesterday. Today. Tomorrow.” Essentially they create aerospace analysis software. This guy really is a rocket scientist.

AGI specializes in developing software and fixing software “bugs” and is helping to deal with 9,000 “space objects” currently orbiting the planet. AGI’s Commercial Space Operations Center was established in 2014 and their trademarked “SpaceBook” is the gold standard in the industry. Paul said he was focused on finding top aerospace and computer science candidates.

It was also Paul’s first time back to campus since 2009 and he was really impressed with all the new construction especially the new Chemical Engineering Building. I asked Paul how he got interested in aerospace in the first place.  He said, “I was passionate about music and aircraft as a kid. As a fourth-grader my dad and I visited the Patuxent River Naval Air Station for a tour and I saw the V-22 Osprey aircraft and instantly fell in love with air travel.”

Paul’s mom and siblings all attended West Chester University and many of his family members are teachers. Paul wanted to pursue his own passion and saw Penn State as the perfect fit. During his time as an undergrad, Paul thought he wanted to focus on aircraft and rockets until he took a satellites course. He said that aerospace engineering Professor Robert Melton and Professor David Spencer made the biggest impacts on him and his career path. So Paul said someday he wanted to come back to campus so he could help others learn from his experiences.

Another Penn State alumnus who makes the annual trek to University Park to recruit is Bryan Lewis, the COO of Third Bridge. They are a research firm in the investment world and employ a significant number of Penn State Smeal College of Business graduates.

I had the pleasure of having lunch with Bryan and a couple of his staff, including 2015 graduate Kevin Muldoon, in New York City recently. Kevin is a supply chain graduate and an energetic and up-and-coming employee for Bryan at Third Bridge.  Their passion and loyalty to Penn State is obvious.

Whether you are an undergraduate in need of career planning assistance, an upperclassman in search of an internship or a first job, or an alumnus who is looking at a career change, Career Services can help you in ways you may not even realize.  So I encourage you to get on their website and to go visit them in the Bank of America Building at the corner of Eisenhower and Bigler roads on campus.

I promise you that the energy, passion, and expertise of Bob Orndorff, Cheryl Bonner, and their staffs can make a big difference in your lives. You might even run into Elizabeth Fegert while you are there and catch a glimpse of a real life Energizer Bunny in action.


 

 



Joe Battista has been an integral part of the Penn State and State College communities since 1978. He is best known for his effort to bring varsity ice hockey to Happy Valley and in the building of Pegula Ice Arena. “JoeBa” is the owner of PRAGMATIC Passion, LLC consulting, a professional speaker, success coach, and the vice president of the National Athletic and Professional Success Academy (NAPSA). He is the author of a new book, “The Power of Pragmatic Passion.” Joe lives in State College with his wife Heidi (PSU ’81 & ’83), daughter Brianna (PSU ’15), and son’s Jon (PSU ’16), and Ryan (State High Class of 2019).
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