The University of Nebraska-Lincoln Career Services will debut a new style of career events this fall that will offer students an educational opportunity, distinct from a traditional career fair. These new “niche” events will target specific career interest communities with nonlinear career paths and will focus on learning and exploration rather than simply networking.
The pilot event, Exploring: Government, Policy and Law Pathways, will be held on Wednesday, Nov. 9 from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. The event will start off with a panel featuring three professionals from each pathway to be followed by round table discussions where students can meet with employers from their industry of interest.
The need for this type of career event became apparent to Tracy Lungrin, director of University Career Services, when the department discovered a disparity in attendance among students from different colleges at the annual career fairs. She said that students from the College of Engineering and the College of Business, for example, attended the career fairs in higher numbers, whereas students from colleges like the College of Arts and Sciences, and the College of Journalism and Mass Communications had limited attendance.
“We saw an opportunity to create a new way to engage more students and career needs,” Lungrin said.
According to Lungrin, the idea for this type of event has been around for a few years, but fine tuning the structure and deciding on topics took time and collaboration. She said that University Career Services invited their career partners from various colleges to help them develop the event and together they focused on determining themes that were specific, yet vast enough to attract a variety of majors.
“We wanted to make sure that these career interest communities were broad enough that a lot of different majors would be attracted to them,” Lungrin said. “So, when you look at the first one, we’re going to do government, policy and law. Of course, we’re expecting traffic from history, political science and global studies areas, but I know a lot of students in COJMC and CASNR are also interested in working in politics, there’s a lot of careers that are, are geared toward that.”
Perhaps the most innovative aspect of the niche events is the structure of them. Annelise Christen is the engagement and connections coordinator at University Career Services. She is responsible for the planning of niche events and described how the goal of the events required a different format.
“We knew we didn’t want it to be like a career fair, we didn’t want it to be employers setting up booths and students just having a walk by, because it’s not about that. It’s about exploring the field, learning from professionals and figuring out where you fit in all that, where you want to go and how you can get there.”
Due to the format, the niche events are lower stakes and more casual for students. Meagan Savage is the assistant director for career development in the College of Arts and Sciences. She said that she is a huge proponent of this concept. Additionally, she said the exploration-based approach will resonate more with her students and be able to attract both introverted and extroverted students.
“You have the panel portion of the event; you can ask a question, or you can just hear what the panelists have to say based on questions other people ask. Even in the small groups, if you’re a student who feels kind of anxious about being one on one with people, you still have safety in numbers, you’re with your peers who are asking similar questions,” Savage said. “It’s giving students options for the level at which they’re able to engage and still get something meaningful out of the event.”
On the professional and employer side, Lungrin said that the niche event really gives them the opportunity to connect with and give back to students.
“That’s the coolest part of this,” Lungrin said. “These people are going to come and give back because a lot of them are alums, or they are people that have worked in Lincoln, but most of them were just like these students. They want to share that there are some really great career options and are the things that the students need to do to be successful.”
For the first event, the panelists will include Yohance Christie, city attorney for Lincoln, Kaitlin Reece, government affairs and public policy advisor for Catalyst Public Affairs and Michele Stevenson, special agent for the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Since many students interested in government, policy and law have nonlinear career pathways and many options available to them, Savage hopes the students will learn from these professionals that it is okay to not have a set plan.
“I hope they get a newfound open mindedness to things that maybe they hadn’t considered before, or an understanding that their career path is going to be full of personal decisions and choices that could lead them in lots of different directions,” Savage said. “I hope they can embrace that a little bit more and not feel anxious about it.”
In the future, UNL career services is planning on expanding the niche event to a variety of career interest communities, some of which, she said are already in the works.
“We’re hoping to do our next one in early February on environment, natural resources and wildlife,” Lungrin said. “We have one coming up in March on nonprofit, social justice and human services and another one coming up in April around science, research and development.”
Professionals or students who are interested in getting involved in future niche events can contact Annelise Christen for more information.
In the meantime, UNL career services is hopeful that this event will engage students in a way they haven’t yet before. Savage says that by offering students an avenue to learn and explore, they are sure to find the event worthwhile.
“If they walk away feeling like they really learned something, and can identify a next step of their own, or even an idea for a future opportunity they will find it successful,” Savage said. “If they can get those things out of it, or a meaningful connection with a professional, I think they’ll find that to be worth their time.”
To learn more about the event, including a list of panelists and employers attending, check out the Exploring: Government, Policy and Law Pathways website.